Arts & Entertainment

NEVERMIND THE ARTS: Funding cuts go deeper and deeper

DirtyFeet dancers Ashlee Barton, Courtney Scheu, Annabel Saies, Emma Harrison and Ivey Wawn. Photo: Chris Peken


The function of art and culture, in all its various forms, has a profoundly positive and immeasurable impact on Australian society. The recent budget announcement however, of $105 million worth of funding cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts, has various branches of the arts sector fearing for their future.

In Sydney, groups and individuals from all walks of the industry have been banding together and planning a National Arts Sector Meeting, featuring the open forum Our Future In Our Hands, to take place tonight (Jul 2) where they can unite to reclaim control of their futures. “It’s an open call to people who have an interest in this conversation,” said Norm Horton from Feral Arts, an organiser and spokesperson for the event. “We’re anticipating that we’ll get people from right across the arts and cultural sector…”

Meanwhile, DirtyFeet, a not-for-profit contemporary dance organisation is preparing a program for up-and-coming choreographers in the face of an uncertain funding future. Out of the Studio (OOTS) is an initiative bringing the works of two young choreographers, Rhiannon Newton and Rosslyn Wythes, ‘out of the studio’ and ‘onto the stage’.

DirtyFeet Director Anthea Doropoulos is confident that we will be hearing the names of these talented women in the future. Newton’s choreography proposes that we are automatically a ‘group dancing machine’; her work tunes into the processes of repetition, calibration, togetherness and slippage naturally at play between bodies. Whereas Wythes’ choreography explores energy moving through the body and through a group of bodies; collective and individual desires will take these bodies sweeping and sliding through the space, transforming the landscapes we see.

This is the second year of OOTS, a proven launch pad for the careers of other dance professionals; this would not be possible without funding. “We’ve been quite happy with the way things have been going, however with these cuts we are fearful of what is going to happen,” said Anthea. Currently, funding from Arts NSW covers a majority of the costs, in addition to DirtyFeet’s own box office sales, merchandise and own fundraising initiatives.

It is rare for opportunities of paid, career-building employment to come along for emerging artists. The program pays a full time wage to the choreographers and their dance teams for three weeks of rehearsal that culminates in an evening showing followed by a question and answer session. New pressures on arts funding means that it will be much more competitive when DirtyFeet seek to reapply for the funding that has allowed them to foster the future of Australia’s dance arts.

OOTS is not the only grass roots program whose future has been made uncertain by the proposed shift in arts funding. Paula Abood, a community cultural development artist who works with diverse communities across Western Sydney, was motivated to join the organisers of Our Future In Our Hands because of the threats to her work and the communities she assists. “I feel that this change is so radical that it will transform the sector for the worst,” she said.

The millions of dollars worth of funding proposed to be cut from the Australia Council is intended to be transferred to the newly established National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), with it’s funding decisions resting with minister George Brandis.

“I think that when you start speaking about the idea of ‘excellence’ in particular there’s an inherent cultural bias in that framework,” says Abood. “Who is deciding what excellence is? For me… you can’t neatly explain in one sentence what excellence is, because I think it changes with whatever group or art forms you’re working with. It crosses the boundaries of innovation, creativity, experimentation…”

Paula works with communities to build capacities through art, through her work she has helped people from marginalised and disenfranchised backgrounds (refugees, the homeless) use artistic mediums of storytelling as powerful tools to facilitate conversation, nurture and educate. Artists like Paula do not fall neatly into a particular art form, nor do they have the infrastructure of major performing arts organisations. They will have to fight to prove the ‘excellence’ of their work, when the benefits of it are evident enough.

“The people who are most impacted [by the arts cuts] from what we know, are the individual artists, independent artists and the small to medium arts organisations,” says Norm Horton.

The National Arts Sector Meeting follows up a similar gathering hosted in Canberra. While it will have a strong focus on the Sydney and NSW sector, it will bring in speakers from the other states and territories and facilitate a series of follow-up gatherings across the country. The main topics in focus will be advocacy, money and policy. “There’s a policy void at the moment,” said Horton. “The current federal government came in and decided to axe the Creative Australia policy [established by the 2013 Labor government], but haven’t put anything [else] in place… the decisions it is making don’t have any policy context, that makes it really hard for anyone to figure out where they sit.”

“If I was young and starting out in dance and my government didn’t support what I did at all, I would just leave the country,” said Anthea Doropoulos, calling to attention to the lack of support for young and emerging artists. “It’s hard enough to be an artist in Australia, and then its just been made harder.”

July 3 & 4, 7.30pm. Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance, 88 Carlton Parade, Carlton. $10-$15. (DirtyFeeters and children under 12 Companion Card holders are free.) Bookings:

July 2,
5.30pm–8.00pm. Australian Theatre for Young People, Pier 4/5 Hickson Road,
Walsh Bay. RSVP and info: Or Or Or 0407 690444