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Funding Cuts Are A Pain In The Arts

Passion and talent does not make one entitled to funding.

24/06/2016 10:04 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST
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Kevin A. Short
Sixty two arts organisations that had previously been funded by the Federal Government had their funding applications rejected earlier this year.

This is what I would like to understand about Australia; why is one football game sponsored by a brand considered a more discerning commercial expenditure than a theatre production, which, over the course of one season, would expose a similar number of eyeballs to that very same branding?

I have a problem with the current discussion around recent cuts to arts funding and the drip-down platitudes about the purpose of working in the arts, who pays for what and who benefits.

I love the arts. I'm a regular theatre goer and many of the people that work for me are artists in their own right. I want nothing more than to see passionate Australian artists make a solid living, just as I want to see the ABC thrive to the point where mass job cuts cannot be so easily wielded by the sword of whoever sits at the helm of government.

The funding cuts from Australia Council impacted 65 art entities across the country and the outrage came from both sides of the spectrum. Some applaud the cuts because they don't recognise the value that art brings to our communities. And then there are those who believe that grassroots activism is the only way to dictate change.

It's not. Just like any sector, outcome is everything. I don't think the outcome necessarily needs to just be about fighting for more funding grants. Artists must also bear responsibility and look at variable ways of approaching financial opportunities that could enable them to share their work with the world. Passion and talent does not make one entitled to funding.

To arrive at a point where our arts scene is held to the same standard as other sectors, we must first reject the archaic notion that the creative and business worlds are separate. Or that they cannot intertwine. They should and they can, and art integrity need not suffer as a result.

It's time to refute the idea that a creative person cannot be methodical or financially savvy just as we must reject the idea that all business people are devoid of creativity. We know we need to integrate art into everyday life and doing this should result in greater commercial opportunities than ever before.

It's time to discard the idea that resources should be solely focused on trying to pry open the closed-fisted and pocketed government hand. The idea of commercial opportunity and what measures could be taken to mitigate risk to the arts sector (currently at the mercy of the government) are key in escaping the art-cuts treadmill.

When Tamara Winikoff, Executive Director for the National Association for the Visual Arts (a victim of the recent cuts) said: "the real problem is the government not providing a sustainable level of funding to properly invest in growing Australia's cultural sector," it caused me to question which sector, if any, should feel entitled to survive at the mercy of only government funding.

Let us shift the conversation away from signing protest cards and explore other approaches, such as facilitating joint ventures with organisations investing in the arts for the benefit of their employees. Let's start reviewing the return on investment on artistic performances with the same consideration we give to venture-capital funded startup concepts who may not even drive revenue for three to five years.

Let's see commercial Australia being given a level of tax flexibility to engage with the arts as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy. I wish to see a company invest in their company culture by taking employees to the theatre instead of another horse race, where the artistic benefit is limited to how fancy their fascinator could be.

Veteran theatre Producer, Adrian Barnes, recently noted that "Australia still has a long way to go before we value the service of the protagonists (dedicated practitioners of the arts) as some of the Asian countries do".

The cultural shock of funding cuts should not just rock the arts community, with many believing any hope of a sustainable future has unfairly evaporated. The effect of these funding cuts should actually permeate into corporate Australia, with an onslaught of passionate artists now taking an entrepreneurial approach to understand what drives sponsorship spends.

The arts do not deserve to meekly survive on handouts, donations and chunks of government funding, as if grateful to be allowed to co-exist with corporations (who, quite frankly, need a bit of art in their lives, probably more so than throwing money at another sports game).

There are ways this can happen in incremental ways to slowly fuse a relationship that benefits both parties. So one day Australia sees the art's sector as of equal commercial value as sports, start-up pitching and the most dreaded word of 2016, innovation.

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