Complex ecology, complex ironies

As we begin to understand the new shape of Australia’s independent arts following this morning’s Australia Council Four-Year Funding for Organisations announcement after massive cuts, there are plenty of good news stories. A great many Indigenous arts organisations will facilitate new work that the nation needs to experience. The Creative Recovery Network will support sensitive CACD work following natural disasters. 28 organisations have been able to secure their work through multi-year funding for the first time, and on average, each of the supported organisations are receiving more money than in the previous round. In all, 128 companies will power Australia’s independent arts in essentially interconnected ways, drawing on one another’s energies and expertise with dedication and drive.

There are also some dark outcomes here that can politely be described as ironies.

Victoria’s prolific writers’ organisations and small publishers are renowned the world over. They are innovative, collaborative and impactful. They give this state of the arts its character and its soul. Our independent literary scene has earned Melbourne the coveted honour of becoming a UNESCO City of Literature. A few years ago, the Wheeler Centre was established as a focus for the City of Literature, bringing together the state’s key literary arts organisations to share an open office space, and presenting an ambitious program of talks. To speak at the Wheeler Centre is an honour, with emerging writers and unknown voices from the independent scene presented alongside household names from across Australia and across the world. Today, none of the organisations housed in the Wheeler Centre have been successful in their applications for multi-year funding to the Australia Council. And yet while iconic organisations like Express Media and Meanjin have not been supported, the Wheeler Centre has been funded. Its dedicated staff will now be working even harder to ensure that new voices can be heard. It’s impossible to name an important Australian writer who didn’t have their first publication experience with Express Media, or a key piece published in Meanjin. The irony is bleak – perhaps best encapsulated in this image tweeted this morning by the Director of the Office for the City of Literature, David Ryding.

The timing of funding announcements is never ideal, but in Melbourne at the moment, that pain is particularly acute: the Next Wave Festival is in full swing, and their application has not been successful. Next Wave is the nation’s development and presentation body for young and emerging artists, and rightly describes itself as “the most comprehensive platform in Australia for a new generation of artists taking creative risks.” Just about every exciting artist you can name had a first opportunity through Next Wave. Globally recognised events such as the Adelaide and the Sydney Biennales, festivals regularly presenting artists whose careers emerged at Next Wave, have received Four-Year Funding, while alongside Next Wave, a great many experimental arts organisations have not – including Experimenta Media Arts, the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, and the PACT Centre for Emerging Artists.

In a complex arts ecology, the ironies play out in complex ways. NAVA, the nation’s peak body for the visual arts led by tireless arts champion Tamara Winikoff, has not been successful in securing Four-Year Funding, while Feral Arts, the very definition of disruptive potential, has been. The regional arts government relations and advocacy body, Regional Arts Australia, has not been successful, but the work of many regional arts organisations has been supported by the Australia Council, as well as through Catalyst (including the work of my own organisation, Regional Arts Victoria). Other key sector service organisations not funded include Ausdance National, Museums & Galleries NSW and NETS Victoria. Craft and design has taken a massive hit, with Craft Queensland and WA’s Form no longer funded, as well as the nation’s flagship organisation in this space: the Australian Design Centre, known formerly as Object. Some of the nation’s finest companies with stellar international reputations – Snuff Puppets, Force Majeure, Theatreworks, the Centre for Contemporary Photography and Big hART – have missed out. And, despite having been founded as an Australia Council Strategic Initiative, the nation’s cultural diversity advocacy body, Kultour, has not been supported either, making it all the more incumbent on every funded organisation to promote cultural diversity with fervour.

Whenever we discuss the lopsidedness of the arts funding landscape in Australia, the example of Opera Australia inevitably appears: the company who takes as much money in public funding as every other funded organisation put together. Some years ago, Opera Australia’s Artistic Director, Lyndon Terracini, founded the Northern Rivers Performing Arts, a leading regional theatre company with a diverse artistic program, led today by the admirable Julian Louis. Back in 2010 Lyndon addressed the National Multicultural Arts Symposium, outlining his career trajectory with a focus on NORPA and a passion for programming cultural diversity. Would Lyndon ever have become director of Opera Australia without the experience of founding and leading this company? Today we learn that NORPA have not been funded. This, perhaps, is the darkest irony of all.

You can buy copies of Express Media’s publications such as Voiceworks here, and you can buy back copies or subscribe to Meanjin here. The Next Wave Festival ends on Sunday 22 May. You can buy tickets to Next Wave shows here. You can buy tickets to NORPA shows here.

Today I will be visiting a range of arts organisations, and speaking to others I can’t get to on the phone. The 128 companies who have been supported with Four-Year Funding have ambitious goals for Australia’s arts, and in coming weeks, they will have a lot to say and a lot to offer to those who have missed out. At this pivotal time, let’s keep talking to one another.

 

IMAGE: Fit your own mask before helping others. A reminder to take good care of yourself today as we take care of one another.