First published October 2007.

This covers a few things: my 27th birthday: and what that means for applying for grants, Garret’s policy for the arts (pre election), and the idea of government subsidized productions (ie not depending on audiences for sustainability).

October is a funny month. Its spring here in Australia: things are budding and blossoming, bees are out investigating flowers, there’s cleaning to be done and plans to be made. In Canada it is the opposite, things are shutting down, turning colour, being harvested… is a time to batten down the hatches coz the winter is coming. It’s also the month in which my birthday appears: which sometimes falls on the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend… a concept we don’t really understand here… but I celebrate my birthday with thanks anyway and I try to invert that dismay which comes from general birthday-reflection. I realised that my 27th birthday last year was the marker that separated me from youth/emerging to adult… the marker that the Australia Council and other funding bodies have sometimes marked as “26 and younger”. I am now 28 and in a different application strand… I am now theoretically old enough and experienced enough to play with the big kids… if I chose to do so.

I found a small tough wiry grey hair in the middle of my face framing voluminous locks. And I cried.

It’s not vanity… in fact I think I would look quite dashing with a white mane: like a Pegasus, or a girl-gandalf: after all, other white haired women of the theatre command respect. I’m just realising now what opportunities there were for me at 26 and under… but two of those years were spent in Canada. I now understand where I fit in. I am the “in between.” I am not young enough or established enough to successfully compete for funding. But then again, surely if I were interested in it: I would have done it? Or perhaps I am most interested in that which I feel I need to earn.

And in my birthday reflections I ask: why aren’t I further along than I am? Why do I persist in doing this: why am I working his day job… working that creative night job… writing, directing… talking… wanting… creating etc? Why don’t I just quit? What would be lost? What could I gain? Has everyone else been given the secret to succeeding but me? Its been 11 years since I have moved out of home and been supporting myself. If I am good at this, shouldn’t I have more to show for by now?

A couple of weeks ago, my mother called me up excited and visibly relieved at Garrett’s artist allowance proposal: and she asked me if I was happy with it. “I don’t know” I answered. I have never been on the dole and I know how difficult it is for friends and family members who have. And my impression is that being on the dole is, that it is a full time job: but with the possibility of lowered self-esteem. And I fear that the proposed allowance would cause the general public to disconnect and disrespect artists as the new form of dole-bludger. I worry that it would not help the real problem facing artists: which is a misconception of the value of what they do.

I have worked in many jobs and any job. Just to see what it’s like… to meet new people… to try things: to learn. I currently have a fulltime job which I love and believe in which I am at 40 hours a week and I write plays, reviews and columns on the weekend and after office hours. Currently I am rehearsing a small but beautiful offering as a part of new theatre’s Art is Not a Weapon (if you are in Sydney, I urge you to come along at the end of the month to support new plays by Australian writers! And come and say hello: to rescue me of my foyer fears!)… I feel sorry and embarrassed for Costello exposing his complete and extreme ignorance of what an artist’s life is like (as per “Who do you Trust on Arts Policy”: Garrett’s Artshub article) and yes sometimes I wish I could just concentrate on all the things I am driven and impassioned by… but I don’t want that life and those benefits at any price.

Although this proposal of Garrett’s seems utopian and I am extremely grateful for the discussion it has started it just seems like a simple solution: to offer artists a blanket wage to “create”. I don’t know if that’s the answer. I see the problem as larger and more complex than that. People create anyway in spite of their circumstances and though out time, it has never been easy or comfortable or financially stable: but all of us would quit stop tomorrow if safety and ease and comfort were why and how we found ourselves to be artists.

If they want to know how to stimulate creation, art, discussion there are three things all artists need: an audience, a community sense of appreciation and a place in which art can be seen.

Perhaps a part of the problem is that people aren’t willing to pay for the arts, which may come from a confused sense of entitlement. “Why should I pay for it if I can get it for free?” As the loudest argument at a recent dinner party: the argument in favour of downloading films and music off the Internet for free. So the punters feel the product is up for grabs. And then there is a righteousness of people within the industry who ask/demand/expect complimentary tickets for attending productions whether it be independent or main stage.

Perhaps the real problem is we don’t have an example? If more people were shown by our leaders: political or celebrity or even people they respect that theatre and Australian film, and galleries and dance are valuable and regular and constant parts of their lifestyle: perhaps then they would be more receptive. What if it were commonplace to see everyone you know at the theatre etc? And you barracked for a theatre company like you would at a football game. If there was an acceptance and culture of spending money on the arts, the creators would be buoyed both financially and personally encouraged by the interest generated.

Perhaps there is an expectation made around the creation of art: that everything created is a product: everything created is art (please refer to Williamson’s play/film “The Coming of Stork” where Bruce Spence as “artist” vomits onto canvas). The questions get harder:

But who can say what is and isn’t art? Who are the people that we put our faith in to assess what is and what isn’t, our politicians? Shouldn’t we answer: the audience? The educated/uneducated, the high brows and low brows, the haves and have-nots all have a stake in art. All need access to it. All need to talk and relate to it: all need to communicate with it. Art is for everyone: not just the rich, and the elite… and it is not only made by possible government funds it is made possible by the people who dare to be different, dare to be financially unstable and dare to dream: those who dare to create.

Even though I am too old for some forms of government funding: which I have never received. I’m not too old to be creating. Just because I am not hugely wealthy or famous or safe in the bosom of promised government funding I continue to create and think and exist. I have self funded all my productions and I am happy to do so, because I can. I will be putting up the money next year for two plays I believe in as I believe in the power and the integrity of the audience. “Popular” doesn’t necessarily translate as “low quality.” “Financially successful” is not a euphemism for “artistically bereft.” Just as “government funded” does not necessarily mean “more worthy” or “more legitimate.”

I will continue. Because the goal is not money but communication. The goal is not financial safety but creative risk. I can do this. It’s hard: but would it be worth it if it weren’t?