Arts Fun(ding) in Australia

A couple of weeks ago, we were doing a bit of research into rural arts funding opportunities and stumbled across an interesting article by bricklayer Mitchell Browne on the subject of arts funding which was published by the Sydney Morning Herald. In this article, Browne stated that ‘taxpayer funding of the arts is a reverse Robin Hood’, he claims that it takes money from the time and cash poor so that artists, whom he dubs ‘idlers’ don’t have to pay for their own indulgences. While this is a bold statement, many of the ideas that Browne discusses have a lot of merit: many people have artistic hobbies, why aren’t they paid to pursue those? Why aren’t our tax dollars spent on healthcare or infrastructure, or just given back to the tax payers? Who decides what is and isn’t art? It definitely asked a lot of tough questions.

And then we found this. A response to the article from Melbourne-based artist Dave Lamb, who respectfully disagreed with Browne’s article on a number of levels. He reveals that the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on the arts isn’t actually all that much, per person, and that this funding isn’t solely used to pay artists, but to subsidize arts events and make everything more accessible to people from all demographics. He also writes, with wonderful passion, about the social importance of arts in society, that it ‘tells us who we are’ and ‘allows us to recognize elements of ourselves […] in other people’.

We agree with Dave wholeheartedly, but he is speaking from the perspective of a metropolitan artist, so we thought we’d add our voice to the conversation: the voice of regional arts practitioners. Big Stories is a not-for-profit organisation; we are supported by funding from government bodies and independent arts organisations, and are very grateful for all the support we receive. We use the money to pay our filmmakers to work in small towns across Australia and the region. The funding mean that the filmmakers in residence can take the time to get to know the community, to participate in workshops, engage with community feedback, and ensure that the end result is an engaging and truthful portrait of the town and its people. The goal behind these filmmaker projects, too, is to allow the community to share their own stories, bolstering community pride awareness of just how amazing small town communities are. The money also funds the local workshops, allowing locals to benefit from the knowledge and experience of our filmmakers to develop their own skills. And the money is used to assist in the distribution of the funds, for the maintenance of our website and the like, so that these Big Stories can be enjoyed the world over (for the record, people in the US make up a substantial amount of the traffic through our various webpages).

 

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Arts funding is definitely not just about money in the artists’ pockets but about facilitating global storytelling, connection, participation and communication. Don’t take our word for it though; even a brief read through the websites of various arts organisation will reveal that community building is at the heart of most regional arts ventures.

Queensland’s Regional Arts Development Fund lists nine key performance outcomes for its funded activities, all of which have strong connections to the community. For example, a ‘diverse range of local people must have a say in RADF related decision making’ and ‘RADF supports local employment and/or professional development opportunities’. Even just skimming through the arts grants and funding pages on Australia.gov.au words like ‘enrich’, ‘diverse’ and ‘community’ are scattered across each page. Anything that encourages diverse participation in enriching our communities and cultural identities is something that, in our opinions, definitely deserves a bit of financial support, especially since so many of these programs aren’t ticketed events that can regain their costs, they are community events that are free or low cost so that they can be enjoyed by everyone.

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Plus, the process of applying for and receiving arts funding is not as simple as it may seem: artists can’t just hold their hands out for government money, they have to write extensive applications outlining their projects, including budgets, schedules and desired outcomes. If these outcomes don’t line up with the key principles of the funding body, the application is unsuccessful, and as application junkies ourselves we can tell you that applying for grants is a long, hard process and a rejection at the end of all that can be heart breaking. But we pick ourselves up and carry on because that is the nature of the industry, and in all honesty it is the art itself that drives us, not the money. Regional Arts Australia provides $2.5 million of funding every year, which they say allows them to engage with ‘over 4,000 artists, 30,000 participants and audiences of over 70,000. Those are some big numbers, and that 2.5 mil gets spread pretty thin: if you divide that money equally between the artists its only $625 each! But nothing beats the feeling of watching smiling or thoughtful faces enjoying your work, it gives us the juice we need to hunker down and start working on the next round of grant applications.

 

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Matt Browne might not be too happy about it, but we are certainly thankful for the opportunity to work and create with people in regional areas of our world, and for the money that allows us to do so.

 

Cheers arts funding!

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