The art sector within Australia has a right to be outraged at recent funding cuts, announced by the Turnball government.
There is more to ‘art’ than simply the viewing of an end product in a gallery; and there is also more to art than wealthy people collecting works.
The sector provides employment and income for a large number of people, not just artists, also gallery owners and a variety of people involved in the technical aspects of art production. Without a vibrant art sector there is little incentive for students to study art subjects and even less opportunity for them to gain employment upon completion of their studies. In between there are fewer opportunities for volunteers, essential to the sector, to learn and develop skills that may lead to employment.
In 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Australian art sector contributed around $86 billion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). No doubt that level in much higher in 2016.
Looking down the track, over the next few decades, as our lifestyles changes, as there is less jobs available, as more people engage in small business activities, as people have more leisure time on their hands, art will become an increasingly important part of people’s lives; critical towards helping people retain a sense of balance and belonging. This will be much more difficult to achieve without ongoing funding.
But, and there is always a but, despite what might happen in the future, the reality at present is that the community sector, which includes the arts sector is under increasing financial pressure from a combination of government funders, philanthrophy and everyday donors. Funders and donors are becoming increasingly circumspect as to where they deliver funding and more demanding of evidence of impact upon society. This trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
Within the this environment the arts sector must move quickly to take positive and decisive action designed to maintain and build a sustainable sector. This is no time for territorialism, ego’s or silo building. The aim should be to remain in action, to be able to build and to remain around long enough to be able to take part in the future of this evolving sector.
Arts organisations are often not-for-profit and many suffer from the same problems that a good many other non-profit organisations experience. Often governance is inadequate. Good meaning people are not always the best people for boards and committees. The majority of boards do not have a coherent strategic direction in place. They do not understand the community they serve, the impact they seek to have and they do not have in place processes for monitoring progress, evaluating effectiveness and changing direction.
When the governance is inadequate, the impact of funding cuts is excaberbated. Effective boards become proactive at creating a new strategy. They have a great, shared vision that everyone buys into. They understand what their audience wants to see and they know how to generate income from that audience.
Just as an example, the digital strategy for the vast majority of arts organisation is woeful. As it is for the majority of not-for-profit organisations. It’s more than woeful, in many instances it is non existant. The arts sector is a visual sector. How can the sector remain relevant to changing demographics by maintaining a pre-digital strategy while the rest of the world has become increasingly mobile and operates through social media?
By all means express concern and dismay at the funding cuts. Certainly advocate for a change in the way funding is allocated. This is essential. At the same time, turn the focus inwards and look at your own organisation. Ask what are our options for the future? There are many. Be open to the possibilities and remember that nothing is set in concrete. What you have in place today will not be in place in the future – and that has nothing to do with the level of funding.
(Image courtesy The Guardian)