As with everything there is two or more perspectives to every story and the arts sector is not exempt.
When it comes to arts funding, the sector competes with funding for other sectors, including education, health, the community sector, sports and social services. The need for funding across so many sectors imposes priorities when it comes to allocating funds.
At the same every sector, including the arts sector believes it contributes in a positive manner to the community; that our society would be worse off without that contribution. Every one of those claims is valid.
Were funding to be allocated on emotional appeal then the arts would win hands down everytime. As with sports, everyone loves an Australian winner, to see Australian artists being recognised on a global level, to see the Australian entry into the Venice Biennial. Regrettably emotion is rarely considered in funding decisions – unless that emotion can be channelled into votes!
Funding decisions are made by politicians. Politicians need votes. Political analysts will have determined the arts sector lacks cohesion and therefore lacks the ability to actively lobby against funding cuts. In other words, despite the protestations of a handful of impassioned people, any funding cuts will not directly impact upon the person in the street and is unlikely to result in a voting backlash.
In this sense, it is not the Government that is the enemy of the arts sector; the sector itself is its own worst enemy. Like so many sectors that depend heavily upon funding from government, the arts sector assumes funding will be everlasting. This is always a mistake. Circumstances do change and 2016 is a pivotal election year in Australia.
Again like so many other sectors that seek funding from various levels of Government, the arts sector has failed to engage in active advocacy. Lobbying after the fact is not advocacy. Effective advocacy takes place over a long term, its is a planned and funded process, lead by sector leaders and most importantly it takes place when it is least needed – in preparation for when it will be most needed.
Advocacy is about building long term relationships right up to the Prime Ministers office. It is about being able to demonstrate with facts, as well as emotion, the impact the arts have upon society. It is about understanding the underlying motivations of politicians and potential politicians and tailoring the message to those motivations.
Advocacy is only partially about the wellbeing of artists. Few politicans care about the fate of artists. They believe their will always be artists and they are right. Artists create because they need to do so. Appealing to politicians to fund the wellbeing of artists is pointless.
The arts sector needs to come together. Leaders need to emerge. Strength is gained through cohesion. Peak bodies need to map the sector, its players, the connections and relationships and most importantly evidence of any positive impact upon the community.
Creative New Zealand have developed a Good Practice Guide to Arts Advocacy. ArtsHub Australia has created a respository of evidence showing how arts improve health, education and economic outcomes. This is available to members of Arts Hub. These are good resources to inform any advocacy practice. If you can get your hands on a copy of Chris Puplick’s paper titled Getting Heard: Achieving an effective arts advocacy, then that might also provide you with a previous insiders perspective. Puplick is a former Liberal senator for NSW and shadow arts minister.