Books of interest: Platform Papers 56

Written by: Book: Mark Williams, Speech: Rupert Myer (Currency Press)
Photos by: Currency Press
Falling Through the Gaps: Our Artists’ Health and Welfare by Dr Mark R.W. Williams, a Melbourne solicitor specialising in copyright law and the theatre, has almost sold out nationally.
On 23 August 2018 Rupert Myer launched Mrk Williams’ essay at 45 Downstairs in Melbourne with these words:
“This is an important and timely Platform Paper, but it’s more than that. For Mark, it has all the hallmarks of a personal pursuit, a calling. It is written with great authority from the perspective of someone who knows just about everything there is to know about law in as much as it relates to theatre and to those whose careers are in the performing arts, and in the arts more generally. He has worked on both sides of the curtain, both sides of the ticket counter, all sides of the board table and in multiple different roles that give him insight and perspectives on a number of pertinent issues related to how we might better value artists and performers in our community.
This is a narrative that is not just seeking a greater expression of kindness, financial support and more awareness. It speaks to a higher civic responsibility and duty. At its core is an incitement that is simultaneously strategic, practical, supportive, compassionate and more than a bit inspiring.
What Mark tells us might come as a surprise to many but is too well known by some:
The reality in Australia is that, no matter what unique skills, experience, awards and honours a professional performer may hold by mid or late career, most are underemployed or spend long periods ‘resting’, developing new work or, indeed, waiting to get paid for jobs.
He captures a world too little understood by audiences noting that:
These are private matters in a profession where people are expected repeatedly to come up smiling no matter how relatively well or badly they are treated.
His reference to ‘falling through the gaps’, the title of the publication, comes for the first time when he writes of the ‘terrible dangers’ for workers in the performing arts of:
…falling through the gaps between psychic satisfaction and material security in their career path.
The key problems that he identifies are financial insecurity, mental and physical health, adverse family circumstances, low standards of living, minimal savings and housing.
He draws upon both historic information and right-up-to-the-minute research. The paper is peppered with references to ground breaking work by David Throsby and other cultural economists, annual reports of the theatre companies, Australia Council research including last year’s Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists, multiple websites, the Income Tax Assessment Act and Australian Taxation Office rulings, Commonwealth Government commissioned reports, the Superannuation Guarantee Act and related publications as well as a number of personal communications.
So what might we do?
First, I encourage you to read this Paper carefully and develop your own 30-second pitch to have at your disposal for whenever you have an opportunity to use it.
Second, in an election year, it is well to have at the ready policy proposals that the parties might adopt at quite short notice. It may be ambitious but I encourage a submission to the major parties around Status of the Artist legislation. Although meaning different things in different jurisdictions, generally such legislation enshrines government acknowledgement of the professional status of artists and, in particular, their work practices. The legislation is intended to ensure that these factors pose no disadvantage to artists compared to others in the community in relation to taxation, social security, superannuation, insurance, industrial relations, occupational health and safety and other administrative regimes. When this matter was looked at in the context of the Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry, a number of quite specific matters pertaining to visual artists and makers were recommended but the report fell short on recommending a broader legislative approach. That was in 2002 and it was the last time the matter was given a considered examination. Since then, Australia’s reliance on the creative sector and cultural economy has grown and, I believe, a stronger case could now be made.
Third, it is necessary be very clear headed about exactly what is being sought from government. As Mark’s paper notes, in 2002, there was an unambiguous recommendation in support of a Resale Royalty for visual artists – not a recommendation for further review. Pleasingly, the government supported the recommendation and it was introduced. In the period since it was introduced, more than 1600 artists have shared in over $6.3million in distributions. With regard to the proposals outlined in this Paper, the next stage is to progress the development of specific policy proposals that have the following three characteristics: that they are ‘fenceable’ (can be clearly defined), defensible (there is a powerful public good argument) and implementable. I believe that it would be timely to do so.
In the same way that we are encouraged to take pride in our cultural assets, we should all mobilise to take great care of our artists. Let’s take this Paper as a motivation to do so.”
Edited extract reproduced with permission of Currency House. To purchase go to Platform Papers
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