The Artistic Precariat

Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts / Music
I am concerned about the proposed 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts; in particular the establishment of a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) and the effect this will have on Australia Council funding for young, emerging and individual artists as well as small to medium arts organisations. [more information]

It is important to dispel a widely held belief that “mainstream” and “smaller/independent” musics are separate things. They coexist in such a way that one cannot survive without the other. My work (and that of many other musicians I know) relies on constant cross-fertilisation. Playing with a “major arts organisation” is enriching and enjoyable because of the skills and experiences brought from smaller and more “edgy” groups. The mainstream orchestras and opera companies are on a never-ending quest for new ideas and strategies to retain and attract audience members that they, despite guaranteed funding, require to stay viable. Some of these include trying different and interesting venues, flash mob performances, unconventional starting times for performances, working with artists from different backgrounds and fields, working with film and multi-media, using web-based resources, and working with local composers and communities. These innovations didn’t grow in boardrooms but come directly from the pioneering work of people in the small to medium arts organisations. Withdrawing funding from these will have a direct effect on the larger organisations - they run the risk of losing relevance and becoming “classical music exhibits” rather than the living and breathing entities that they need to be.

Any system of funding assessment must be transparent and politically neutral so that organisations that miss out will know that their proposals are taken seriously, they are assessed against clear guidelines, and that feedback is available. I am worried that the establishment of the NPEA will increase secrecy and resentment amongst artists (one only needs to look at the many reports surrounding the Melba Recordings funding for a taste of this). Aside from the difficult task of deciding what constitutes excellence, I am deeply concerned about a funding scenario that encourages an artistic precariat pitted against the privileged.

Having received Australia Council funding as an individual on several occasions and worked for many smaller groups and events that have received funding, it is worth noting that the amounts received only represent a contribution to the overall expenses involved. Independent and smaller artists and musicians are handling their own administration and promotion as well as the creative work - often supplemented with teaching or other jobs to even cover costs. Transferring funding away from the smaller to medium arts organisations and young and emerging artists will have the effect that many creative and valuable events and works will not get off the ground. Whether these projects represent majority tastes is beside the point; they are needed.

Children of course know this, and this is confirmed by looking at their responses to new sounds and music. The music workshops I present consist entirely of ideas and activities based on the work of contemporary and experimental musicians. Children of all ages and backgrounds adopt and take part in these activities without question or exception. They immediately understand the importance of the abstract and that the more plentiful and fresh the perspectives are, the more interesting and enriching their day is.

There is no question that modern society needs the mainstream structures of orchestras, opera and ballet, however these cannot exist in a vacuum. The inventiveness and originality of the smaller organisations that are not hamstrung by marketplace benchmarks makes our arts the diverse ecosystem that it needs to be. My view is that any redistribution of monies should not be done to the detriment of young, emerging and individual artists nor the valuable work of small to medium arts organisations.
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