Rip It Up And Start Again: A Hypothetical New Beginning for Arts and Cultural Funding

Today I spoke on a panel on arts funding with the Festival of Unpopular Culture.

 You know how everyone complains about how the Australia Council devotes most of its energies to major flagships and opera? And everyone else gets, well, chicken feed? And when you try to debate that you get this whole series of arguments about how opera’s a great art form and needs funding and whatever? Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have a conversation about what things could look like, rather than a defensive argument about what they’re like now?

Well, let’s pose a hypothetical. Let’s assume every Arts funding body in the nation got shut down, all the money got put into a big pot, we were rebuilding the entire funding system from scratch and every body had to reapply from one big cultural slush fund. What would we do?

The recent Australian Theatre Forum began with Postcards from the Future from a collection of artists and arts workers, and I decided to start my response to the hypothetical like that.  It wasn’t until I finished writing did I realise just how much of an ode to those three days this was. This is an idealistic version of a community and a nation I would like to be working in in ten years.

Dear Jane,

I am writing this as I prepare for my panel at the 2021 Festival of Unpopular Culture: The (Former) Festival State: The demise of a festival culture and the rise of independent arts practice in Adelaide.  Stan and Ianto, still running around in their cricket whites insisting that Ultimate Sports Game is a real sport, are amused by the irony of having such a discussion in a festival.  They’re not defunct, but they don’t weld the power they once did.  That goes for festivals as well.

After the 2011 FUCfunding panel and a rapid submission from all members of the arts community in attendance to the National Cultural Policy, all the arts funding bodies in the country sat up and listened. Australia went through a radical change where, just as prophesised, all funding structures – and the default allocations which exist there – were removed, and as a collective industry we worked towards a democratic system.

Today, our stages have 45% female writers (some people just can’t let go of Chekhov and Shakespeare, it seems), and 50% female directors.  Mirroring similar changes seen in visual arts, music, dance, film, and in the ever proliferating inter- and cross-arts sectors, our theatres are less white, less English speaking, less male, less old, more contemporary, more Australian, more queer, more community engaged, in more regional and remote areas, and with more people with a disability than ever before: on stage, behind the scenes, and in the audience. With the removal of funding structures, we now so rarely refer to “Indigenous art”, “disability art”, “community art”, and “children’s art.”  Now, we just call it “art”.  Some people and groups still choose to use these labels – the National Indigenous Theatre Company’s pretty big on it – and that’s okay to.

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