Why Fringe Benefits is important, and we’re going to save it
Adelaide and South Australia had a disgusting report to wake up to on Wednesday morning. 310 pages on huge and unforgiving cuts to the arts, to the police force, country fire service, public service, almost every sector you can think of (well, except for sports). In the arts, the Film Festival, Windmill Theatre Company (“the best children’s theatre company in the country” according to The Australian), and Vitalstatistix Theatre Company were all slated for the axe. Carclew was going to be sold off, the SAFC’s funding slashed, the Elder Conservatorium gone, Helpmann grants gone. It was filed with repulsive suggestions, showing a complete lack of respect for everyone in this state.
Waiting with bated breaths for the budget release at 3pm, the actual budget isn’t as bad as all that. But the arts still suffers cuts to the air of $14.3 million over the next three years, and these are going to hurt small and medium sized companies the most.
Also cut, along with suburban touring Out of the Square and regional touring Local Stages, is Fringe Benefits, the free program offering discount tickets to people aged 18-30 in Adelaide.
But hey, at least the Festival of Arts can go annual with its extra $9.9 million over three years.
What Fringe Benefits does on behalf of the Adelaide Fringe is an acknowledgment that the arts in this city extend far beyond the Festival season. Adelaide comes alive during the Fringe, but the rest of the year amazing people with their Adelaide companies are putting on work. This happens year in, year out. What the budget fails to realise is this: we can’t be a “Festival State” if all we have are festivals. We cannot have a strong festival without having a strong cultural backbone which extends the rest of the year. We cannot become a city which imports its art and imports its audience four weeks a year, and abandons it the rest of the time.
Fringe Benefits does this. Their website says “We live in a vibrant, amazing city full of creative people who are doing things differently – and Fringe Benefits is going to tell everyone about it. ” They are about promoting this city, this wonderful city, and the art and creative people that it is home to: not just in March.
Part of the Adelaide arts scene since 2006, Fringe Benefits has sold 24,500 tickets, engaged with over 200 organisations, and 16,000 18-30 year olds living and working in Adelaide.  They are important for organisations, as an important marketing and support tool, and for us, as consumers, a “one-stop-shop” for our arts needs in this city.
The arts are expensive. They are. The price is prohibitive. I am lucky enough now that I can choose to spend a lot of my money on theatre tickets, and I receive comp tickets when I review. When I was a university student, I would add up while I worked I’ve now worked enough hours to by that ticket to the show I wanted to see this weekend. But even now, if it wasn’t for Fringe Benefits, I would see an awful lot less. I can see a show for under $20 with Fringe Benefits, at the most $30, and more often than not I can get these seats in A Reserve. We’re not shunted to the back of the gods because we’re in our twenties: the companies which put these tickets out respect us as audience members.
And Fringe Benefits respects us as audience members.
The other thing which is neglected as a “Festival State” are small companies. No, the people at five.point.one or ActNow aren’t making work which is strong enough for the Festival Of Arts. They should be asked to be. They are young companies of young people, who need that platform in this city to learn and to grow and create people who can work at the level of international festivals. Even beyond this ground, not all work is made for a festival audience, and it shouldn’t be. Some things just don’t fit into the Adelaide Festival. Trying to even define what does fit is hard, because with each new artistic director comes a new aesthetic. Losing money for small companies for the sake of a festival dilutes the training ground and the experimental platform in this state, which causes an exodus of young creatives, and a city of arts which can’t grow. Which can’t expand. Which cannot create it’s own work for the Festival, and which dies: a Festival of imported work, for an imported audience.
This model causes the arts to change from being about the art to being about tourism. Art can of course be linked to tourism: the Save The Arts campaign in the UK is using this as one of their platforms, Melbourne appreciates this by running their Winter Masterpieces series and investing heavily in producing large-scale musicals (Wicked, Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins). But the heart of the arts cannot be about tourism. It has to be able local artists creating work to be seen by a local audience.
And Fringe Benefits respects local arts makers.
I work at the Mercury, and every time I have worked with someone at Fringe Benefits (primarily Lauren Presser), they have been nothing less than wonderful. Enthusiastic, supportive, wanting to know what they can do to help us. And they do help us. As they help many other organizations.
So, we have Fringe Benefits supporting young arts goers, and arts organizations, year round, big companies and small companies. We have an asset to this state, and what I’m sure is the best program of its kind in Australian, and perhaps the world. And what is its budget? $50, $60,000 a year? I don’t know, but whatever it is, it is an operation which works on the salary of one person, and then a shoestring. To get rid of it is just petty. It is petty, and pathetic, and we won’t stand for it.
We won’t stand for the mere proposal of cuts that were put forward for the arts. And we won’t say “well, at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
Generally, I don’t subscribe to the idea that I am ignored as a 21-year-old. I don’t feel like we are overlooked in politics. But things like this show me that the Government don’t see us as voters. Voters are families, not young, single people, who want to contribute to this state. People my age are politically engaged: most of my friends voted below the line, something which I can’t say for my parent’s generation. Two of my friends this year stood in the state election: Kelly made it to the senate. We are young, and we are engaged, and we care about this state.
We’re going to fight for it. Things like Format and Renew Adelaide are all about fighting for this city. But we can only say we’re going to stay here for so long. I love living in Adelaide, and I think it is a vibrant one with high quality art, and I think if it looses that I can’t stay here. I can’t fight if there is nothing left to fight for.
So now is the time to fight. And we’re going to. We are standing up, and being counted and letting you know that we will NOT STAND to lose Fringe Benefits.
If you are running a campaign on this, I want to know about it. In the next couple of days I will be drafting a form letter for individuals and organizations to complete and send off. I’ve never done this before. I want help, and I want to help you.
If I can get bar snacks in the Festival Centre, if I can save year 12 sports day, I can save Fringe Benefits.
We can save Fringe Benefits.
Join the Facebook page (which, I was beaten to forming, go Adelaide!)
 Sorensen, R “In the theatre of debate” in The Australian 30/4/2010 Accessed 16/9/10 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/in-the-theatre-of-debate/story-e6frg8n6-1225860357388
 McDonald P “Festival of the Arts will be annual” in AdelaideNow 16/9/10 Accessed 16/9/10 http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/in-depth/festival-will-be-annual/story-fn6ikybt-1225924928646
 Twitter of Former Fringe Benefits Coordinator Lauren Presser http://twitter.com/LaurenPresser/status/24644011638 Accessed 16/9/10
 Arts Victoria Melbourne Winter Masterpieces Accessed 16/9/10 http://www.arts.vic.gov.au/About_Us/Major_Projects_and_Initiatives/Melbourne_Winter_Masterpieces