An Open Letter on the Future of Arts Funding

Below is an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Arts George Brandis, in protest against the cuts to arts funding in the most recent budget. This has been published in the Guardian, Meanjin and Overland, among others. If you would like to sign the letter, please comment on the Meanijn site, so your name can be added to a letter sent to parliament.

The Southerly editorial team.

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Dear Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Arts George Brandis,

We view with dismay the many proposed changes to health, education and welfare support announced in the 2014 budget, and fear that the consequences these changes are likely to have will be dire for our most vulnerable citizens: the young, the elderly, the disadvantaged and Indigenous Australians.

We also strongly object to the reduction in arts funding, specifically the Australia Council’s loss of $28.2 million (not to mention the attack on Australian screen culture with cuts of $38 million to Screen Australia’s budget and a massive $120 million cut from the ABC and SBS over the coming four years). This decrease in federal support will be devastating to those who make art of any kind in this country, and many important works, works that would inform national debate and expand the horizons of Australia and its citizens, will simply never be made. Ultimately, these cuts will impoverish Australian culture and society.

Cutting the support the Australia Council offers will mean the loss of libraries, galleries, museums, concerts, regional tours, writing centres, and community and regional arts centres. In 2009, 11 million people visited an art gallery. To give that number context, it’s more people than went to the AFL and NRL combined. Those numbers tell us what many already know: that art is as crucial a part of our national identity as sport. Australians are passionate about creating, attending, consuming and investing in art.

The sector is “central to the social life of Australians”, as last year’s Creative Australia policy noted, and “an increasingly important part of the economic mainstream”. Following two comprehensive government reviews and a long process of consultation, the Creative Australia policy had promised to invest an additional $200 million in the sector; there is no mention of this additional funding in the current budget.

Importantly, the arts sector is one of the largest employers in the country. “In 2011, cultural industries directly employed 531,000 people, and indirectly generated a further 3.7million jobs,” critic and writer Alison Croggon recently observed. “Copyright industries were worth $93.2 billion to the Australian economy in 2007, with exports worth more than $500 million.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that in 2008–9, the arts contributed $86 billion to the Australian GDP – that is, 7% – $13 billion of which flowed directly from our field, literature and print media.

It is worth noting that the mining sector only provides $121 billion to the GDP, and employs fewer workers (187,400 directly, 599,680 indirectly), yet receives far more government financial support at federal and state levels.

Government support of the arts is vital to civic participation, as well as employment, innovation, growth, education, health, trade and tourism. The arts, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found in 2011, help build a “socially inclusive society”, one that makes people feel of value, and encourages greater participation in employment, education, training and volunteering.

Australia has a long history of valuing the arts and supporting its artists and writers. The Commonwealth Literary Fund was first started in 1908 and eventually became the Literature Board, before moving to the auspices of the Australia Council. The $200 million in grants the Australia Council as a whole currently bestows enables large organisations, such as the Australian Ballet, to put on annual programs, but also allows regional companies such as Back to Back Theatre or Bangarra Dance Theatre to tour internationally. It helps decades-old publications continue to foster a love of literature, finding and supporting new writers who will become tomorrow’s great Australian authors.

The loss of funding indicated in the 2014 budget will devastate these smaller organisations and practitioners, robbing Australia of a whole generation of artists, writers, publishers, editors, theatre makers, actors, dancers and thinkers. Crucially, it will deprive people, particularly in rural and regional areas and in remote communities, of the opportunity to create, educate, learn and collaborate. These proposed funding cuts endanger us intellectually, artistically and severely damage our reputation internationally. Moreover, we fear the prospect of a world of culture and art that is unaffordable to the majority of Australians.

You have an opportunity now to restore and increase funding to the arts. We ask you that you don’t devalue our artists or their work, and instead recognise what art offers Australia.

We look forward to your response.

Zora Sanders, Meanjin

Jacinda Woodhead, Overland

Alex Miller, author

Alexis Wright, author

Anna Funder, author

Christos Tsiolkas, author

JM Coetzee, author

Sonya Hartnett, author

Chloe Hooper, writer

Don Watson, writer

Hannah Kent, author

Shaun Tan, author and illustrator

Garth Nix, author

Peter Temple, writer

Sally Rippin, author and illustrator

Andy Griffiths, author

Kim Scott, author

Alison Croggon, writer and critic

Daniel Keene, playwright

Robert Drewe, author

Kirsten Tranter, author

Fiona Capp, author

Tony Birch, writer

Michelle de Kretser, author

Larissa Behrendt, writer

Lisa Dempster, Melbourne Writers Festival

Jennifer Mills, author, fiction editor Overland

Martine Murray, author

Andrea Goldsmith, author

Emeritus Professor John McLaren AM, author

Marion Halligan AM, author

Dr Jessica Wilkinson, poet, academic and editor

Ivor Indyk, Giramondo Publishing, UWS

Evelyn Juers, author

Peter Rose, Australian Book Review

Professor Gail Jones, author

Dr Jeff Sparrow, Overland

Favel Parrett, author

Dr Benjamin Law, author

Dr Maria Tumarkin, author

Matthew Lamb, Island

Sam Cooney, The Lifted Brow

Rjurik Davidson, writer and editor

Amy Middleton, Archer Magazine

Alice Grundy, Seizure

Elizabeth McMahon, Southerly

Tessa Lunney, Southerly

David Brooks, Southerly

Geoff Lemon, Going Down Swinging

Robert Skinner, The Canary Press

Alex Skutenko, Overland

Lesley Halm, Island

Dr Peter Minter, Overland

Dr Kate Fagan, author and musician

Susan Hornbeck, Griffith REVIEW

Geordie Williamson, Island

Kent MacCarter, Cordite Poetry Review

Josephine Rowe, author

Richard Watts, writer and broadcaster

Angela Meyer, author and literary journalist

Delia Falconer, author

Connor Tomas O’Brien, Tomely

Van Badham, writer

Melissa Keil, author and editor

Professor John Kinsella, poet and writer

Gideon Haigh, journalist

Dr Tom Cho, author

Judith Beveridge, Meanjin

Kalinda Ashton, author

Simon Mitchell, author

Margo Lanagan, writer

Lally Katz, writer

Sally Heath, writer and publisher

James Ley, writer and editor

Luke Davies, writer and poet

Omar Musa, rapper, poet and author

Ben Walter, writer

David Leser, writer and journalist

Ben Eltham, writer and journalist

Robert Macklin, author and journalist

Alan Close, writer

Chris Womersley, author

James Bradley, author and critic

Bronte Coates, Stilts

Carmel Bird, writer

Maxine Clarke, poet and writer

Alice Pung, author

Kate Larsen, writer and arts manager

Craig Sherborne, author

John Birmingham, writer

Steve Bisley, actor and writer

Candida Baker, author

Hannie Rayson, playwright

Di Morrissey, author

Marele Day, author

Rebecca Starford, Text Publishing and Kill Your Darlings

Susan Johnson, author

Mungo MacCallum, writer and journalist

Melissa Cranenburgh, editor and writer


3 thoughts on “An Open Letter on the Future of Arts Funding

  1. Art as Industry – is not art. Here is a list of Art’s employees – the Academy – those who also attended the 20/20 conference – claiming the definition of Art as ‘undefinable’. These are the ‘Artists’ who do not believe in free speech and who will not consider the poems of those who publish in Quadrant – claiming that the Art Industry is as big a mining and employs more people. This is a list of the bigots who are in the business of silencing art. This is a list of those who are behind the gatekeepers of a closed shop. These are the members of the new bourgeoisie. Remember their names.

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