The new #SAArtsPlan: a (draft) response

Submissions to the new South Australian Arts Plan consultation are due by 12 April 2019. Artists, arts workers and audience members are being encouraged to have their say on the arts in SA.

Submissions can be made via the Your Say SA website. Feel free to copy, paste or adapt any of the following (draft) response into your own. This version is a working document that will be adapted and updated prior to making my own submission.

A vision for the new #SAArtsPlan

As an arts practitioner and consultant who now calls Adelaide home, I welcome the opportunity to feed into the new #SAArtsPlan.

This enthusiasm is, of course, tempered by disappointment that the development of the Arts Plan has already been pre-empted by the significant changes made to the arts portfolio in the 2018 State Budget – changes uninformed by either the Arts Plan’s recommendations or consultation with the sector.

Beyond the development of the Arts Plan itself, then, we must hope this current process signals a renewed demonstration of this Government’s support of South Australian arts and culture, the value it places on the work of the South Australian arts sector, and its understanding of the impact that sector has on the lives of SA residents, visitors and audiences out-of-state and overseas.

“We have always had a leadership role in the arts sector,” SA Premier Steven Marshall noted in a recent interview, “and the arts are a massive economic driver, so thinking about those two things coming together is critical for this government’s future.”

With such indications, we must also hope that the Arts Plan process results in a long-term, strategic and bipartisan blue-print backed up by substantive, indexed investment that is informed by the needs and ambitions of the State’s entire arts community.

As Chair of the Arts Industry Council of South Australia (AICSA) Gail Kovatseff was quoted as saying in the Adelaide Review: “We want to see both new strategies and new funding taken out of the realm of ad hoc policy driven by political expediency and the loudest voices.”

A vision for the arts in South Australia

The arts in South Australia should be:

  • AMBITIOUS: South Australia may be a smaller state with a smaller population, but this should be used as a selling point, not an excuse. We should not just celebrate our history as a State and City of Firsts, but also commit to a future of the same. We should invest in and incubate work that is bold, brave and risk-taking. We should lead the country in terms of the ideas and stories our artists and arts organisations share, and the ways in which they share them. And we should channel our investment into the powerhouses of that innovation: independent artists and Small-to-Medium (S2M) organisations.
  • ACCESSIBLE: In difficult economic times, the communities that experience the biggest and most detrimental impact are often those who are already marginalised. Whether involved as artists, arts workers, board members, participants or audiences, this means that First Nations communities, Deaf and disabled people, youth, people in regional areas, and those from culturally diverse backgrounds (among others) are likely to face additional barriers to arts participation. We should embed access into our arts funding processes, arts practices and organisations. We should make inclusion a priority, not an afterthought. We should focus on the cutting-edge outcomes of integrated access, not on compliance. And we should actively redress the historical imbalance that has stopped our marginalised communities from being able to participate in the State’s creative and cultural life: such as making sure our existing arts infrastructure is accessible, welcoming and fit-for purpose.
  • SUSTAINABLE:The 2018 State Budget announcements have exposed the SA arts sector to a period characterised by uncertainty, instability, negative readjustment and grief. The longer-term impact of the State’s truncated investment in the arts is likely to include SA organisations reducing their size, programs, engagement and reach, and/or SA artists and arts workers leaving the sector or the State. What is broken is not so easily fixed. We should immediately address this uncertainty and clarify the restructure of Arts South Australia, changes to arts grants and how those grants will be administered. We should look to the State Government for strong, strategic and consistent support. And we should call upon it to value its investment in arts and culture in as demonstrable a way as it does investment in other areas, such as its space and military infrastructure.
  • DIVERSE (AND PUT FIRST NATIONS ARTS AT ITS HEART): South Australia’s arts organisations do not currently mirror the diversity of the communities and constituencies they represent and serve. We should insist upon diversity at all levels of our arts organisations and programs. We should embed best practice principles for community-engaged work to ensure “nothing about us, without us.” And we should listen to and be led by our First Nations artists and communities (both through the significant work already undertaken as part of the Aboriginal Arts Strategic Plan in 2012, and through ongoing, meaningful, community-led engagement).

An investment in innovation

Governments often measure their legacy in bricks and mortar. Everyone wants the shiny new thing. But surely a more strategic (and cost-effective) approach would be to make sure that South Australia’s existing arts infrastructure is maintained, expanded, accessible and fit for purpose.

Similarly, Governments are often tempted to focus on the high-ticket items on the arts sector spectrum. But the State’s independent artists and Small-to-Medium (S2M) organisations (including some of those within and beyond ArtsSA’s G20 cohort) are the real powerhouses of innovation, experimentation and audience development.

“Individual artists and small-to-medium and independent companies are forced to endlessly justify their existence,” SA’s Ben Brooker wrote in Artshub last year, “[but] it is these organisations that are most likely to be doing the heavy lifting of both artistic innovation and cultural diversity.”

“It’s often argued that the funds quarantined to the Major Performing Arts are justified by audience development,” wrote Esther Anatolitis from the National Association of Visual Arts. “Not so. That’s debunked by the massive audiences of the small-to-mediums.”

Statistics are available to back up these claims. S2M audiences are bigger than those of their bigger, better-funded counterparts, attracting 9.4 million people nationally compared to the 3.3 million served by the majors. Furthermore, S2M audiences are growing, while audiences at the bigger end of town are barely holding still. And funding to the S2M sector goes further too (reaching more than double the audiences on less than half the funds on a national scale, with Australia Council funding to S2M organisations equating to a subsidy of $5.68 per person compared to the major’s $33.06). Put simply, investment in S2M organisations gives Governments more bang for their buck.

Audience reach and value for money aside, our major arts venues, festivals and theatre companies also have a lot to learn from the S2M sector in terms of programming, diversity and access. This includes broader representation of South Australian stories and cultural heritage, as well as better modelling of access and inclusion at all levels – including board members, artists and performers, not just audiences.

“The future of contemporary global artistic practice in South Australia relies not only on infrastructure, festivals and arts centres, but on supporting artists and the development of their practices,” Kovatseff said last year when 2018 State Budget cuts first threatened the viability of the sector.

“Real arts funding has been in decline for years,” Tim Lloyd noted this month in an Advertiser opinion column, “and the rapidly growing costs of the established arts have made life more difficult for artists.”

“We need to see a focus on developing careers in the arts,” SA Premier Steven Marshall recently agreed. “Often we forget the artists except on opening night; often we forget they have to eat, they have to live. I don’t think we put enough effort into developing sustainable long-term careers for artists. It’s a tough life.”

As a result, we need an Arts Plan (and associated funding priorities and programs) that ensures:

  • That South Australian artists and arts organisations are not only able to continue to make work, but to make a living doing so.
  • That all of South Australia’s stories are able to be told (particularly those whose voices have traditionally been hidden or marginalised);
  • And that those stories are able to be told across the breadth of South Australian audiences (not just those who can afford to do so on plush velvet arts centre seats).

Have your say on the arts in SA

Until 12 April 2019, you can have your say on the future of the Arts, Cultural and Creative sectors in South Australia via the Your Say SA website. Feel free to copy or adapt any of the above points or recommendations into your own response.

Some issues and themes you may choose to consider:

  1. AMBITION: – What three or four words or phrases resonate with you that describe or imagine the future of the arts industries in South Australia?
  2. FIRST NATIONS ARTS AND CULTURE: – How do we reinforce existing stories, or tell a new story about first nations’ arts and culture – about the past and our journey together into the future? What is that story for you?
  3. PRIORITY AREAS AND OUTCOMES: – What are priority areas for you?What should we do differently to grow and drive increased sustainability across the arts in South Australia? How do you simply and briefly define SA’s role in the Australian arts sector?  What are some opportunities in the future?
  4. GOVERNMENT AND GOVERNANCE: – What is the role of government (funding, advocate, investor, regulator, facilitator)? How should it achieve the objectives of this role(s)?
  5. AUDIENCE AND ACCESS: – What are some of the key issues and opportunities for South Australia across the following areas: • Diversity • Audience engagement • Rural and remote community participation and access • Corporate participation and support • Philanthropic support and investment for social impact?
  6. INDUSTRY AND INNOVATION: – What can be done through the arts sector to: • cultivate skills including entrepreneurial and innovation across business and industry • increase tourism • harness the opportunities of digital technology • enhance creative spaces and places • increase the importance and role of the creative industries in driving the economy • establish an industry and “point of difference” for South Australia?
  7. EMBEDDING ARTS AND CULTURE: – We talk about “integration and embedding the arts across government and into everyday life” – what do you see as the main opportunities and challenges to such pathways?
  8. ECOLOGY: – Any “ecology” has many parts that are interdependent or may rely on each other for survival, growth and increased sustainability. What are some key issues of the South Australian arts and cultural ecology that could be strengthened to increase overall vibrancy and sustainability?What are the “disrupters” that will emerge and may impact a future ecology? Some components of an arts ecology may include the following segments: • Education • Emerging artists • Mid-career artists • Established artists • Small to medium companies • Larger companies • Venues and other infrastructure • Collecting institutions, museums and galleries • Festivals.
  9. FINAL THOUGHTS: – What are the three key things you wish to happen from this Plan?

You can either respond to some of these themes and question, or simply share your own ideas and ‘arts story’. Join in the discussion on Your Say SA. 

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