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How art funding is F**KED

As artists, all we can hope for is to make revenue of a piece. That Harry Styles will choose the song we wrote for his number one single, that a bougie art buyer will buy our abstract oil on canvas at the showcase or that the Tate will commission us for the portraits we took for our latest project. Arriving at this feat is an ongoing, never-ending challenge for many of us.

Society teaches us that as an artist success is either posthumous or extremely rare. “There’s a lot of luck involved in becoming a big artist – right place right time kinda stuff” is what we’re told. That we should live off the pittances of part-time work and teaching gigs, or else the indulgence of strangers.

In reality, the core issue, is the lack of available funding for artists who don’t have nepotism to lean on. As a music artist I’ve had recent issues with this with management failing to book meetings to source funding and having to rely on myself, with no finance contacts and three jobs to juggle, to somehow figure it out or expect people to work for free (including myself) which can feel like a huge immoral compromise.

There is also an issue with not leaving room for new artists due to a saturation of nostalgia. Rather than discover a new artist tackling boundaries, people seem to prefer scrolling through familiar candids of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell in the 90s or attending exhibitions showcasing 18th century white male artists for the upteenth time. Successful institutions are compliant, quasi-corporate entities that must feed back, loop in, or “take the temperature” of their stakeholders and major donors, primarily working to sustain the legacy of dead white colonialists.

Meanwhile, statutory bodies spruik mission statements promising a “thriving arts sector,” with a “chance to flourish” by “investing in tomorrow,” and providing access to a “remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences.” All bingo terminology that is totally detached from the shitty reality of most people making any form of critically appreciated art. 

At the same time, this is to be expected. Art is political capital. From the collections of the Medicis and Louis XIV to Banksy confronting capitalist, nationalist, socialist, or fascist propaganda—art is power. Art is violent. Art is tribal. This means that naturally, the big corporate names from Vogue to the V&A aren’t going to want in until you’re a “someone”.

Within the artistic system, five-year plans become lexical time bombs; a lack of diversity is addressed by relocating selected works to distant malls with heavy foot traffic. We are funding the future of the arts with a myopic focus on popularity and performative enfranchisement, leaving a legacy of anaesthetising Insta-art. It’s so remote from the needs of artists. As Michael Sollis, Artistic Director, Education, for the Musica Viva Australia chamber-music ensemble, wrote, “the sustainability of our arts primarily relies not on the bricks and mortar, not on having concerts, not on the corporate strength of an organisation, but on having a culture where practising artists are supported and nourished.”

Australia is an interesting example of how increased art funding can diversify the artistic and cultural output of a country. Along with investing in “artists and organisations,” the Australia Council for the Arts has made it its mission to deliver “strategic sector development initiatives that build industry capacity, networks and digital mobility and increase markets and audiences for Australian creative work.”

In 2018, the New York Times ran a feature asking “Is the Way Australia Funds the Arts a Recipe for Mediocrity?”—a perfect example of a sub-editor removing the need for anyone to have commissioned the 2,500 precious words below. Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to this crisis in 2019 by reshuffling it out of existence, erasing the culture portfolio, and burying the Office for the Arts in the folio of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. Since the Times article, in which several friends express a raw fear that they probably didn’t intend, any remaining arts budget has been eviscerated, co-opted, misattributed, rorted (look it up), dropped, covered in dust, and I think is now under the settee.

And yet, in the last three years, things have happened that hadn’t before. Australian artist-curator Brook Andrew delivered the Biennale of Sydney in 2020 as its first Indigenous director, and then saved it from COVID-related asphyxia with an online transition. Later that year, Indigenous painter Vincent Namatjira won the Archibald Prize for portraiture, another belated first. In March, Back to Back Theatre—a Geelong-based theatre company with a neurodiverse ensemble—won the 2022 International Ibsen Award. And last month, Evelyn Araluen won the Stella Prize for her debut book of poetry. There’s even Deaf representation on “Neighbours” these days.

The issue isn’t that art isn’t making money (despite what Spotify wants to tell you) but that the money isn’t shared. The obsession with metrics and data has decimated us. In an economically deprived world, so much focus is placed on revenue and not enough on the art itself which will continue to inspire for generations to come. 

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