The Arts erased from a new Govt department reshuffle in Australia
It's summer in Australia, you may have seen that unprecedented numbers of bushfires are burning out of control across the eastern states and Sydney has been smothered in smoke for almost four weeks. This is a busy time of year for everyone. Its the usual build up to the Christmas break which will linger well into January with the summer school holidays, so people are focused on their end of year tasks.
And the heat is on in more ways than one. Last week the federal Government announced that there would be a departmental reshuffle focused on productivity, downsizing 18 departments to 14. This process, effective in February 2020, will abolish the department of Communication and Arts, amalgamating Communication with Infrastucture, Transport and Regional Development. Arts will be absorbed into the Communication but has disappeared in name from the list of responsibilities. The Minister for the Arts will keep this role for the moment and the Prime Minister insists his move is not to save money nor mean any other significant reductions in support to the sector.
The Arts community have experienced a devastating series of cuts by Government in recent years. This move is seen as yet another attack. By not naming the Arts there is concern that further loss of funds or freedoms would be less visible to the wider public. We are already part way through a significant review of regularly funded Arts organisations by the Australia Council for the Arts through a peer assessment process. The results of this process will conclude in March and likely to see far fewer organisations funded in the small to medium performing arts sector.
I am on the board of Theatre Network NSW and we released this statement:
Morrison Government Silences Arts
The TNN board condemn last week’s announcement by Scott Morrison that the Department of Communication and the Arts will be abolished and replaced by a Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
The omission of the arts in this new overarching department fails to support a vital creative workforce at the heart of Australia’s national identity. Without naming the arts as distinct and significant in a communications portfolio; we question the Government’s ability to support or champion Australian creative content, including the 60,000 years of continuous unique First People’s arts and culture.
Theatre Network NSW represents the performing arts in a state that houses 32% of the Australian population and the nation’s biggest city, Sydney. The many writers, directors, performers, designers, technicians, marketers and other arts workers are already beleaguered by funding cuts. In 2019 TNN conducted a sector health survey that showed there is considerable fatigue, fear and ill health in the performing arts. Responding to this at Theatre Network NSW’s State of the Sector Address, Arts on Tour executive director Antonia Seymour states;
‘We need great art – perhaps more than ever.’
Antonia was joined by the Australia Council for the Arts CEO, Adrian Collette and NSW Minister for the Arts the Honourable Don Harwin. Antonia drew on TNN’s Sector Health Survey to speak to a chronic state of anxiety, of stress and fatigue being felt by the theatre and performance sector in NSW.
As the sector braces for a wave of cuts to multi-year organisations in the upcoming Australia Council for the Arts funding round, Theatre Network NSW questions how one Department can effectively manage upgrading a road, supporting the needs of a regional city and growing the nations arts and cultural landscape. Removing ‘Arts’ from the title of the Department is a poor way to begin. TNN explores collaborative opportunities for the performing arts to work with other sectors and believes there is an increasing appetite for work in this area. For this to be effective Arts and culture must be recognised within a department, appropriately resourced and aligned with a Federal Ministerial portfolio.
TNN joins other arts organisations in demanding that the Arts are named in a relevant Government department that can support artists with ongoing cultural investment in artistic practice, creative process and critical discourse about the thriving culture in our fabulous nation that gives voice to the diverse peoples who call Australia home.
There is more information in this excellent ArtsHub article by Melbourne writer Richard Watts: https://www.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/public-policy/richard-watt…