Tag Archives: The Arts Party

Don’t fund my art, just grant me access

“Australian artists will never be silenced by cuts to funding.”

MUCH is being made of the recent wholesale cuts to arts funding in Australia. We knew it was coming, it’s shocking to witness, but does it mean anything to the average Australian artist?

Well, if you’re an independent Australian artist, probably not.

There is a simple reason for this, and it’s going to be hard for many commentators and readers to accept: for decades now, arts in Australia have been funded in a trickle-down manner that Margaret Thatcher would be proud of.

I’m an artist who practices several art forms. I am a fiction and non-fiction author, playwright and painter, and I’ve also worked as an actor, illustrator, designer and filmmaker.

Funding? Yeah, tried to get that many times, but I failed far, far more often than I succeeded. I genuinely wonder what it’s like to have public funds to practice my art. I imagine it’s a bit challenging, especially being accountable to the funding body (and the public), but I’ve never been in that right time at that right place to get my ticket to the top floor of Australia’s arts sector.

Although I haven’t let that stop me. Ever since graduating two decades ago, with two art diplomas, I’ve worked a string of day jobs to support myself while I practice my art. I thrive while telling stories, it’s in my DNA and I’ll never give it up; yet if I’d had to rely on the meagre income generated from my art, I would have given up long ago.

That’s not to say I subscribe to the notion that my output should have no currency just because it comes naturally. Far from it! Artists should be paid well for our skill and our time. The trouble is, creating a market for art in this country right now is almost impossible whether you’re funded or not.

The problem for independent artists is not funding, it’s access.

HERE’S AN IDEA Malcolm Turnbull wants innovation, but not from artists.

My ears prick up when I hear Malcolm Turnbull talk about Australians needing to be agile enough to ride his ideas boom, because to date he’s never thought enough about the arts to include it in his revolution.

But artists are in it up to our eyeballs, already risking everything with the best of them. I innovate, particularly as an author. In the past two years I’ve been agile enough to teach myself how to publish quality books – my own – using the online tools that are at the fingertips of any burgeoning writer.

In many art forms, from literature to live performance, it’s now possible to create content and generate sales channels via the internet and social media. There’s a sense that artists harnessing these continually expanding innovations have no known boundaries, but unfortunately this is not the case. Audiences simply don’t know we’re there, and for artists, no audience equals no consumers (and therefore no income) for our art.

Anyone who’s self-published books will tell you how hard it is to interest the mainstream media in their titles. It simply doesn’t matter how excellent and innovative the product is, if it hasn’t been fostered by a major publishing house it’s unlikely to make it into the critical context of mainstream book reviews, literary festivals and awards.

This is no surprise. The major publishers created this critical mass decades ago to sell their titles within, and they don’t want competition from the thousands of writers who annually get rejected by mainstream publishing and turn to the DIY book revolution.

Yet we are the first ones expected to be outraged and up in arms when Australian literary icons call for a halt to some dodgy-sounding import rules.

I’ve been selling my books into a market with no such protections for my work, as have countless other independent Australian writer-publishers. If authors supported by the Australian publishing industry are taking a hit, join the queue behind the rest of us! You’ll get a higher return per sale of every book if you self-publish, so what’s stopping you from going it alone?

That’s an easy one to answer: artsworkers – those employed to facilitate art. In the case of book publishing, these are the editors, designers, proofreaders, publicists and other professionals who put writers’ books together for the marketplace.

Some artsworkers are also artists (I’ve been known to cross over more than once), and they’ve been highly visible of late, expressing disappointment at funding cuts that will impact their bottom line and their forward estimates.

“It’s past time for getting real about arts access and distribution in Australia.”

In a sense, artsworkers have more to lose than artists, although many have framed these lean times as the contributing factor in employing less artists. I suspect many companies will cut art rather than cut artswork, at least initially, but many will simply run out of funds for both, and that is where the greatest shame lies in this debate. As a result, artists will have to learn to stop relying on artsworkers to develop our careers.

I abhor wholesale cuts to the arts, but we’ve been on the frontline of the blade for centuries, seen as a frivolous, non-essential extra. The argument against that definition is too obvious to construe here, but I encourage artists to do what we have always done: keep making art.

Artsworkers have a different challenge, and it’s past time for getting real about arts access and distribution in Australia. If our political leaders want innovation in the publishing sector, then a literary competition in this country need only launch an independent book-publishers’ award. The rest will follow.

But right now, literary awards have a snobbish, unnecessary block to independent authors making a decent splash in Australian publishing by locking us out of competition, publicity, exposure and opportunity.


Actor and playwright Kate Mulvany (pictured) used multi-story metaphors this week when she urged major theatre companies to notice what is being amputated on the lower floors of an already struggling performing arts sector in Australia, and to do something about it by keeping the top floor open.

“We need to keep those voices on the ground floor and middle floors ringing out with Australian stories or our much-loved house will collapse beneath us,” she said. “If they’ve been evicted from the middle and ground floors, then invite them upstairs.”

Consumers of art could do a lot better too. If you are really outraged by arts funding cuts in this country, you should already be buying independent Australian art.

Have you ever purchased an independently published book, created by an author who has self-funded their entire enterprise? Do you buy from high-street shops or from independent Australian artisans who are innovating as best they can in a marketplace dominated by cheap imports?

Do you support independent Australian films at the box office? Are you aware of burgeoning independent theatre festivals in Australian cities?

1460862671Are you signing-up to The Arts Party to make your concerns heard in our parliament?

I’m all for innovation spreading new-wave tendrils into the arts sector – who would be foolish enough to attempt stemming the flow anyway?

But if politicians want to support the arts, while butchering funding for artists, ‘there’s never been a better time’ for them to make small budget-neutral changes with big impact by starting with opportunities at their fingertips.

I look forward to ‘having a go’ by entering an Innovation in Independent Publishing Award at the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, personally guided into existence by whichever leader wins the next federal election. The state Premier’s literary awards will follow suit, of course, by creating categories that no major publishing house will be eligible to enter books into, and I can’t wait to buy every title on that shortlist.

Art happens regardless of politics, and Australian artists will never be silenced by cuts to funding. Many of us are already proving our durability in the independent sector… if you can’t hear us, you’re just not looking in the right places.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Creating communities with a common voice – the Arts Party

The-Arts-PartyA Writer talks to the political party for artists, coming to an election near you!

MOTORISTS, shooters and fishers have all got one, so have sex enthusiasts and christians … why not creatives?

Micro political parties have leapt into the Australian voters’ consciousness like never before – some would say they’re running the joint – so when one of my readers tipped me off about the formation of a new party named The Australian Arts Party (TAP), I was all ears.

They’ve been getting their act together, the people behind Australia’s newest micro party, but what else would we expect from a collective of creatives?

Meet digital producer and TAP founder and registered officer, PJ Collins.

ACTIVE ARTIST Digital producer - the Arts Party's PJ Collins.
ACTIVE ARTIST Digital producer – the Arts Party’s PJ Collins.

Michael Burge: Why an Arts Party?

PJ Collins: To provide something that’s long overdue – a dedicated voice to support and encourage arts and creativity for all Australians. We want a more unified and economically prosperous Australian society, built on thriving, vibrant communities, which benefit and improve the quality of all our lives. A thriving arts sector is a key component of preparing us for this future, as it creates a ripple effect of seemingly unconnected benefits throughout the community, both socially, technologically and economically.

Australia’s creative economy already generates billions of dollars in revenue each year and that is set to grow substantially, as it must do – we can’t base our future on the global price of iron ore or coal. The future of Australia will be decided by the quality of our ideas, and the skills we develop among us to make them happen. The best investment this country can make is in its own people. When we encourage creative activity we plant the seeds for innovation, and that is what will power Australia’s future prosperity.

Finally, after the last decade of watching and listening to our federal representatives in Canberra, we’ve grown tired of waiting for a positive win-win, cross-party parliamentary voice to appear in Australian politics, so we’ve created it.

MB: Is there a gap in representation for Australia’s artists?

PJC: Artists and our creative industries are certainly in need of a committed voice. There are many support organisations that do the best they can to help them within limited mandates, but there has been no committed political and federal voice to speak on their behalf until now. Like all Australians, these companies and individuals just want a fair go, the opportunity and support to achieve their potential – hand-ups not hand-outs. We all gain as a society when creative individuals and organisations fulfil their potential.

ArtsParty_posters_A3_Amanda-1_800MB: Which parts of the current funding models for Australian arts needs to be overhauled?

PJC: What we need is a more efficient, better supported arts industry, funding more creativity, taking more risks and offering greater opportunity for all Australians, as both creators and audiences, to get involved. The amount of pure funding that reaches artists and communities is simply too low, once all the ancillary administrative costs are deducted, and sadly no art or community project is funded on merit alone – there are just so many conditions to access funding. In fact there is no real autonomy for any of our arts funding bodies, and that needs to change.

We also want to see the audience, the actual funders, given central importance. Public investment should come with the proviso of connecting with as many members of the public as possible. For certain areas, such as major film funding, we’re even considering a crowdsourcing approach to deciding what projects get significant investment. We’re throwing around a lot of ideas at the moment!

MB: Regarding accountability for artists in receipt of government funding, what is TAP’s motivation for supporting an increase in responsibility?

PJC: We feel that artists have a duty to complete their publicly funded work, and that funding bodies have an equal obligation to create as large a public audience for that work as possible. Admiring our art and creativity should be a communal activity wherever possible. It should happen in neighbourhoods across the country and be as accessible as possible to the general population, so we all gain. So to us the responsibility rests with us all as a community.

MB: What sparked the idea to start TAP?

PJC: It was a discussion with friends over beer, about how hard it was to get any funding for an arts festival, which segued into the sorry state of the Australian film industry – hardly unusual conversations among Australians interested in those areas. In fact I think the idea of an arts party has been discussed literally thousands of times in bars and cafes over the years, but for some reason no-one actually got up the next day and did anything about it. Until now.

MB: What does TAP believe most artists want from the political process in this country?

PJC: Recognition, acknowledgement, respect and support. A fair go. It’s generally not a viable path to enter an arts career full-time, outside of administration. We would like to see tax breaks for those who create value with their minds above and beyond their daily work, and the opportunity for unknown artists to easily access small-scale funding to complete and share the fruits of their work. Creating value with your mind is not limited to fine arts either.

ARTY FARTY Minister for the Arts George Brandis.
ARTY FARTY Minister for the Arts George Brandis.

MB: How does TAP view the current state and federal Arts Ministries?

PJC: It’s terrible to see the closure of so many arts departments across the country, and the provocative comments made by the federal Minister for the Arts (George Brandis) surrounding the biennale controversy.  It’s hard to imagine any fundamental shift in the treatment of Australian arts and creativity in the current political climate, but don’t worry, we’re on our way!

MB: What has the process of founding TAP been like for you personally?

PJC: Well it was great to find that so many people shared my belief, that the arts needed a united voice, and cared enough to actually join and get this party going. We funded the party by way of a crowdfunding project, started by a couple of us emailing friends with the message – and that message just kept going. We then put together a committee of like-minded people with proven track records in the arts to help our progress. We needed 500 paid-up members to validate the campaign and ended up with over 700. The official paperwork is lodged and we’re just waiting to hear back from the AEC. Inspiring.

MB: Which electorates is TAP planning to stand candidates in?

PJC: Ultimately, we would like to be able to stand candidates across all states and the federal parliament, but our focus right now is on the next federal election.

MB: What does TAP offer to voters who do not identify as artists?

PJC: Well this party is about the audience just as much as it’s about the artists and creatives. You can’t have one without the other! We want to give voice to the countless Australian creators who are desperate to gain the recognition they deserve and share their work to widest possible audience. By repeating this across the country, in neighbourhoods large and small, we will ultimately strengthen the entire Australian community. We are about community first and foremost, and all of us contribute to that.

To find out more about The Australian Arts Party, visit their website www.theartsparty.org or check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

This article first appeared on No Fibs.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.