No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: arts funding

Arts NSW Funding: HotHouse Theatre and Renew Newcastle

Update 26/11: Funding to Renew Newcastle has been restored

Update 2 26/11: HotHouse has just released a press release which reads: “Arts NSW has offered HotHouse Theatre transitional funding for 2013 at the full amount requested in its application.”

Today, Arts NSW released its funding for 2013, and two nationally significant arts organisations had their funding reduced, in the case of Renew Newcastle, and removed, in the case of HotHouse Theatre [will hyper-link when more information is available].

Renew Newcastle was established in 2008, and has gone on to spawn a national movement in Renew Australia, with presence so far in Adelaide, Townsville, Parramatta, and Geelong. The program brokers relationships so empty buildings and spaces are available for use at low cost with rolling leases. This helps inject into the “vibrant” economy policy makers are always talking about.

Particularly in the age of the internet and websites such as etsy, anyone can be a maker and a seller. Renew Newcastle brought these creators out of their homes and into the centre of Newcastle. When these creators set up in a publicly accessible space, they bring with them the public. With the contribution of Renew Newcastle, Newcastle was listed in Lonely Planet’s World’s Top 10 Cities for 2011 – the only Australian city to make the list.

Newcastle is a small city – although I was shocked to learn it is almost half the size of Adelaide – and even when I was there for TINA, a quiet one. At the core of the city, though, is an extraordinary collection of unique spaces: hand-made craft shops, vintage stores, galleries, and studios, to scratch the surface. These spaces give homes to people who would perhaps otherwise move south to Sydney, and contributes to the Newcastle ecology in creating a town which people from outside of these creative industries also have a reason to stay in.

In the UK’s NewStart magazine in September, Westbury said:

Recently SGS Economics and Planning undertook the first independent assessment of Renew Newcastle. Among its key findings were that it had directly contributed to avoidance or mitigation of blight and antisocial behaviour; improved business and community confidence; improved skills development; encouraged greater volunteer engagement; created intellectual capital, some of commercial value; created jobs; made cost savings due to reduced maintenance; and improved regional ‘brand value’, tourism and inward investment.

Most importantly of all, at least from my point of view, is that 80 projects involving hundreds, if not thousands, of local makers, creators and citizens have been given an opportunity to do what they do they believe in and are passionate about. In turn, those people have engaged, entertained and inspired many tens of thousands more both directly and indirectly. Optimism is replacing despair and stories about what is happening and possible are displacing stories about what has gone wrong and who is to blame.

The independent assessment Westbury refers to [website down at time of writing] also found that the project has a whopping return on investment of 10:1.

The power of the Renew projects is proving to have a transformative effect on how we look at space and at cities. The low rates and rolling leases mean they are perfectly tailored for these enterprises which wouldn’t be able to afford a commercial lease. This creates city spaces with a multiplicity of opportunities and experiences for creators and for customers. By their very nature, people that move into these Renew spaces are unique: not only in comparison to the broader commercial environment, but also to within the Renew projects.

Arts NSW funding into Renew Newcastle is comparatively tiny – just $50,000 per annum, but in 2013 that will be slashed to just $30,000, and comes as the organisation was looking to expand, asking for $70,000.

Renew Newcastle has most recently taken over the old David Jones building, installing nine stalls in the abandoned building. In the place of a commercial department store you can find thirty-seven facsimiles of and that couldn’t sustain itself in Newcastle, are stores of and for the community it exists in. Renew Newcastle continues to actively broker these relationships, and actively set a national and international example for how to rethink our cities and the ever growing number of abandoned buildings.

HotHouse Theatre was established as the Murray River Performing Group by a collective of young early graduates from the VCA in 1979. Located in the NSW/Victorian border towns of Albury Wodonga, and renamed during a 1997 restructuring, it is unfortunately all too unique its qualities as both a professional regional theatre, and a theatre focusing on new Australian work. HotHouse theatre creates presentation and development opportunities for both members of the local community, and members of the wider national sector through a variety of programs, including a year long subscription season, youth project The Studio, an education program, and month-long residencies.

Like most theatre companies in Australia, it has gone through peaks and troughs in its existence. Funded as a Key Organisation with the Australia Council, in the last year the company was put ‘on notice’ for its funding: rather than accepted into the traditional three year funding cycle, the company was funded for one year and in that time it had to prove it was working towards an economically and artistically sustainable future.

The company did this for both the Australia Council and Arts Victoria, and was reinstated in full to the Key Organisations list. These decisions do not come lightly, and the company would have invested significant time and energy into formulating future plans that fit within the artistic visions of these funding bodies. In addition to this vote of confidence, in the past two years HotHouse has increased subscription attendance 270% [private correspondence].

The company received no warning from Arts NSW that its funding was under consideration, let alone was tapped for possible removal. For each of Renew Newcastle and HotHouse Theatre, these new funding arrangements start from January 1. This leaves only five weeks for the organisations to radically readdress how they will approach the incoming year, with no prior warning to put contingency plans in place.

Just over a month ago, I was privileged enough to attend Kumuwuki / Big Wave, and spend the long weekend listening to and talking to people who create work in regional and rural Australia. We are a huge and disparate country, made up of many varied people and many varied communities, and the work which happens outside of our capital cities is just as vital as the work which happens in them.

We are continually becoming more connected as a country, and with the advent of the National Broadband Network this will again be more true than ever. It would be a tragedy, though, to assume this connectedness means cities can broadcast to the regions and this will be enough. Every community in Australia deserves the strongest chance to thrive. This means supporting the people and the organisations which supply the ideas and the space to make this happen wherever they are, but even more pertinently in regional areas.

Renew Newcastle continues to prove its worth locally, nationally, and internationally. HotHouse Theatre recently increased subscriber numbers well against national trends, is a beloved and longstanding part of the national landscape, and has recently proven itself in the eyes of the Australia Council. Nationally, we need to be paying attention to what happens in our regional centres. Nationally, we should all be scared for what these funding decisions mean. Each of these organisations are organising responses to fight for the reinstatement of funding. I urge you to get involved in any way you can.

Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations

However much I talk about youth issues in Adelaide, it is in many ways a city where it is great to be a young maker of things – because the generation above us is missing.  They’re living in Sydney or Melbourne.  It’s much easier to find yourself noticed or to raise your voice above the din when there isn’t much of a crowd which needs to be broken through.  But how is this impacting on the younger and emerging generations of artists?  Is the cultural drain, coupled with a lack of venues where independent artists can present – and where audiences interested in independent work can attend – and Adelaide’s insularity having a negative impact on the quality of art produced?

In both Brisbane and Sydney this year, I saw work by people who were once based in Adelaide, but now these writers, directors, actors, and stage managers, live and create work in other cities for other audiences.  This work ran the gauntlet from among the best (The Seagull) to among the worst (Woyzeck) I saw this year, but the point is I couldn’t have seen it at home.  I don’t blame them – I’m not planning on sticking around forever – but this has a two-fold effect on the cultural ecology of Adelaide.  Not only are we losing these artists and these voices, we’re also losing the effect these artists can have on the generation who follows them: the knowledge base and the talent which can be shared is lost.

It is, of course, a self-perpetuating cycle.  The “brain-drain” creates its own pull, the more creative people that leave, the more others feel they need to leave, too, to find new opportunities,  be them creative, employment, or creative employment orientated.   Then, particularly in the case of arts administrators, as people start to return to Adelaide to raise their families, having worked interstate almost becomes a prerequisite for many higher level jobs.  There is, it seems, even the perception that you must leave in order to advance in a career in Adelaide.

It is not only the artists who leave, it is the other people interested in punctuating their lives with arts and culture outside of the festival context.  The more these people leave, the harder it is for artists to find audiences, and the more artists leave to move interstate.

The pull of the Adelaide artists in Sydney or Melbourne grows ever stronger, the pull of Adelaide grows ever weaker.

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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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