Weekly rant

Thanks to what has become known as Black Friday there are suddenly a lot of think pieces about the arts and arts funding circulating.  This is a good thing. I wish I could get online on any given day and read constructive articles about creative culture and government policy.  I wish it didn’t take the wholesale slaughter of our industry for it to happen. (By the way I’m organising an event that with feature a speech on the future of craft writing in the age of free content in July, so it’s on my mind.)

After 6 years of working, lecturing and researching in this space I have some opinions about these issues. Though sometimes I’m not confident enough to put them out there.  It’s generally only when I feel so authoritative on a subject that I know I can answer any critique that I’ll push a button and send.  I’m wary of opening up myself to criticism. (This is why I am never going to be an academic.)

But two nuggets of information that popped up in my social media feeds recently got me thinking/raised my hackles a little. And I guess I’m taking the chicken approach of not responding on the articles or posts instead I’m just expressing my thoughts here (which is not really public as no one reads it.)

The first was a comment about the Australia Council’s new suite of leadership programs being launched at a time 62 organisations were defunded. (Technically the leadership programs were launched about a month ago, but that’s not the point.)  Now I’m willing to say I have some self-interest in this area.  Not only is leadership my bag, but I have shared my research with the team at OzCo in the past. But I still also think it is worth looking at the perceived idea that it is somehow shameful that the federal body that has a significantly reduced grants budget is wasting resources by launching a (partly) user pays leadership development specifically for the sector.

Could money spent on this be spent in different ways? Absolutely.  Should all government funding that goes into the arts go directly to organisations and artists? In my opinion no.  I believe that part of the remit of organisations like the Australia Council is capacity building and that means helping skill those in the sector. We see that through their marketing forums and conferences on learning. What I see in my research is that there is some serious gaps in organisational leadership.  If participants in leadership programs become better managers, reduce role turnover, develop more productive staff by reducing stress, making the work environment better how beneficial will this be for organisations that has faced with tighter and tighter income streams?  I want to make the creative industries a better place to be employed and deliver more for the community, and I want that not just through adequate government funding but also through skilled leaders managing the companies in which we work.

What I’d love to see is this leadership development being offered free. Because I don’t know many arts organisations that have $600 or $900 to spend on leadership development, even though it is a) significantly better value than what you’d get in other sectors and b) badly needed. Importantly, I also want to ensure (and I hope I can play a part) that the leadership information that is provided in these sessions is relevant to the sector, particularly in the sense that it should come from within.  No wholesale importation of leadership theory as it applies to finance and the assumption that what works there works in the arts.

But I don’t criticise the Australia Council for offering the product in the first place.

OK, my second rant involves this piece on ArtsHub.  As a start I do not support the corporatisation of the arts.  I think creative product needs to be valued for more than economic value.  But at the same time I acknowledge that the creative industries (and I do not see this as a dirty word) is adding significant value to the economy and does employ more people than mining and agriculture.  Those in the sector have a tendency to latch on to these labour market and economic statistics to prove the sector’s value to the economy (legitimately) but then can’t cry foul when it is judged as an economic sector. Pledger says:

The ‘creative industries ideology’ talks to the arts as an object for monetisation. 

I don’t agree.  If you read Creative State, Victoria’s new creative industries policy, then you will see in the very first introductory paragraph:

The creative industries are significant to Victoria’s culture, economy and society and central to its future. Creative sectors and occupations account for $23 billion in gross value added, and make up about eight per cent of the Victorian economy. They influence our quality of life and the strength of our communities, and provide a source of inspiration and entertainment. They have wide-ranging impacts that resonate across our culture, society and economy. 

This clearly states that the industry add value to culture, economy and society.  The document goes on to recognise the linkages between creative work and social justice, quality of life, health, tourism along with economics.

To me it is not an either or discussion.   Attempting to isolate the arts as a ‘special’ case in society that deserves funding for its own sake is a) not going to fly in the modern world and b) not doing justice to the true value the arts provides.   This shouldn’t be an either/or argument. Government support in the arts should be both an investment and a grant.

We in the sector do need to get angry and fight for more funding. But we also need to critique the fact that funding seems to exist in a void of no policy at a national level.  There is no cultural/creative or arts industry policy in place and with no framework there is no strategy. In addition the methodology of funding delivery between the Australia Council for the Arts and Catalyst is a complete mess. No transparency, no consistency and no just process.  I highly recommend this article also on ArtsHub posted on these issues.

I’ve put out the call for arts leaders to step up in the past, and in particular we need some arts leadership at a national, policy level.  Think about this as you vote on July 2.

Rant over.