Melbourne chief attacks Australia’s orgy of defunding

The country wakes up this morning to the realisation that state funding has been removed from 20 music organisations and 40 more groups in other arts. Jonathan Holloway, artistic director of the Melbourne Festival, explains how deep this will cut into the national creativity.

Here’s his post:

All of us at Melbourne Festival are stunned and saddened by the funding announcements of the last week.

Many acclaimed and well-loved Melbourne Festival productions in recent years have been realised by organisations who lost their funding this week including Arena Theatre, Black Arm Band, KAGE Physical Theatre, Legs on the Wall, Phillip Adams BalletLab, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Force Majeure and Theatre Works.

The creative industry in Australia – which gives back so much more than it receives, which makes a $50bn economic impact annually against investment of $7bn, which attracts more people than sport and employs more people than mining – have lived with the unbearable expectation of this week’s announcements for months, but nothing could have prepared us for the unbelievable ferocity of the cuts.

The Andrews Government recently announced a significant increase in support for the creative industries, which gives some hope for this creative State, but even Minister Martin Foley acknowledged that the State level vision and resources cannot totally mitigate against the Federal Government decisions, which the Australia Council have had to enact.

The damage to some of our most brilliant artists and organisations is shocking, but the greatest damage will come when the shockwaves spread into the whole of Australian society and around the world.

St Jerome's Laneway Festival Melbourne 5th February 2011

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  • Australia is sinking into considerable national debt and can no longer afford to support all the arts organizations. We are in the middle of a federal election here and the Labor government is promising yet more zillions for schools in a campaign which is so YESTERDAY. Class war is the name of the game and I’d have thought that some of the money Labor is targetting for schools could be re-directed towards arts funding, since we have quite literally seen them throw money at education for a generation with no material improvement in results; quite the opposite, in fact. And we STILL have intractable youth unemployment.

    I’d prefer to see money go into the arts instead of herding young people into university courses like Wind Chime Construction, Gender Studies, Events Management and other such junckets which serve nobody except those on the public purse.

    So, it’s all a matter of priorities!! And where the votes are!!

    • My dear Sue – Agreed, there are other ways to spend a country’s resources than on the arts. The problem, however, is that sinking money into various social programs either doesn’t guarantee the problem will go away, or, if it does go away, that suddenly increasing funding for the arts will make them come back.

      The education and development of artists is something that requires years of educational effort and nurturing. Once the talent and skill to educate young artists is gone, it’ll take as long to rebuild as doing the same to the Great Barrier Reef.

      For some reason everyone’s aghast at the destruction of natural beauty, but few seem to give a whit about the destruction of cultural beauty within a society. What’s the difference? Cultural knowledge can go extinct the same way that natural beauty can go extinct.

      Regardless, if you Ozzies don’t stop the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, you’re going to lose a boatload of money (not to mention jobs) from tourist revenues. In NYC, where cuts for the arts aren’t on the agenda because the funding doesn’t come from centralized government, they have known for decades that the arts return anywhere from $7 to $10 per dollar invested in them.

      Don’t be too short-sighted and kill the goose lays the golden eggs in the process. If there were no arts in NYC, do you think so many tourists would go there just to look at skyscrapers, ride in yellow cabs and shop for cheap electronics? I doubt it. NYC isn’t a particularly beautiful city, as a whole, if compared to any number of cities surrounded by natural beauty.

      • As I said, I’d prefer money went into the arts instead of bogus university degree where people are ‘educated’ way beyond the remit of what is actually available in the job market place.

        I agree with what you say about the arts in general; heavens, I’m a music-lover after all. But I think you’ll find that flourishing arts and social affluence go hand in hand and when there is a dearth of available capital the arts are the first to be hit. Point taken about the Great Barrier Reef, absolutely!!

        As for the other comment from Fred; he’s just a loony who has no idea about the politics of economics. And the viciousness of the response is simply breathtaking. The tired old tics of class warfare have once again become resurgent under the Labor Party. Envy and jealousy, the poor souls. Imagine being THAT miserable!!

    • Total right-wing nuttery. Basically, Australia has a barbaric right-wing government which doesn’t believe in the arts. However, it does believe in giving massive tax cuts ($55 billion over the next ten years) to corporations, cutting climate change research, slashing funding to public schools, destroying public healthcare, etc etc. The federal government has a staggeringly low debt for a developed nation (about 17 of GDP). But this is what happens when you have a former Merchant Banker as PM.

        • Let’s think about what Fred said:

          Tax cuts to corporations – tick
          Cutting climate change research – tick
          Slashing public school funding – tick
          Destroying public health care – tick
          Staggeringly low debt to GDP – tick
          Former merchant banker as PM – tick

          That to me seems to about as many clues as one needs, presuming one can put two and two together, without shouting.

    • Sue, it would help your credibility if you accurately stated who the Federal Government of Australia is at the moment. It is the Liberal National Coalition. It is NOT the Labor Party. That is the OPPOSITION. Sorry to be pedantic. But these things are kinda important

      • Yes, the Labor Party is the Opposition currently fighting a class war against the ‘rich’. But this is because the ‘rich’ is the middle class conveniently re-badged for the purpose of tax raising.

        The Labor Party wants to continue throwing money at education and there have been no material improvements in results – quite the opposite, as I’ve said before. They just want to enlarge the nanny state so that there is more and more and more government in people’s lives. I’m over it!

  • If the arts in Australia are an “Industry” why do they need so much Government funding? Surely selling their “product” like other industries will bring in the cash to keep going. What? not many are buying the product? I saw a report on the ABC last night about this situation the Arts industry workers featured came across as a group of pretentious wannabes with an inflated sense of entitlement.

    • Entitlement is an epidemic in the western world promulgated mostly by the Left in politics, but the Right has participated too – trying to win votes. Middle class welfare is a problem in Australia right now, but we also have the ludicrous spectacle of a public broadcaster naming a drug addict and serial loser a “national hero” because he is poor and exists on welfare and whaa whaad about it on national TV.

      The Australian Broadcasting Corporation uses agitprop as a weapon and any semblance of objective, observable fact has gone MIA. It’s time to privatize this gigantic sink-hole of taxpayer funded cultural marxists and their sheltered workshop mentality.

    • Chris Basten, Your question seems reasonable for the first-not very carefull- sight.
      And you are right, football stadions don’t have any problems sellnig tickets, where as you can not fill a medium size concert hall for a string quartet recital. Also theatres can survive playing cheap musicals instead of Ibsen or Dürenmatt. Does all these means that you are right? Absolutely not. Culture, -in the original meaning of the world- is a lifelong education which should teach youngs and adults. And from this perspective the same rules applies as educating children? And children are just as lazy as adults when it comes to intellectual effort: they rather whatch television than study. Who is better parent in this situation, those who switches off the television and sends the child to study or those who lets them watch the film or the very educating reality show?….In many sence goverments are a little bit like parents to us…And just as parents, they should take the risk sometimes to be unpopular.

  • It’s a shocking news and a feel for Australia ‘s culturally minded people. It happens all over the world maybe not so shocking ly but step by step. For those who are concerned about this “phenomenon ” there’s a must read book: The death of culture by Mario Vargas Llosa. He describes wonderfully how our societies approaching the state of “Idiocracy ” . And our politicians, who are less and less gifted intellectually, accelerates this journey .

    • Honestly, I think we need look no further than the people who do the voting. We end up with the politicians we deserve, IMO.

      I don’t have a view that society is any better than this anyway. There’s an awfully big rump at the bottom and it’s not there without a reason.

  • The arts funding cuts in Australia are symptomatic of a government which grievously oppresses refugees, which takes no real action on climate change, which constantly undermines all forms of public education, which intends to destroy or further downgrade the public health system. And there is more. All this is tolerated by many Australians.

    • And I’ll bet it’s a shocking thought for you to contemplate the fact the Coalition probably will win the election, by a close margin!! I’ll be cheering from the rooftops. We’re all so terribly tired of the endless class warfare and victim mentality. Throwing money at schools hasn’t lifted standards one scintilla. And Shorten’s enlarged nanny state plans are reminiscent of the Communist Party’s last 5 Year Plan.

      All Labor’s arguments are SO last century.

      • And as to Giblin’s claim that ‘refugees’ have been ‘grievously oppressed’; she has no empathy or sense of responsibility for 1200 people dead on Labor/Green watch. Yes, they were drowned or dashed up on rocks and the response; “accidents happen”. I agree with Mark Latham who says the people who disavow responsibility for this are ‘sub human’. Certainly lacking both empathy and intelligence.

        If this had been a public health policy and 1200 people died we’d NEVER hear the end of it. Industrial strength hypocrisy.

  • Actually, both major parties, Labor and Liberal, in Australia, support Australia’s terrible refugee incarceration programs. So there is a bipartisan policy on this. Labor initiated them (on the mainland). My point is that arts policy in Australia at the moment is a logical consequence in a polity largely in the grip of neo-conservative economic theory. As a musician living in the nation’s capital, which recently lost its major musical institution (the ANU School of Music) I see the consequences of this kind of thinking on an almost daily basis.

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