NORPA Quarterly

by Patrick Healey | General Manager

The arts funding distress over the last year has proved that the arts sector isn’t very good at advocacy. Our sector needs to do more to explain the importance of arts to the Australian community. For those of us in regional Australia, that is even more the case as we tend to be out of sight and, perhaps, not as proactive as we could be.

That became especially apparent when I read the submissions made by arts sector organisations and companies to the Parliamentary Committee on Public Broadcasting and Live Performance to Regional Australia. Two things stood out…

One was the lack of regional voices in the midst of the submissions; and two was that many of the submissions made by arts organisations and peak bodies revealed a scarcity of knowledge about regional Australia. As a result, the recommendations made by the committee were flawed.

Luckily, Senator Fifield has personally assured me that he sees the parliamentary report for what it is and he has dismissed its findings. It was sad that our sector’s input consisted of such a thin layer of ideas that in them there wasn’t a strategy on which a government could frame a national policy. What a missed opportunity!

That missed opportunity extends beyond parliament. Without a coherent approach from the arts sector that can explain the benefits of the arts to our country how can we start a national discussion, be of influence, or generate a framework for policy ideas? We are reduced to debates about funding levels based on the biases of our particular organisations.

We do not have a peak body, and that leads to a narrow set of voices from a short list of arts organisations making recommendations and suggestions that are biased in their favour. It isn’t that their opinions and views are necessarily wrong, but rather that it is narrow and without regard to the opportunities for the sector as a whole. Regional theatre companies are too quiet in that regard. We have not done enough to keep our colleagues informed.

Regional Australia has grown and changed considerably in the last 20, 30, 40 years. We should no longer be viewed as an object of some progressive mission. It is in regional Australia that Indigenous art and theatre flourishes out of our land and the millennia of our history. It is here that stories of building farms, navigating rivers, of run-away convicts or immigrant arrivals are remembered and passed down. It is here that young artists are coming to live and work because the city has become so expensive. Here is where Australia’s unique and tangled identity becomes tangible. Too often, regional and Indigenous Australia are reduced to a box to be ticked; a criteria to be met. Yet, like the small to medium arts sector, it is in regional Australia that the cultural and artistic parameters are truly being pushed and explored.

The time has come for us to take responsibility too. This newsletter is about us doing just that – talking and reaching out to you. Regional Australia is ready to speak up, to be seen, to be taken seriously, and more importantly, we are ready to help shape the arts in Australia. And Australian art and culture will be better for it.

Image | My Radio Heart (Kate Holmes)