Australians for Artistic Freedom open letter to George Brandis - ACTU Australian Unions

Australians for Artistic Freedom open letter to George Brandis

We the undersigned are shocked to see that the Abbott Government plans to target the creative sector once again in its 2015–16 Budget by massively defunding the Australia Council for the Arts, the national peer-reviewed funding body, and severely reducing the budgets of other cultural organisations.

Federal Arts Minister George Brandis has announced that he plans to remove $104.8 million from the Australia Council’s budget over the next four years and redirect it to a newly created fund, the ‘National Centre for Excellence in the Arts’. Grants from this new fund will seemingly be decided at the discretion of the Arts Minister of the day.

It is deeply disturbing for any Minister to attempt to directly control the kinds of culture produced in a democracy that values freedom of expression. The Minister himself has previously argued that art will always provoke debate, ‘that’s why we have an arms-length and peer-reviewed structure for the allocation for the funding’. What he now proposes is precisely the opposite.

In addition to the reallocation of crucial Australia Council funds, the Abbott Government is proposing to cut an additional $3.7 million from the underfunded Screen Australia, and almost $4 million from various national galleries and museums. The Budget will also take $5.2 million from the Australia Council for Creative Partnerships Australia, and $7.3 million in ‘efficiency dividends’. Such ‘savings’ will be met through reduced funding to ArtStart, Capacity Building and Artists-in-Residence programs: three core programs that directly contribute to the development of future arts leaders and provide crucial opportunities for arts practitioners to gain real industry skills: an investment in the ongoing vibrancy and vitality of the arts sector, helping to shape arts leaders such as Fiona Menzies (Creative Partnerships Australia), Sandra Willis (Opera Australia), Beverley Growden (Canberra Glassworks) and Loiu Oppenhiem (Circus Oz). For small-to-medium organisations and independent artists, whose work is absolutely critical to building diversity and encouraging innovation in the sector, this loss of financial support and investment will be devastating.

Australia does not need a second national arts funding organisation: the Australia Council’s mission is to ‘invest in artistic excellence’ and make art ‘accessible to all Australians’. Indeed, the Council already cultivates a national approach to arts participation, for both audiences and creators. Over its 42-year history, the Australia Council has helped to build and support the careers of artists as diverse as Richard Bell, Fiona Hall, Sonya Hartnett, Alex Miller, Les Murray, Margaret Olley, Archie Roach and Judy Watson. The Council funds a broad range of cultural projects across the country, fostering companies such as the Australian Ballet, Back to Back Theatre, Bangarra Dance Theatre, the Ironwood Chamber Ensemble, Kulcha Multicultural Arts, La Boite Theatre Company and Wodonga’s Hothouse Theatre, as well as programs such as the Creative Indigenous Leaders program, site-specific international development of major operas, regional tours and publications such as Griffith Review.

Independence is essential to diversity in Australian arts. Indeed, the reason Australian arts are as healthy as they are today is because of our ability to create freely, without intervention by any political party.

Minister Brandis seems to be under the impression that Australian culture is monolithic – that there is only one way to be a proper Australian artist. The vibrancy and diversity of Australian arts indicate that nothing could be further from the truth. The many small arts organisations across the country – galleries, libraries, theatre groups, performers and publications that are most at risk from funding cuts – are the primary cultivators of Australian culture, fostering the early work of those artists we now celebrate, such as Christos Tsiolkas and Margaret Olley. But small arts organisations are also a merit in and of themselves. They allow millions of diverse individuals to imagine, collaborate and participate in culture-making. Democracy is founded upon reflection, civic participation, and hope. Art provides space for all of this and more.

This Budget is an enormous blow to the arts community in Australia. It will impoverish Australian culture and society. It will mean loss of livelihood for many arts workers. It will mean many important artworks – works that would inform national debate, expanding the possibilities of this country and its citizens – will simply never be made. In 2011, the arts sector directly employed 531,000 people, and indirectly created another 3.7 million jobs. In 2008–9, the arts contributed $86 billion (7%) to the Australian GDP. Artists are workers and taxpayers, and a vital part of the economy. They are also consumers and lovers of art and culture. They should not be penalised for contributing so passionately to Australia’s cultural ecosystem.

We call on the Federal Government and Minister for the Arts George Brandis to reverse all proposed cuts to the arts sector.

We ask that you oppose defunding the art sector, particularly smaller organisations and practitioners – that is, a whole generation of artists, writers, publishers, editors, theatre makers, actors, dancers and thinkers across Australia. We ask that you help us to continue building a world where culture and art is possible for everyone.

Jacinda Woodhead, Overland magazine

David Ryding

Van Badham, writer

Lisa Dempster, Festival Director/CEO, Melbourne Writers Festival

Thomas Keneally, author

Alexis Wright, writer

Prof Dennis Altman AM

Christos Tsiolkas, writer

Kim Scott, writer

Robert Manne

Joanna Murray-Smith, playwright

Alex Miller, writer

Frank Moorhouse, author

Anna Funder, writer

JM Coetzee, writer

Kate Larsen, Writers Victoria

Emily Sexton

Sam Cooney, publisher and editor, The Lifted Brow

Richard Watts, writer and broadcaster

Michael Webster Adjunct Professor, RMIT University School of Media & Communication, Chair, Melbourne Writers Festival and Small Press Network

Rodney Hall, writer, former chairman of the Australia Council

Marion Halligan AM, writer; former chair of the Literature Board

David Blumenstein

Alison Croggon, writer

Daniel Keene, playwright

Kate Eltham, writer

Sam Twyford Moore, writer

Stuart Glover, Senior Lecturer in Writing, UQ, and founding Chair, Queensland Literary Awards

Nick Feik, The Monthly

Shaun Tan, artist, writer, filmmaker

Jeff Sparrow, writer and broadcaster, honorary fellow, Vic Uni

Sophie Cunningham, writer

Michell de Kretser, writer

Jason Steger

Tony Birch, writer

R D Wood, poet

Alex Skutenko, Overland

Hannah Kent, writer

Rebecca Starford, Text Publishing and Kill Your Darlings

André Dao, writer

Alice Grundy, Seizure

Margo Lanagan, writer

Benjamin Law, writer

Ramona Koval, writer

David Williamson, playwright

Aviva Tuffield, publisher and co-founder of the Stella Prize

Julian Burnside AO QC, chair, Fortyfive Downstairs; chair, Chamber Music Australia

Mary Lou Jelbart, artistic director, fortyfivedownstairs

Nathan Hollier, director of Monash University Publishing; chair of the OL Society Ltd, publishers of Overland

William Yang, artist

James Tierney, critic

Susan Hornbeck, Associate Publisher, Griffith Review

Kent MacCarter, Cordite Press Inc.

Jennifer Mills, author

Justin Clemens, writer

John van Tiggelen, writer

Andrea Goldsmith, writer

Malcolm Knox, writer and journalist

Robert Skinner, Canary Press

David Carlin, writer

Roselina Press, Right Now magazine

Geordie Williamson, fiction editor, Island magazine

Kirsten Tranter, writer

Linda Jaivin, writer

Kate Callingham, Emerging Writers’ Festival

Jessica Wilkinson, RMIT University; Rabbit

Stephanie Convery, Overland

Jill Jones, poet, Senior Lecturer, Department of English and Creative Writing, University of Adelaide

Maria Tumarkin, writer and historian

Bec Zajac, Overland

Anwen Crawford, writer

Geoff Lemon, Going Down Swinging

Erica Sontheimer, editor

Catherine Mcinnis, writer and editor

Marcus Westbury, writer, broadcaster and founder of Renew Australia

Pippa Bainbridge, Express Media

David Stavanger, poet and Co-Director Queensland Poetry Festival

Anne-Marie Te Whiu, Co-Director Queensland Poetry Festival

Clare Wright, historian, author, screenwriter

Fiona Capp, writer

Steven Carroll, writer

Louise Swinn, publisher, Sleepers

Di Morrissey, author

Matthew Lamb, Editor, Island and Review of Australian Fiction

Chad Parkhill, writer

Tom Cho, writer

 Professor John Kinsella

Mel Campbell, writer and critic

Luke Davies, writer

Hilary McPhee, writer, editor and publisher

Maria Takolander, writer and academic

Foong Ling Kong, managing editor, Anne Summers Reports; editor

Clare Renner, writer and editor, RMIT University

Brynn O'Brien, lawyer

Clare Strahan, writer and editor

Francesca Rendle-Short, writer and associate professor, co-director, nonfictionLab, RMIT University

Catherine Noske, editor, Westerly magazine

Chris Graham, New Matilda

Georgia Blain, author

Sandra Thibodeaux, poet

Donna Abela, playwright

Lally Katz, writer

Paddy O’Reilly, writer

Noëlle Janaczewska, writer

Hilary Bell, playwright

Hannah Fink, writer and editor

Martine Murray, writer

Kate Howarth, writer

Lachlan Philpott playwright

Jane Gleeson White, writer and editor

Aaron Orzech, theatre-maker

Chris Womersley, writer

Rachel Roberts, Applespiel

Nakkiah Lui, writer and actor

Angela Meyer, writer

Declan Greene, theatremaker

Rjurik Davidson, writer

Katherine Lyall-Watson, playwright and editor

Emma Maye Gibson (aka Betty Grumble)

Cameron Ellis

Julia Tsailis

Nicholas Higgins

Simon Clarke

Alex Desebrock

Libby Klysz

Terri-Ann White

Lefa Singleton-Norton

Simon Mitchell, author

Melissa Keil, writer

Marieke Hardy, writer

Anna Krien, writer

Paul Katsieris, architect

Patricia Cornelius, playwright

Cate Kennedy, writer

Ned Manning, writer, actor

Trudy White, artist and writer

Angela Conquet, Dancehouse

Zoe Dattner, publisher

7-ON Playwrights

Sian Prior, writer and broadcaster

Dr Dominic Redfern, School of Art, RMIT University

Omar Musa, writer and musician

Chris Connelly, actor

Nick Place, writer

Nina Bonacci, producer

Eugenia Fragos, actor

Suzie Miller, playwright

Hannie Rayson, playwright

Harry Nankin, photomedia artist

Tommy Murphy, playwright and screenwriter

Zoe Atkinson, theatre designer

Melissa Fagan, writer

Anna Taylor, artist

Dee Read

Sarah Tomasetti, artist

Maxine Beneba Clarke, writer

Adena Jacobs, theatre director

Samantha Bews, playwright

 Di Websdale-Morrissey, writer

Katie Sfetkidis, lighting designer

Suzy Zail, writer

Campbell Bews 

Gretchen Miller, writer and radio broadcaster

Nick Meredith, guitarist

Tiffany Raae, producer and director

Catherine Ryan, writer

Alice Pung, writer

Liz Jones AO, La Mama

Sam Cheshire, teacher

Simmone Howell, writer

Simon Wilmot, filmmaker and head of Film and Television, Deakin University

Chantal Jackson, poet, artist

Judy Watson, artist

Ros Abercrombie, festival director

Martin King, artist

Stephanie Holt, Professional Writing and Editing, RMIT

Elizabeth Day, visual artist, Creative Collaborations

Libby Angel, writer

Judith Denby, artist

Fiona Dorrell, NT Writers’ Centre

Paul O’Connor, veteranrian

Malcolm McKinnon, artist and filmmaker

Catherine Clover, artist

Noreen Grahame, director grahame galleries + editions

Melanie Lazarow, artist

Tim Bass, artist

Geoff Kleem, artist

Lindy Allen, producer; former CEO of Regional Victoria and Regional Arts Australia



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