The Major Performing Arts (MPA) Framework Review has certainly sent a shockwave through the sector as a whole and opened up new avenues for debate and comment.
It would seem that this latest consultation appears to have opened a wound that threatens to turn the sector against itself.
I think we are missing something deep within the debate. Don’t argue about the slices, argue about the pie.
I fear that, in our commentary we are still not effectively expressing the unthinkably huge contribution that performing arts makes to Australia each year and this debate makes it even more obscure. We already know we have not developed a metric that has enough grunt with government to make them understand that kicking a ball or playing a trumpet have equally important weight in the development of young Australians. There remains a void in showing that one young Australian who is inspired to an athletics stream by marvelling at our Olympians has the same importance as the next, so inspired by a breathtaking acting performance that they strive towards a life on stage.
Are we collaborating hard enough on our compelling new story to the fundees to lobby for the bigger pie that this sector deserves, or are we now risking a fundee versus fundee fight that all sides could lose fighting over an existing undersize pie?
Only last year the Sydney Morning Herald reported that 20% fewer Australians support public arts funding than eight years ago. As part of the brains trust of telling stories we clearly need to tell our story in many different ways to many more people.
According to Big hART’s Scott Rankin in the Artshub, “the Australia Council’s 2016/17 annual report says 28 Major Performing Arts Companies received $109.1 million in funding in 2016/17. The small to medium sector (590 organisations) shared $53.4 million.
The now defunct federal shared services project received $210 million before it failed, meaning it was worth more than a year of performing arts funding, and it failed.
Last year, the ABC reported the cost of Federal Government IT has jumped to nearly $10 billion last year. Now, there is nothing especially wrong with that number except its provided perspective on how much the funding we are talking about is a drop in the funding ocean at 1.5% of IT costs. An overdue increase will not send the economy back to stone age.
We really need to collectively work out what will transform what performing arts is to funders. The pie is simply not big enough.
It’s time we look collectively at this issue of why we are not valued in the Federal Parliament House?
When I read about ideas for the value, I read terms like civic pride, self – actualisation, and the transfer of value. Whilst I don’t doubt the value of any of these, but I have to ask myself, which tax payer is asking their local member to ensure they receive self-actualisation? I don’t mean to sound dismissive but are we explaining these achievements in a way that is understood nd relevant to the wider public. They may not ask about self actualisation but they do drive their kids to music lessons week after week because the kids dream of being musicians, they do want to live in communities that have liveability factors and that they have avenues for cultural practice. Perhaps the taxpayer takes this as an expectation – that there will be performing arts just like there will be a library or day centre.
In many an Australian advertisement you see a tiny kid running on a track dreaming of representing Australia and there is a collective “awwww” as we pressure the government to make sure that kid can run that race. That doesn’t seem to happen in performing arts. The kid with the violin is unseen. The logical argument is lost in the sheer magnitude of the emotional argument. Where is our emotional argument? How do we mobilise voters to stand up and be counted for performing arts?
According to the 2012 ABS survey 35% of children aged 5-14 years were involved in at least one of four of the selected organised cultural activities outside school. Even then, that was more than 1,000,000 kids and then add the parents. We have really have good numbers.
In 2017, the Australian Council for the Arts reported that 32% of the population over the age of 15 attended performing arts in the last year which is a staggering number and yet as a policy platform we become invisible.
We need to ink ourselves a place that connects us all together and provide a voice that all those who think performing arts counts.
Perhaps, collectively we can create emotionally compelling reasoning to change the view in government that performing arts is something they have to fund, to something they have to fund to win seats.