Look Toward a Positive Perspective When Facing the NPEA

The announcement of the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), designed by former Arts Minister, George Brandis, is still a devastating blow to Australia’s arts community, especially for small to medium arts organisations and independent artists who are most affected. Even more devastating is the recent announcement by new Arts Minister, Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield who has decided to keep the program in tact with future minor structural changes.

What does this mean for the future of independent arts? I say it is time for the arts, and all of society, actually, to look at the greener side of this predicament by asking what lessons can we learn from the development of the NPEA?

It’s a tough perspective to examine amongst heartache and disappointment; especially from those loosing critical funding for projects in 2016 and beyond. But this is a chance for small to medium arts organisations and independent artists to rise to the occasion and remind society that the art prevails over all obstacles.

History has shown that the arts has struggled to maintain its relevance in society for centuries: in the 1500s, when the church banned theatrical performances, minstrel shows developed as touring productions traveling all over the countryside; Shakespeare and his constituents lost their beautiful theatre spaces to fire and government regulations in the 1600s; and playwrights like Wilde, Chekov and Ibsen wrote plays that failed during their first productions because too much was said about society and politics that made the important people look bad. However, each era made the most of their obstacles by continuing their creative agendas.

So what obstacle does the NPEA present? Lack of funding. The great Stanislavski, godfather of modern acting, credited for developing ‘the method,’ concluded that performers only need a chair, two boards and their imagination to put on a production. If that is true, then how much funding is actually needed for a production?

Unfortunately, a lot of money is required to put on a production, even the most simple of creations. Like most businesses, the arts run on important expenses: basic utilities (light, water, internet access, phone, etc.), marketing opportunities (print and digital ads, networking, website maintenance, etc.), educational advancements and so much more.

Relying heavily on government funding, which is seen by many outsiders as a hand-out, does not lead to long-term sustainability. In 2013, the Australia Council distributed $1.3 billion of government funding to a select few arts organisations and artists after sifting through a rigorous grant application process. In 2009, it is estimated that there are 44,000 practicing professional artists in Australia, which can only indicate the high level of competition during an average government funding grant application process (Arts Nation: An Overview of Australian Arts, 2015 Edition; pg. 17).

Could the NPEA be the opportunity Australia’s arts community has desperately needed for a number of years to rethink their business strategies? I think so. Through observation of organisations and members within the arts community, it is apparent that receiving a government grant is quite an accomplishment. Yes, you have been selected out of thousands of applications to receive a small portion of government funding for this year only. Congratulations! But what happens after that funding? How does money continue to flow into the arts business? The answer should be ticket sales, but, staggeringly, many small arts organisations and independent artists do not charge the public to see their work.

Why? There are two factors that explain this reason: 1.) Artists don’t have the confidence to command respect by charging for their services. They forget their talent is a service, one that should be recognised and paid for just like doctors, police officers and teachers earn a salary for their contributions. Artists are also so desperate for approval and an audience, they rather give away their talent than charge for it. 2.) Many people, artists included, feel that taxes make that government funding that artists and arts organisations receive. Why charge tax-payers more? The reality is, according to a 2015 Australia Council report, in 2013 about 40% of the average national arts budget is funded by the government (and let me just say, that’s amazing! I come from a country that if the arts are lucky because the government is in a surplus and the right political figure is in power, they receive only about 8%). That money distributed by the Australia Council goes towards the creative development of multiple projects throughout the country. This money only covers the cost of materials, cost of rehearsal and performance spaces, salaries for technical support team members and marketing opportunities. Did you notice that I didn’t say the artistic director, the director or the actors receive pay? That’s because most of the time they don’t; there’s just not enough funding.

Ticket prices, when charged, contribute to the sustainment of business expenses – covering the cost of utilities, the rent, the basic office accessories, etc.

What’s my point? The point is that something needs to be examined closer and developed stronger within the arts community: a solid, sustainable business plan. There are resources in Melbourne who are willing to help: fir example, Auspicious Arts Incubator, the only arts-based incubator in Australia, helps artist and arts organisations develop strong business skills and habits including marketing strategies that lead to positive business growth. The best part is they are based here in Melbourne! Auspicious Arts Incubator leads a 12-week program consisting of video modules, in-person mentoring sessions and a Melbourne weekend workshop that guides participants through the development of a sustainable business plan suitable for their business needs. Some past participants have become leading arts businesses by increasing their annual income exponentially within 6 months of completing the course!

According to Philanthropy Australia, it is estimated that 5,000 philanthropic foundations and organisations exist throughout Australia and are enthusiastic about helping non-profits prosper. Are arts organisations using all the resources available to them wisely and persistently? In a future blog, we will discuss applying acts of community engagement to increase marketing and funding needs.

In conclusion, artists and arts organisations need to treat their passion like a business. Let’s rethink the arts business strategy by putting the company needs first. There are resources out there who can guide you along the way. Prove to yourself that your passion is worth sustaining!

For more information about Auspicious Arts Incubator, visit www.auspiciousincubator.com.au.

It’s not a simple solution: what other challenges to funding do the Australian arts community face? Continue the discussion by adding a comment below.

#FreeTheArts: A Fight for An Appeal and What Really Needs to Be Addressed

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.

To join the #FreeTheArts campaign and submit your letter of support for the arts, CLICK HERE. A letter template for easy submission can be found in the middle of the page.