I know it’s the holidays, so I’m supposed to be putting out a holiday message at this time but I felt it was important to say something to finish the decade that wasn’t just a touchy feely platitude.
At the start of the week the government declared its priorities for the new decade with a cabinet reshuffle. In this reshuffle, the arts were rolled into a portfolio that included Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. No longer is the arts and strong arts policy considered as important in our vision of the future of Australia.
We all know Australia will be a poorer place without a vision for the place of arts in society but sometimes articulating why can be tricky. We know it’s not just about economics or individual wellbeing, even though the arts contribute to these things in tangible ways.
It’s really hard to make a case for the arts in the face of a stagnant economy, turbulent politics, raging bushfires and unceasing drought.
So why bother with art?
Brian Eno famously said that: “Art is everything we don’t have to do.” It’s frivolous and unnecessary. It is also the natural state of human beings.
From our dinner plates to our haircuts – you can’t reduce people down to simple functionality. We naturally “art”. It adds nothing to the utility of our lives, it’ll rarely change the world. It is pure frivolity, as simple as that and everyone should have the freedom to be frivolous. We should all be able to do things for the pure joy, whether that’s going to live music or an art gallery.
Around election time this year, I found myself having conversations with family & friends about the cuts to funding that have steadily rocked the Australian arts industry over this past decade. They argued that the government shouldn’t waste money on the arts – after all, money is needed elsewhere; we could be getting the budget back into surplus, fighting fires, alleviating drought or any number of other things. It’s this same logic that’s been applied to the calls to cancel the New Years Eve Fireworks this year. Fireworks feel unnecessary and even wasteful while the state burns and our east coast is shrouded in smog.
But if we eliminated all the unnecessary spending on art what would we have left? We’d probably import our culture from overseas where it is funded… in fact, that’s already what’s happening.
The arts are an expression of us. Of community identity expressed in the pleasure to do things we don’t have to do. To take control of our lives and express our freedom through creative acts that create meaning and not just money.
With all the other things we have to think about, all the civil unrest and environmental catastrophe, it can be hard to feel like valuing the arts should take a priority, but I want to end this decade believing whole-heartedly that it should. For no other reason than, it’s important to not just live in a world where we do what’s necessary, but also aspire for more.
In 2020 and beyond I challenge you to value the arts by being a patron, by donating to an arts organisation, by bringing your kids along, by requesting time for artistic expression in your schools and institutions, by writing letters to council & government to say it’s important to you.
In the meantime you can join the Media, Entertainment and the Arts Alliance (MEAA) in their campaign to win back respect for the arts. Jump on to their website and sign the form!
Have an amazing holiday season and Matriark will see you again in the New Year.
Love and Peace.