Opinion: This election, the arts industry should vote to ensure our future

“There is a connection between the progress of a society and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo da Vinci. The age of Elizabeth was the age of Shakespeare.” – The West Wing, episode 3.07

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I don’t think I have ever agreed with a single policy that has come from the Liberal or Nationals Party. There are so many issues I could rail against them on, including: their dehumanisation of asylum seekers; their idea to force young job seekers to work for less than minimum wage; their sub-par NBN plans; their refusal to address global warming and environmental issues… I could go on.

But the thing that really has me ready to fight is the Coalition government’s treatment of the arts and writing/publishing industries, especially in relation to the devastating and widely-publicised cuts to Australia Council funded arts-based programs. It is simply unacceptable that this government consistently shouts the word “innovation!”, while holding a gun to the heads of the two most creative industries in the country – the arts and sciences.

A dramatic representation of the future of the arts industry if the Coalition government are re-elected this year.
A dramatic representation of the future of the arts industry if we fail to politically agitate and stand up for our own future.

This funding cut is not just a funding cut

It is another way in which the Coalition government has decided to disrespect the arts industry, and to try to silence us.

Briefly: the Australia Council for the Arts recently announced 128 recipients of their four-year funding grants, but to the surprise of many, somewhere near 62 previously funded companies missed out on their share of the (measly) 28million per year allocated to the Arts Council, meaning that the future of many jobs in the Australian arts industry are uncertain.

A large portion of well-respected small to medium arts companies and publishing programs have had their federal funding snatched away or drastically reduced by the Coalition government.

The losses, say noted writer and critic Alison Croggon, are staggering.

This affects me – and it affects you too

I’m a 22 year old trying make a go of it in a live performance and publishing industry that is not supported or appreciated by our government. It’s hard to picture my dreams for the future coming true.

But beyond that, I love and am invested in the arts. (I think you all just agreed with me). By cutting the funding of small to medium arts companies and publishers, my generation and future generations of writers and artists will lose their voice, and there will be no-one left to hold our politicians accountable.

Most artists and writers get their start through a “small to medium” program, so where will our work force come from if these programs are forced into downsizing or closure due to lack of funding? Express Media and the Next Wave Festival are two programs that did not secure funding of the Australia Council’s four-year grants, and like many of the other organisations that missed out, both cater to people at the start of their careers or those that wish to engage in experimental work.

As Pippa Bainbridge, Express Media’s General Manager and CEO put it, “[…] the real damage is that there will be far fewer development opportunities for our next generation of young writers. While a comparatively small funding cut, it will have a devastating ripple effect on the Australian cultural landscape.” This cut to arts funding is not just about money and jobs – it feels to me like a deliberate attempt to keep the people of this country compliant to a conservative party, by starving out the industries that house the people who might be able to fight back.

Artists have the power this election

Our mistreatment by the Coalition goes far beyond money and politics, and stretches to the point where they refuse to allow LGBT+ people, the people on whose backs much of the performance industry rests, their civil rights. It doesn’t take an economist to know that there is $160mil in the federal budget (the money set aside for the equal marriage plebiscite) that could have quite easily gone towards the defunded arts groups, or even developing a national music curriculum for students.

Writers and artists represent a largely untapped source of power in the Australian electoral process. I don’t think the government has counted on that.

If the performance and publishing industry chose to come together to oust the Coalition, our voices would be ten times as strong as a group like the religious right. We could be taken seriously when it comes to big issues, including arts funding. We have people in our ranks that studied at conservatoriums around the country, ensuring that their voices are able to project to the back of thousand seat theatres, and writers who slogged their way through a University degree with no promise of employment on the other end – we know how to craft a message, how to market it, and our audience is ready to hear us. Can you imagine the good our industries could do in the political arena, if only we chose to engage?

Vote for the arts

My response when anyone asks who I'm voting for this election.
My response when anyone asks who I’m voting for this election.

I understand that the words I have written here are incendiary but (if you can’t tell by my opening quote) I’m a West Wing girl. My brain has been altered by Aaron Sorkin to tell me that political apathy is one of the most dangerous things a person can be, and that democracy is a gift.

Romantically put, I believe I am part of a system that allows me the option to slay dragons with my vote, and to mobilise with my voice an army against those that seek to ruin the country I call home. I know what it was like to split my time between two schools so that I could study music at VCE, how it feels to perform with fifty other people on a stage that barely meets OH&S standards simply because you love performing, and your town has no other performance venues…

I know what it feels like to go without in the arts world, but I don’t want the children of the future to experience the same thing. I want every child in Australia to know how it feels to perform in state of the art theatres, with qualified music instructors and a national culture that appreciates flautists as much as it does footballers. I don’t want to contribute to the culture of cynicism surrounding Australian politics, so instead I ask for solidarity and revolution.

Use your voice and your vote to support the industry that supports you, the industry that you love. The time to be scared of political retribution is over. Our funding has been cut, what else can the government do to us? Don’t be scared to use your voice against the people that have put the livelihood of your friends, family and mentors in danger. Unite, and make a change.

We are not simply fighting “for the right to a night at the opera”, but to ensure the future of this country and its democracy. Now is the time to un-muzzle our industry, and to use our words to create positive change. The Coalition have chosen the wrong people to try and silence. There’s a reason our industry has been dying for thousands of years but is still going strong today.

Vote against the coalition on July 2.

Will you join in this crusade? The time is now, the place is here.

Maddi Ostapiw

Maddi is a performer who has been too scared to stand in the spotlight for the last few years, so she channels her need for love and appreciation into writing about the theatre instead. An energetic consumer of musical theatre, she is currently earning a degree in journalism and teaches voice in her small hometown. Maddi is normally covered in cat fur, has an opinion on everything, and in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not throwing away her shot.

Maddi Ostapiw

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *