Today marks an important day for the Australian arts community. A campaign initiated by ArtsPeak appropriately titled #FreeTheArts, and more appropriately pushed through social media, has been advocating over the last several months for members of the arts community and its supporters to write to the Inquiry regarding the Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget. The Inquiry raises concern over the proposed $104.5m budget cut to the Australia Council over the next 4 years leaving the majority of the independent arts community including small and medium arts organisations out of the running for government funding issued by the Australia Council. Such submissions could be in the form of written letters, video, audio, illustrated, etc. addressing all or a portion of the Inquiry Terms of Reference. ArtSpeak has even posted a useful writing template that guides supporters of this appeal. Submissions to the Inquiry decisions on the Arts are due to Parliament by 5PM.
As this important non-violent political protest comes to light, I am reminded of the expression “There is more power in numbers.” I recently heard this expression used at MTC’s NEON Festival: a Q&A with the creative team of WE GET IT, produced by Elbow Room, inspired many audience members to ask if the team would consider touring the impactful production to secondary schools for students in grade 11 and 12. Director Marcel Dorney calmly, but passionately, educated the audience with hard facts: due to government policies affecting the education system and, more recently, the arts sector, Elbow Room would have to jump over many hurdles before considering such an opportunity. Follow up questions swelled – what can they (the audience) do to fix that? Marcel continued with a proud smile strewn on his face, “Write. Write letters to the political representatives that need to hear your voice. They want to hear from you. It is more powerful for YOU to say something than I, a representative of the arts community. There are more of you than there are of me; a power in numbers.”
Very true! So what happens after letters are submitted? Who knows! After all, we can’t predict the future. However, what we do know is that the number of letters received in Parliament will say something. They will force politicians to address what the people have to say. And they just may consider an appeal to Arts Minister Brandis’s decision on budget cuts for the arts.
But what if the letters don’t make the impact we hope for? What next? Well, I believe our next step is to propose a solution – an alternative strategy to funding the arts through the people’s own submissions.
Recently, I discovered that in 1981 the Australian government issued a tax incentive scheme called 10BA. This scheme was “designed to attract greater private investment in film and certain types of television programs, allowed investors to claim a $150 deduction for every $100 spent on eligible production costs. In addition, a further 50 per cent tax concession was offered on any profit up to the amount invested.” Through the 1990s, under new political party leaders, the scheme slowly disappeared; however, what it achieved was “financing for more than 900 projects in eight years” and securing “6,000 full-time workers at its peak.” (Info Guide: Information for Filmmakers, September 2008; http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au)
Why can’t this tax incentive be reintroduced in support of the independent arts sector? Think about it – a tax incentive would take away pressure from the government to support the arts, and instead opening an opportunity to allocate funding to other departments of need, like education or Aboriginal Cultural Conservation or environmental and alternative energy research and development. The incentive would give the power to the members of the community to give back to an industry that provides so much for them: the arts has an indirect impact to economic growth by way of supporting other industries within the city. Additionally, an even more reasonable approach to this scheme would to allow the government to put a cap on how much people can invest yearly into the arts – tax payers can claim investments up to $100,000 per financial year. And these tax claims would only be accepted through proof by way of receipts.
Most importantly, what needs to be addressed by political representatives is an alternative solution to budget cuts to the arts. Arts Minister Brandis has announced that money from this cut will be redistributed by way of the newly developed National Party for the Excellence in the Arts, which he, himself, will lead; however, this solution completely ignores the foundation of Australia’s impactful arts community – independent artists and small/medium arts organisations.
Please don’t give up, Australia. Fight for what’s right. Fight for a better solution. Fight to have your voice heard. On behalf of all independent artists and arts organisations, I thank you for your support.