The following is my personal submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry into the Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget Decision on the Arts.
I am currently a Senior Partner and Head of Creative Arts at the O-vation Group of Music and Entertainment companies. I formerly held the role of Head of Communications and New Media at Asiavision “Our Sound: The Asia-Pacific Song Contest”, and am currently leading a consortium of Western Sydney-based arts professionals developing the Western Sydney Creative Centre and Greater Western Sydney Orchestra. I am also a pianist, composer, classical singer and music teacher.
I write to express my enthusiastic support for the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts as an excellent step in decentralising Federal arts funding. The creation of the NPEA recognises an entrenched flaw in the Australia Council for the Arts funding model – whilst there is certainly a need to embrace “Art for Art’s Sake” as a valid and valuable contributor to Australia’s cultural growth it is equally important to support projects that can demonstrate an ability to fulfil a community need in concert with stated Government objectives.
The Australia Council for the Arts funding model is fundamentally flawed. Almost all of its funding is currently allocated to a closely-knit community of politically-aligned arts practitioners physically based in close proximity to each other within inner-Sydney and inner-Melbourne – to the detriment of a broad Arts and Culture sector in our suburbs and regional areas. Further, much of the output facilitated by Australia Council funding is artistically dubious in nature, economically without merit and completely detached from the cultural experience of Australian society as a whole. The Australia Council chooses to support only this tightly-knit subset of our sector at the expense of a much larger vibrant arts and culture sector operating across Australia – most of whom produce world-class work despite not receiving any funding or community support whatsoever.
By directing Arts funding in line with stated community goals it will be possible to energise the greater Arts and Culture sector, including organisations like O-vation. Specific funding through the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development dedicated to the cultivation of art and artists in Regional Australia, for example, would encourage Artists to create solutions to community engagement problems identified by, and in partnership with regional Local Government Areas. An allocation of funding to support participation in the Arts by the intellectually and physically disabled would encourage the development of new programs in conjunction with the Federal Department of Social Services that could engage the disabled as participants. If this sort of support is provided in the form of jointly-funded partnerships between the NPEA and other agencies of Federal, State or Local Government or with Industry, we will effectively expand the pool of resources available to the Arts and Cultural sector and deliver outcomes through artistic expression in other sectors.
I am currently agitating to secure support at State and Federal levels for the Western Sydney Creative Centre and Creative Centre Cooperative – initiatives that will deliver tangible and measurable economic and social benefit to both Arts practitioners and the community by providing essential resources and education to individuals and smaller not-for-profit initiatives in partnership with Corporations operating in this sector. The benefits of such initiatives are obvious and manifest – by bringing together and consolidating the resources of Western Sydney-based creative and performing arts initiatives, we create and enhance competitive and innovative programmes that in turn help to build competitiveness and innovation in other industries, and ultimately greatly contribute towards the health of the broader economy. The Creative Centres will facilitate world-class art that is created in response to, and in service of the community and our economy.
My colleagues and I are also pursuing the development of the Greater Western Sydney Orchestra – a semi-professional large ensemble that will be based in Western Sydney, and focused on Western Sydney and Regional New South Wales. The GWS Orchestra will not only deliver artistic and cultural experiences to these locations, it will educate and incubate artists, and will stand as a symbol of artistic excellence representing a part of Sydney and New South Wales that has traditionally been neglected by projects funded by the Australia Council for the Arts. Through the NPEA, the GWS Orchestra could become an invaluable resource in service of the community – for example, our orchestra could partner with Tourism Australia to commission and perform new Australian music at concerts held in regional centres that is broadcast online throughout the world. These sorts of outcomes are not possible if dependent on funding that is allocated purely on the basis of “Art for Art’s Sake” – the value of these projects must be considered in the context of achieving community and Government outcomes.
A redirection of Federal funding of the Arts in concert with, and in response to community need will not hurt artists or the arts sector in Australia. On the contrary – it will energise the Arts and Cultural sector to engage with the community at large in ways it has not previously. The NPEA will facilitate the engagement and ongoing development of a large sector of artists (including myself) that today cannot truly consider themselves part of the so-called “integrated and inter-connected culturally diverse industry” that our counterparts take pride in.
The benefit of initiatives like those I have detailed in this submission to their participants are significant, as are the significant tangible and measurable benefits to community – but as its long track record of funding demonstrates time and time again, the Australia Council is neither willing nor capable of supporting the sorts of initiatives I have outlined.
I look forward to being able to submit an application on the behalf of the Creative Centre and the Greater Western Sydney Orchestra initiatives to the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts – a commendable and long-awaited initiative by this Government that will enhance the Arts sector and make us more relevant to the society we inhabit than ever before.