Two discussions in a week. Pretty big discussions. It seems Sydney is bracing itself for a change of government – a foregone conclusion considering the haphazard nature of our public transport system and the swinging voters of the west, so they say. So what happens when change is threatening? A small group mobilizes and others seem to sit on chairs and philosophize about art.

There have been two meetings in the last week –

One.Towards a Theatre Network NSW. The small- medium theatre sector is under represented/fragmented. David Williams (former Blogger and CEO of Version 1.0) and Nathan Bennett General Manager of Griffin Theatre Company have taken up Arts NSW’s offer to mobilize the NSW small-medium theatre sector and start the development of a NSW theatre network. This is in reponse to the Australia Council funding a National theatre network which needs a representative from each state – currently NSW’s representative is Arts NSW – not a very secure prospect given the upcoming election – and in my view not comprehensive enough as I am sure Arts NSW only are aware of artists they fund.

The proposal is that a Theatre network is started in order for the small-medium companies to have a presence for advocacy and awareness. the model would work under similar principals as that of the theatre Network Victoria and perhaps lobby for more funding to the arts, more support for artists who work at the small-medium level.

Interestingly at this meeting – there was a few folk (I will loosely identify as baby boomers, male and what I would identify as upper ‘medium’ theatre sector) who were suspicious of the idea as it would take away from their potential funding their individual companies could receive for production. I suspect they did not read the meetings agenda or notes prior to their arrival at the meeting/are not aware of TNV – and thus are a case in point of why a network is needed – the problem with many theatre practitioners is that they just aren’t interested in anything but their own practice – they also don’t see each others work AND they are self-interested when in forums and talk about themselves and their own companies instead of having a wider perspective. In fact my opinion to those who are suspicious and regard such an investment in the creation of a network is – ‘that’s fine… you do your own thing… if you don’t like it, don’t join it.’ I suspect that the $90K salary mentioned that has been ear-marked for this advocate/administrator was one of the more contentious of the issues – as one person thought the salary would be around $15K.

Strangely, despite the discussion about “peak body or a network” discussion, all present at the meeting decided to say yes to a recommendation for ARTS NSW to fund the appointment of a representative who would be housed at Griffin Theatre Company offices. and the application is going into Arts NSW.

Two. SAMAG (SSydney Arts Management Advisory Group) State of the Arts: What is the role of Government in NSW Arts? “a lively discussion about the state of the arts in New South Wales, as we head towards a new era in State politics.”
Featuring Anthony Roberts, NSW Opposition Spokesperson on the Arts, Jan Barham, The Greens NSW Upper House Candidate and Mayor of the Byron Shire Council, Justin Macdonnell (Anzarts Institute), Dr Gene Sherman (Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation) and Katharine Brisbane (Currency Press). Unfortunately current State Arts Minister Virginia Judge is unable to attend. The session will be moderated by Patrick McIntyre, General Manager of the Sydney Theatre Company.

“Our state‚Äôs arts and arts policy dissected, discussed and contextualized; covering important and timely questions such as: At a time of shrinking public resources for all social expenditures, what should a government be doing to exert a leadership role in the arts? Why do governments tend to downplay the arts at election time and how can the sector best respond? Does NSW have different arts/cultural issues than other states? What does this mean for the proposed national cultural policy?…”

This evening was filled with a variety of arts organisations (not really independent artists – I suspect many artists were busy at their day/night jobs whilst the bureaucrats and politicians attempted to articulate the value of the arts.) Very quickly the conversation turned into a spruiking session from the Liberals and Greens candidates (and Virginia Judge wasn’t there – but sent in a wing-woman in her place who occasionally stood up to recite the Labor party line).

When James Waites stood to comment – saying that what everyone needs to remember is that artists have a hard time subsisting in Sydney as it is a very expensive city – and that the people who are always left out of the discussions are the artists themselves. And it’s true. We live in the age of the bureaucrat and the administrator – and that’s really who the meeting was for – the attendance list reads like a list of government funded organisations. james asked everyone to consider employing the artists – giving money to artists not just to the administrators…

In response, Patrick McIntyre from the Sydney Theatre Company bragged that the STC have 13 playwrights on commission at the moment “and we don’t have any expectation to produce any of them”. “That’s a shame,” I said. but really – who am I? An artist, an advocate, a young woman not on a raised stage, not on a panel of the privileged and without a microphone, without superannuation plan or an expensive suit. I am not an administrator. And again – this is also something that is desperately wrong with the arts in Australia. It is not good enough to have our writers and directors “working” at the STC as box office staff or in administration. How about the STC walk the talk about sustainability and give creative jobs to LOCAL artists instead of flying out their Hollywood friends to use our stages for YET MORE American stories with American accents and landmarks? And yet the STC gets funded by my AUSTRALIAN tax paying dollars…

I think it was Margaret Thatcher said something to the effect of “When artists don’t have much money you survive, and when you do have money you thrive” – which was an argument (repeated at SAMAG’s meeting ) that artists do a lot with a little. And yet it seems to me that bureaucrats often do a little with a lot. Just because artists love their jobs, are passionate about what they do DOESN’T mean they shouldn’t be remunerated for their work.

There is one thing that is certain- arts advocacy is at an all time low.

Is it because my generation are apathetic? Lazy? Overly obedient to their forebears? Or is it because we are so busy and exhausted from working all our supplementary jobs that we have no time/headspace/energy to lobby? I’m not giving up my fight yet – and nor should you. Let’s stop thinking as individuals and think and ACT strategically as a group. Let’s build a NSW Theatre Network – let’s put solutions on the agenda – not complaints and celebrate what artists are capable of – innovation, incredible transformative ideas- and let’s transfer that energy and skill to our industry/community.

I don’t know about you – but I am keen to see the result of the March 26 election…