The Australia Council has announced that 65 small to medium arts organisations will have their government funding slashed under its Four-Year Funding program, delivering a devastating blow to a significant portion of the visual arts sector. As part of their plan, the Council said they would provide $112 million of funding for 128 small and medium companies and continue to maintain Indigenous organisations around the country. The fate of those companies that have been cut off, however, is yet to be determined.
Australia boasts a large pool of burgeoning artistic talent and no shortage of audiences willing to put bums on seats. Between 2012 and 2014, Contemporary Art Organisations Australia (CAOs) presented pieces by more than 6,500 artists; supported 230 Indigenous artists in their programming; exhibited 900 new artworks and welcomed more than 3.9 million visitors. The live performance industry alone employs 34,000 people and generates a gross output of $2.5 billion. In terms of audiences, more Australians will see a live show than the AFL, NRL, A-League, Super Rugby, Test Cricket and the Big Bash combined.
One of the companies left out in the financial cold is the iconic Australian physical theatre company Legs On The Wall. For 31 years it has staged innovative pieces designed to challenge audiences. With performances at home and overseas, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Legs On The Wall has had a great impact on the theatre scene both culturally and artistically. The company now faces an uncertain future as it copes with the loss of its government funding.
For Legs On The Wall, the funding they received from both the State and Federal governments provided stability, which Executive Producer Kath Melbourne said “allows us to enter into staff contracts with our core staff, it allows us to undertake long-term projects with artists and it allowed us to leverage those funds to gather further funding for artistic projects.”
The impact of these announced cuts will not only be felt by companies such as Legs On The Wall, but will also have a trickle down affect on the contractors they employ, according to Melbourne “it’s such a blow for the sector that’s going to impact the entire ecosystem. It’s the artists we employ, the designers, the riggers, the production staff and all of the other companies that we work with such as PACT and Stalker. All of these people are now going to find themselves potentially not having a full time role in the arts.”
Bearing this in mind City Hub also reached out to PACT Centre for Emerging Artists for comment. Based in Sydney, the performing arts company is dedicated to developing artists in the first five years of their career. In the last three years alone, PACT has given a start to 448 professional and emerging artists, premiered 58 new works and commissioned 44 new pieces. Government funding represents 40% of their operating budget. They are set to lose all of it.
PACT’s artistic director, Katrina Douglas, said that it won’t however be going down without a fight: “PACT has always operated on the smell of an oily rag and yet produced amazing results for artists and the arts community. PACT is now in the fight of its life.” Douglas is determined to preserve PACT as a mainstay for early career artists seeking vital support and opportunities. “Funding the arts is not a government handout, it is an investment in the future and in Australia’s cultural heritage,” she said.
Douglas warns that without companies like PACT, not only will the next generation of artists have fewer opportunities to present their work, but Australia will also see a “brain drain” as artists are forced to look for work overseas. “The government’s reluctance to support and build the arts unfortunately means that Australia is falling way behind the rest of the world,” she said.
Sydney-based dancer and choreographer Amrita Hepi is someone who has seen their career grow from strength to strength thanks to companies like PACT. Hepi is performing her piece with Jahra Wasasala, Passing, in June at the centre’s Afterglow Festival. “The small to medium companies gave me a way in, they showed work that made me feel like what I wanted to make was worthwhile; they championed performers and programmers that I look to as pioneers and mentors,” she said of her experience.
As many of the industry’s game-changers deal with the short and long-term implications of these funding cuts, there are things the public can do to help. Show your support by buying tickets, writing letters to state and federal ministers and contributing to fundraising campaigns (these donations are also tax deductible). Kath Melbourne also stressed the importance of keeping the arts at the forefront of your mind as we rapidly approach the federal election, “educate yourself and have a think about the policies on offer from the different parties and what sort of arts community and the style of shows you’d like to see coming from the Sydney arts community.”
Without the arts, the fabric of Australia will not shine so bright. (CB)
Legs On The Wall: legsonthewall.com.au
PACT Centre for Emerging Artists: pact.net.au
PASSING (Dance performance by Amrita Hepi & Jahra Wasasala)
June 22–25, various show times. PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, 107 Railway Parade, Erskineville. $20-$25. Tickets: pact.net.au/2016/05/passing/
BY CAITLIN BURNS