Evan’s corner: Response to Arts, Culture and Country

Written by: Evan Lowenstein
I have just spent the best part of Sunday afternoon reading Associate Professor Josephine Caust’s wonderfully comprehensive Discussion Paper written for Platform Papers (The New Platform Papers No. 2, March 2022 Edited by Julian Meyrick) – Arts, Culture and Country. 
In this article Professor Caust has most successfully described the years of neglect of Australian arts industry by Federal and State governments and has also outlined the immensely reduced funding to the arts, especially during the pandemic, lack of Government interest in the arts and generally the decreasing role that the arts and arts policy have in the eyes of governments of both persuasions.
It is a particularly timely article, given that there is a federal election due by May of this year, so I encourage you to discuss this topic. I have often brought to our readers’ attention the efforts of LAM and others to lobby governments for a better deal for the arts but have always received a poor hearing from all governments that we have approached.
Professor Caust has focussed on a whole gamut of issues that indicate the lack of government interest in the arts: issues such as decreased funding to the ABC, the inability of certain casual arts workers to access assistance during the pandemic; and the increasing requirement of arts boards to focus on being corporatised in order to receive government funding and corporate sponsorship at the expense of art or creative specialists.
My own experience on certain boards of management for small to medium sized arts bodies is that arts practitioners have slowly been replaced by those business people whose only qualification is to attract corporate sponsorship. I should mention that this is not necessarily a bad thing but one certainly needs to have an inclusive board that includes many actual practitioners, as well as corporates, including accountants and lawyers.
One of the other issues that she mentioned is the relegation of the arts to a minor portfolio combined with a grab-bag of loosely related areas that does not even include the words – ‘Arts’; Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication, – a far cry from the 1972 announcement that Prime Minister Whitlam would himself be the arts minister.
This is an issue that we here at LAM have long been calling for but again it has been ignored by government. My hope for the next election campaign is that there is a focus not only on arts funding but also on arts policy. Professor Caust has outlined in detail the various attempts at developing a cultural and creative policy only to be ignored or relegated once governments have changed or, as we have experienced in the recent past, change of leadership within the one government.
I certainly would recommend to any of you with an interest in arts funding to read this article for a great description of politics and arts funding and the way they have been so mishandled. Let’s contribute to the debate for the upcoming federal election on 21 May 2022!
(The discussion paper is available for download from Currency Press website, and will be published in its final form, with the other essays for 2022, in paperback at the end of the year. The first volume of the New Platform Papers, What Future for the Arts in a post-Pandemic World? is available from Currency Press, https://www.currency.com.au/.)