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Do you want to do art? You better be rich: how Australian culture has blocked the working class Funding the arts


Mr.Rowing in downtown Queensland in the 1980s, Ruth Claire didn’t even know a possible career in the arts. Rockhampton was a “hungry city,” she says, full of cowboys and miners where there was nothing to do but drink. Her mother, who was sitting at home, was depressed after her father, a Vietnam War veteran, left. Claire says that even after working at a major TV soap opera and publishing a memoir in her name, she still feels she doesn’t belong in the industry.

“No one wants to listen to this story,” she tells me. “It’s not a beautiful story.”

“I was a smart kid with a lot of talent, but no one in my family was at the university before me. I was forced to succeed so I could get out of Rockhampton, but I went to a bad school with over 2,000 students and no cultural and artistic opportunities. There was no one to guide me. I still feel like a worker wherever I live. I’m still an outsider in the art world. “

Ruth Claire
Australian actor Ruth Claire: “I’m still guided in the art world as an outsider”

Australia doesn’t like to talk about class. But after I posted a call on social media looking for creative people from the working class like me, they emerged as a mass: writers, actors, theater directors and musicians who wanted to discuss the many obstacles that hinder their path to success.

There are cultural, financial and emotional gaps that exist between the creative people of the working class and the wealthy, networked and mostly educated in private schools Australian guardians of art and culture. There are additional obstacles faced by people of different genders, sexualities, abilities and races, as well as those living outside major cities, leading to a whole creative culture that for the outsider looks mostly monolithic: many white, rich people, who seem to already know each other.

In the case of Claire, the cumulative effect, which for many years tried to break through, made her feel that she had no place at the table. And the challenges are growing. Among rental crisis and a cost of living crisis, most working class artists can’t count on a mom and dad bank or partner to subsidize their careers. Many creative people hope to lack the financial resources to access networking and educational opportunities, and lack the funds to endure them long enough to relax. When they do, there is little social and financial capital left to keep going – and the devastating impact of the pandemic on the arts industry in Australia has only complicated it.

“It’s not sustainable”

Last month, Evelyn Araluen told the Guardian Australia that she “one salary from poverty”When writing her poetry collection Dropbear, which won the Stella $ 60,000 prize. In her speech, she said: “Art is only supported, barely supported by unpaid work. The struggle and the sacrifices of artists and artists who, for the sake of love and passion, accept punitive and, finally, unbearable working conditions … It is unbearable, and never has been. This structure creates mass inequality of representation and will continue to restrict access for creatives from working and marginalized contexts. ”

Stella Laureate Evelyn Araluen (left) with Melissa Lukashenko.
Stella Laureate Evelyn Araluen (left) with Melissa Lukashenko. Photo: Marie-Louise Skibe

And it seems to be on purpose. From the continuous reduction by the coalition government of arts funding to cuts public schools and higher education, the working class and other marginalized people have been excluded from the nation’s cultural conversations. As Alison Krogon noted in her recent essay A campaign to destroy the artspublic funding continues to prioritize those “high” and mainstream arts that few can afford to experience, let alone create, “drawing the line between“ legitimate ”art for respectable classes and unruly, experimental, other and new” .

“Inequality is embedded in structure,” said Ben Eltem, an art scholar at Monash University and co-author. report by the Australian Institute of Creativity in Crisis. “Most of the available funding goes to the arts organization, especially to the 28 major performing arts companies, and very little money is left for regular independent artists. Novice artists find it very difficult to relax, and even if they do, they don’t have much support to keep working. This is a market where the winner gets everything, profitable for the lucky few, but most live below the poverty line.

Wages are low and work is dangerous. “If you’re from the working class, how likely are you to be able to afford to work in dangerous conditions? There is no sustainable career path, so they leave the cultural sector to work in areas that will pay them a living wage.

No masterpiece in poverty

In 2017, in the latest major study on the subject, the Council of Australia found that artists earned an average of $ 18,800 a year on their creative work. For writers it’s much lower, with almost 50% earning less than $ 2,000 a year according to a survey conducted by the Australian Authors Society in 2020. This was before what Eltem calls a “meteorite that occurs once a century” smashed the sector in 2020 as a global pandemic. Almost 40% of jobs were laid off in the first three months. From February 2020 to November 2021, performing arts and live events workers reported revenue losses totaling $ 417.2 million and more than 374,000 canceled concerts. This is an average loss of revenue of $ 25,000 per year for each artist, which has grown to $ 38,700 in 2021.

The cost goes beyond the financial. The Support Trust hotline of the Support Act reported a 300% increase in calls, with more than 2,700 hours of counseling clients in various arts. Data collected by I lost my concert last year, it was found that more than half (57%) of performing arts and live entertainment workers were looking for work outside the industry.

The sector has not yet recovered, but the federal government is canceling its arts incentive packages, which has reduced federal arts funding in its latest budget by 19% to a loss of $ 190 million. This includes a $ 10.5 million reduction in regional arts funding, and $ 45 million in film and television funding. This comes amid calls from Fr. universal basic income and alternative funding models, with pilot programs in Ireland and the United States demonstrating what is possible.

On the ground the pain is felt acutely. Writer Travis Hunter says that when they first started working in this industry, they were barriers, when they were different in gender, the working class made it a constant struggle.

“We have to recognize that even breaking into art these days essentially involves working at unpaid work for as long as it takes to get noticed – and that this is not a business model that can ever work for work. .class and other marginalized people, ”they say. “There is a massive overlap between class and other forms of marginalization, especially for trans- and gender-diverse communities that experience high levels of poverty and unemployment due to discrimination.

“Participating in the arts can be of great benefit and empowerment to people of different genders like me, but any effort for true diversity really must also remove the material barriers associated with class and economic disadvantage that come along with marginalization. This means that to begin with you need to pay the creators for their time and work.

“You can’t create a masterpiece by living in poverty.”

The struggle for education

Author, playwright and Guardian Australia columnist Van Badham says much of the problem is the non-recognition of the division into public and private school classes in the cultural industry. “It is known that there are people in the public school in the cultural industry,” she said. “But not – in my experience – in figures representing the general population.”

The data in this regard are unclear. While art companies regularly conduct a self-assessment of diversity, class experience is not a criterion. What we do know is this more than 65% of Australian children in 2021 went to public schools, but funding for public schools in the last election budget was cut by half a billion dollars. If the coalition is re-elected, funding for private schools will increase by more than $ 2 billion.

According to Creativity in Crisis Report, music and art education have been destroyed as a result of the constant reduction in funding for public schools. “There’s no new music room, no games at the end of the year, no visiting artists … it’s having a huge impact on working-class kids,” Badham says.

Grown in the southern suburbs of Sydney, Badham is proud to be a working class. After studying creative arts at the University of Wollongong, she continued her career in the arts in London for 10 years.

Badham believes there is “deliberate class blindness” in Australia. The advantage abroad, she said, was “no one heard my divine accent”.

Even among the conscious British, Badham “sought and developed as an artist, got a job and made contacts. Back in Australia, the reception was more often: “Why does the waitress talk about drama?” Working class children are intimidated at art forums. Nobody really wants to be treated like a stupid peasant. “

The university sector is another piece of the puzzle. Coalition decision increase fees for humanities and arts degrees – in some cases more than doubled – makes higher education for working class artists a cunning investment. And due to the fact that universities were excluded from subsidies for workers during the pandemic, as well as a reduction in federal funding of more than $ 1 billion over the next four years, the higher education sector was brought to its knees.

Van Badham's play
Van Badham’s play “Refugee Denmark” was staged by the Sydney Theater Company in 2019. Badham believes that in Australia, “deliberate class blindness.” Photo: Prudence Aptan

Financial pressure has led to the closure of several art schools and diplomas across the country over the past two years. These include the world’s leading theater and performance center, Monash University, the Department of Drama at the University of Newcastle and the University of Latrobe, as well as fine arts courses at Griffith University, the Australian National University, the University of New University, the University and the University of the University. The lack of access to affordable art education has made careers in this field inaccessible to many.

Using data for 2017-18, the federal government itself assessed cultural and creative activities contributed $ 115.2 billion annually to the Australian economywhere about 645,000 Australians work. Art helps define us as a nation and shape our culture, but while 32% of Australians are in the “low income” and “poor” categories. according to the latest OECD dataworking class perspectives are missing in this conversation.

And if election days are not over and none of the major parties have seen art policy, Australia risks losing a generation of working-class artists – and their understanding, voices and histories – into obscurity. As Araluen said in her speech at the Stella Awards: “I doubt we will ever find out how much art has lost in the last few years.”

“People in the working class can tell stories that bring much-needed balance to society,” Claire says. “We need to recognize what barriers they face that prevent them from telling these stories.”

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