A More Creative Australia

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Creative artists have been struggling in Australia without much support from the governments. The Federal Government has recently launched the National Cultural Policy, recognising the economic and social significance creativity has to the nation. Brad Munro puts artists’ struggles in perspective and explores options for the future.

WORDS Brad Munro

The arts industry has been under fire for many years now, with the government undervaluing the contribution of the arts to society. TAFE fine arts courses were one such victim with their funding cut in 2012. Music venues such as the Excelsior Hotel have been closing shop, and vanguard venue and general live music hub The Annandale has gone into receivership. The Perth flagship theatre company Deckchair has also closed their doors after 30 years of operation with over 100 commissioned works performed to tens of thousands.

It’s no surprise that the current Federal Government’s new arts-friendly ‘Creative Australia’ policy has the sceptics among us scratching our heads. Lord Mayor Clover Moore from the City of Sydney is currently running a think tank and soliciting public opinion on how to distribute the future grant money. Ideas currently include having libraries loaning musical instruments to members of the public. Hopefully her ideas can meet a middle ground with practical help of members of the NSW public. This move appears to be coinciding with a distinct upswing in the arts world of Sydney.

There are a number of supporters for a return to form in the Australian arts world. Darcy Byrne, Mayor of Leichhardt, and the NSW Creative Industries Taskforce are another two key players. Mr Byrne has envisioned a transformation of Annandale to a cultural hub for Sydney. He’s pushing hard against recent anti-live music policies and red tape that the Council has been employing, which is a refreshing change. He’s even aiming to preserve the Annandale Hotel as a live music location.

The Creative Industries Taskforce is aiming to follow the Victorian trend of restoring government funding to TAFE fine arts courses. This follows the cut last year by the O’Farrell Government. The Taskforce is also seeking to steer the development and growth of the creative industry in general for the next ten years.

In addition to the music and fine arts spheres, Sydney is beginning to become more of a relevant comedy destination, with the Just For Laughs Festival making its way to our shores for the first time last year, bringing comedians such as John Cleese, Dylan Moran, Louis CK and Margaret Cho with it, and the annual Sydney Comedy Festival continuing this year for the ninth time, showcasing Australian talent.

It is a relief to know that the government is starting to support the creative industry. Hopefully in the next ten years, the industry will thrive once more, and companies like the Deckchair Theatre Company and live music venues won’t decide (or be forced) to close their doors.

[pullquote_left]It’s hard to imagine the world without these things: nightclubs with no music, no stand-up comedians to help us laugh at ourselves and no street performances to take us out of our work-induced trances.[/pullquote_left]

Actor and director Troy Harrison laments the government’s ignorance of the arts, attributing it to a clear prioritisation of sports over the arts in Australia. “With Australia being such a sporting country, a lot of money gets funnelled into sporting ventures and things like that. I mean, these tennis players and swimmers get subsidised from a young age to do what they do for a living… For the arts, it’s a struggle the whole way, there’s no-one helping you, you do what you do because you love it. There are no subsidies, there’s no help.” The arts in Australia, he feels, is undermined and not given precedence. Why is this the case?

Perhaps we all need to take a step back in order to note the contribution of the arts to society. ‘The arts’ constitutes a large variety of arenas including music, theatre, stand-up comedy, street performance, film, fine art and performance art. Each of these areas has a certain level of significance to people. Yet they are treated in the same way as perishable products, quite possibly because of the fact that they are sold to people.

It’s hard to imagine the world without these things: nightclubs with no music, no stand-up comedians to help us laugh at ourselves and no street performances to take us out of our work-induced trances. To imagine no films that touch us emotionally, entertain us or make us critically examine important social issues. No aesthetically pleasing art, nor any thought-provoking performance art. Artistic expression is essential for critique of society, human behaviours and trends. It allows us to confront dark, uncomfortable truths in ourselves so that we may grow and better ourselves. It inspires us. It lets us experience feelings we’ve never truly felt before. It allows us to communicate with each other when words fail us.

A society without art is not simply a society with a massive blind spot. It is something far, far worse. The arts industry can not be left to die. It’s far too important for that. For now, the best course of action is to take things one step at a time. Clover Moore’s discussion forum is collecting ideas from the public up until 31 May 2013. Make sure you have your say, and encourage the government to further supplement the creative industry of this wonderful city.

(Melbourne doesn’t deserve all the spotlight, after all.)