Budget Cuts & Arts Ruts

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I used to live in the States.  For six years, through most of my childhood, I played in the snow on Christmas and went Trick-or-Treating the good old fashioned way.  The first thing I’d tell anyone was that I was from Australia.  When you’re young it’s something to be proud of, it’s a place foreign to most kids; an exotic place with rainforests, coral reefs and deadly animals.  Hell, even some people thought we all rode around on kangaroos.  But now, as an adult, I can reflect and see how my childhood dream land has warped.  I don’t just consider the rolling beaches and the meat pies.  I consider how we are recognised as a nation.  Oh yes, how very adult of me.  I think about how our elected officials represent us on a global scale.  And I’ll tell you, that childhood Aussie wonderland sure looks pretty damn fine right now.

As the yearly budget rolls out, everyone likes to have a whinge about what the evil politicians have deduced in their secret underground lairs. But one thing has really stuck out against the usual cuts: the over $100 million cut, that’s six zeros, to the Arts sector.  Now before you all throw your hands up and tell me that the money can be put to better use in the already slim education sector or health, just think for a minute.  The arts cover music, dance, writing, painting, and visual design, anything featured in galleries, libraries, theatre groups, performances, and publications; basically anything you can do creatively.  It’s our cultural core incorporating every nation and breed we have in Australia, a universal language if you will, which already lacks the credit it deserves.  People who study an arts degree already have it hard with people picking on them for not being able to find a job, now their time has just gotten harder.  

"So while the rest of the big world players are moving forward in terms of innovative investment, we are just casually strolling backwards, licking a Paddle Pop, as the sun beats down on our sunburnt heads."

It won’t be the large arts organisations that will feel the cut, but rather, those artists who are just starting out, trying to record their first EP or start their own gallery.  The roots of our foundations will feel the fire the most.  The primary cultivators of art in Australia are those who are just about to make their way in the world.  They build the foundations for the big institutions to stand on because without the little folk there would be no corporate arts organisations.  These foundations are where we found some of our most celebrated artists such as Andrew McGahan and Ben Quilty.

Northern Ireland had a similar issue earlier in the year with their budget cuts.  Ireland, who recently made one of the biggest decisions in their history, has little to no arts sector.  It’s hard to single out Ireland after its legalisation of gay marriage, but after recent cuts to their budget, Northern Ireland is left scrambling to gather artists together.  After a large chunk, over £1 million, cut from their yearly budget, the land of James Joyce and the Cranberries are left with no support for the cultural beat of their heart. And in their scrambling, Northern Ireland have devised a plan.  Their Arts Council will create 100 new jobs in the next 3 years in the arts sector through an apprenticeship and internship programme.  I respect looking back on your mistakes, but I don’t think 100 jobs will make much of a splash.  We can learn many things from our ancestral brethren, though cutting funds to the arts sector is not one of them.  We’ve got much to offer stewing in the hearts of young artists around the nation.

I then wonder how this makes us look on a global scale.  Are we now those backwards folks from the bush the yanks all think we are?  I don’t think cutting our aid-funding will have made us look any better, so I guess we can tick the un-humanitarian box.  Our government also empty their piggy banks when it comes to non-renewable energy because, you know, global warming is a myth.  So while the rest of the big world players are moving forward in terms of innovative investment, we are just casually strolling backwards, licking a Paddle Pop, as the sun beats down on our sunburnt heads.  If we want to hang with the big kids, we better start acting like them.  

Australia still has its beaches, some of its coral reef, and people are fighting to save the Kimberley from the mining tycoons.  It still has its kangaroos and its emus and enough bush tucker to bring any tourist half way across the world.  But Australia is evolving, physically and mentally.  As we move forwards in terms of technology, medicine and infrastructure, we move backwards with our choices for ourselves and our neighbours.  The arts are what keeps us whole; it’s our cultural centre.  So while we stroll ignorantly admiring climate change let’s at least keep some sort of sanity.  Let’s think like the big kids.  Let’s support the arts.