“JS Bach & GF Handel”, Canberra Sinfonia. At Wesley Uniting Church, December 15. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE
A CONCERNED group of arts community members last night set in motion the Canberra Arts Action Group, a circle designed to campaign for the ACT’s artists to be given ‘a fair go’.“Citynews” readers will recall that late in December, Canberra’s arts community was shocked to discover that the ACT Government funding in the “Projects” category had fallen by 75 per cent by a number of projects and 66 per cent in dollar terms.
The result was that only 14 projects run by individuals or groups of artists would be funded by ArtsACT in 2017, although the previous year had seen more than 50 projects funded.
A crisis meeting was held just before Christmas as a consequence of which a select team of artists sought and obtained a meeting with the newish arts Minister Gordon Ramsay on his return from holidays in January.
To the pleased astonishment of artists, Minister Ramsay subsequently announced that the ACT government had provided an additional $230,000 for 2017 arts projects.
“The speed with which found the money was astonishing”, the meeting heard which was apparent proof that ministerial power was still a real thing.
Convener of the group, musician Michael Sollis, welcomed the news but pointed out that in dollar terms the restored funding would still only amount to 65 per cent of what it had been in the previous year. “But it’s still a positive thing,” he noted.
The meeting was well attended by a cross-section of the arts community – musicians, visual artists, festival organisers, theatre workers and even a punk rocker, as well as interested members of the community from across a broad age range.
At least three attendees were members of the Key Arts Organisations whose funding had not been slashed. In addition, there were representatives from the advocacy group, The Childers Group, which has focused on providing facts and figures to the Minister and which would meet him again in early March.
For the benefit of newcomers and those too young to remember the last tango with funding, Sollis and others with good memories outlined recent history when, following the 2010 Loxton Report into the ACT arts, the former ACT Cultural Council was disbanded, placing a greater deal of responsibility in the hands of the arts bureaucracy.
Minister Ramsay, the assembled group heard, was willing to consider a new body, perhaps even a ministerial advisory body, with which he could communicate directly.
“The Minister wants to have a dialogue, he is willing to listen to artists,” Sollis said.
The action group would work towards; a petition asking for restored and increased project funding, an arts ministerial advisory body to be set up by July 1, a better funding model, an increase in the arts funded by $1 million per year and for an undertaking to advocate and promote the value of arts activity across government portfolios.
Artists present felt that it was essential for Minister Ramsay to understand how critical project funding was to the wider artistic community, in which the “trickle down” effect would mean that artists normally funded indirectly via projects would suffer.
As well, representatives of the performing arts spoke of the way in which dance and theatre were losing practitioners.Artist and writer Jenni Kemarre Martiniello spoke of the way in which Indigenous artists, unrepresented in the December project funding, were consistently ignored.
During the 90 minute meeting, many strategies were considered – everything from a flash mob to a big demo, something it was agreed that artists could do very well.
Questions raised at the meeting included the general confusion about funding processes, the desirability or otherwise of looking to the non-arts ACT Government departments for funding, finding new media outlets willing to give airtime to artists.
Above all, it was felt, artists need to be heard.
Members of the community wishing to join the campaign can visit ACTartistsfunding@outlook.com