Arts / Ageing artists face increased poverty

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Actor John Wood, coming to forum.
WELL-KNOWN Melbourne arts and entertainment solicitor and author Mark Williams, is coming to Canberra for an event next week at Parliament House, along with actor John Wood, who is the president of the Victorian Actors’ Benevolent Trust, Sally-Anne Upton, and other arts leaders.

Dr Williams has written a paper in the Currency House Platform Papers series called “Falling through the Gaps: Our artists’ health and welfare”.

In it, he argues government industry services, in assuming purely monetary economic rationalism as the motive for all Australian, discriminate against those in specialised vocations like acting, who devote their lives to perfecting their craft.

Australia’s performing artists are ageing and facing increasing poverty, poor health, homelessness and depression. Williams says studies show that among professional artists and crews, the level of mental ill-health, suicidal ideation and suicide is up to nine times that of the general population.

Mark RW Williams
Actors like the late John Hargreaves wrote of the psychic displacement facing performers. Many actors assumed to be prosperous because they are well-known on film and television screens but can barely survive on fees which have, these days, been trimmed to three-hour calls. They are largely denied public income support during lean times.

With an average maximum of $58,000 in superannuation at the end of a career, two thirds of performers believe they don’t have enough to survive retirement. With performers’ income increasingly drawn from freelance work and little or no residuary income, they are falling through the gaps between tax, superannuation and social security systems.

The sad fact, Williams says, is that artists who made substantial contributions to our culture and society will, by comparison to the rest of working Australia, end up poorer, have worse mental and physical health, and a shorter life span.

In his paper, Williams, who is also a member of the Victorian Actors’ Benevolent Trust committee, which is now marking its 60th year, traces how industry self-help charities and benefits developed early in Australia, but were eclipsed with the rise of the welfare state.

He argues Australia needs to better support its theatrical welfare institutions and deliver more flexibility in public services and housing.

“Falling Through The Gaps”, forum/wine and cheese night, convened by the Parliamentary Friends of the Arts, Committee Room 1R2, Australian Parliament House, from 6.30pm-8pm, Monday, August 20. Registrations essential to jane.boyer@aph.gov.au

The Platform Paper, no 56, can be purchased at currencyhouse.org.au

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