2020 ISSUE 01:

OVERHAUL ARTS FUNDING – PART 1

An idea for Creative Australia

Back in 2006 I ran a consultation project with young people for Visible Ink, part of Brisbane City Council’s Youth Team in Community Development, around the Creative City steam of the Living in Brisbane 2026 visioning project. I did a range of things to gather information which I synthesised into a report that presented to council young people’s vision for Brisbane as a creative city. A bunch of things came out of that report, but one I want to pick up in this 2020 Issue idea is the problem with arts funding at the moment.

For an emerging artist there is only limited income streams to support an emerging arts practice. In many cases (but definitely not all cases) emerging artists are young people. To produce creative works you need money. For young artists that can happen in one of three ways (and possibly a combination of the three):

  1. Work in unrelated professions (often retail, office work or hospitality) and produce their own creative work when not working;
  2. Compete in the grants system for limited pools of money with strict guidelines and legal obligations and that require a certain set of knowledge of arts policy and literary skills to write an application; and
  3. Move into the commercial creative sector where they continue to be creative for clients and produce their their own creative work when not working.

“I’m just working here till my art takes off”: retail, office and cafe work

Scenario 1 is often the most common and occurs for a number of reasons. The young person may not know what grant opportunities exist and they may have trouble securing a job in the very limited number of positions available in the commercial creative sector. Another very real factor is that their art practice may not be what the arts funding bodies and/or commerical creative sector are willing to back. As a result they have little choice but to find other means to sustain themselves.

Then you have to wonder, how creative can you be after an eight hour session of waiting tables or pouring beers? Most of these jobs require long, often unconventional hours and a lot of physical activity. The likelihood of unbound creative works being produced after work is unlikely. For most artists, there is little time and little creativity left to produce their own creative works; the very reason they are doing any of the three scenarios.

Next I want to talk a little bit about what happens when emerging artists work for corporates.

We own your (artwork’s) soul: the commercial corporate sector

Scenario 3 sees particularly good young creatives take up often low-end, menial creative jobs in companies in the creative commercial sector.

These kinds of jobs are very creatively draining as well. Firstly, in the sense of the high demand for creative output. Seriously, who is creative all the time between the hours of 9am and 5pm, five days a week? And secondly in relation to the ownership of that creativity. Under copyright law many (if not all) of these creative outputs would become the property of the emerging artists employer. Even if the works were knocked back by a client and not used by the company, the creative still does not have the right to reuse the creative work.

Also, like the emerging artists in retail/office/hospitality, lack of time to be independently creative is a problem. When you are being pushed to be creative all day, and you need to do the job to make money to live and give you a place and a means to create your own are, the likelihood of unbound creative works being produced after work is greatly reduced. Most people are tired after work and want to just watch the television.

Lastly I want to look at the grants system.

You don’t fit into the criteria: grants funding

The grants game, Scenario 2, is a hard game to play. It requires knowledge of grant funding available and a ability to understand criteria, effectively conceptualise and articulate an idea, write persuasively and fully understand government policy in relation to arts spending.

Also arts funding is very limited. What funding that is available tends to be individualised, or, even when organisations gain funding, they remain competitive, not wanting to expose their edge that got them the grant.

Even if you are successful in securing a grant, most are on a project-by-project basis. They focus on production, exhibition and individual professional development. There is no way of gaining long-term support and income to continue to develop an art practice.

The recommendation

Grants funding needs to change. The Australia Council and other funding bodies should examine the possibility of an Australian Arts Income Bank: a cost-of-living system like that in the Netherlands, where individual artists can apply for a grant that pays them regular payments (like a wage) in increments (say fortnightly or monthly) for a series of years early on in their careers. During this time they are at liberty to produce their work by what ever means. This is very different to the one-off, time-limited, scope-limited grants currently available.

As part of their program, these artists must invest in themselves. They must demonstrate that they are broadening their skills base beyond simply their artistic technique. They must skill themselves on things such as:

  • financial management, risk management and other business matters;
  • strategy and long-term planning;
  • copyright and rights management; and
  • marketing and promotion.

Relevant legal, financial and management skills to help artists make their trade sustainable. Knowledge of rights, responsibilities and accountability will reduce costs and time on things such as contract negotiation, copyright management, financial auditing, tax requirements, grant administration and health and safety.

Alternatively, I would love to see a bank or financial consider new banking practices for persons with irregular pay structures. Perhaps a dual account, one which operates as a holding account for income, but which transfers a regular amount per week into an everyday spending account paid by the artist themselves. Any monies incoming, for commissions, artwork sales or government grants, go into the holding account for distribution back incrementally. Sure, individuals could already do this, but most people probably haven’t thought about it, they are just excited someone bought their stuff. A structure like this would prove financial stability making young creatives more likely to qualify for home loans or business loans than they were before.

This idea relates specifically to point 1 of the Creative Australia summary: “Future directions for Australia’s principal arts bodies” but also relates generally to:

  • point 3: “How best to develop a globally innovative and competitive film industry”
  • point 4: “How to encourage participation in emerging global industries”
  • point 5: “How we build on the creative sector’s potential as a major Australian export industry”

If you like this idea please post a comment. If you have something you’d like to share with me, send me an email. If you’re interested in having your say then try to get along to one of the many local summits. K Rudd himself will be at the Southside Summit in Queensland.

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