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 Semaphore is a newsletter and publishing project about art fromWestern Australia | Semaphore is a collaborative project and practice | Semphore enters into a dialogue with art from its rooted location of Boorloo on Noongar Country |


An Open Letter,

regarding the Australia Council for the Arts’ Four Year Funding For Organisations

04 April 2020
Semaphore editorial committee
Christina Chau, Kelly Fliedner, Alana Hunt, Melissa McGrath and Gemma Weston

This letter is a call to action following the recent announcement of the recipients of Australia Council for the Arts ‘Four Year Funding for Organisations’ grants.

We are especially concerned about the impacts these decisions will have on Australian arts writing. Of the organisations that were either unsuccessful or who have received transitional one-year funding, many are journals devoted to commissioning and publishing new, experimental and critical writing about Australian arts and culture - among them eyeline, Artlink, Art Monthly Australasia, Overland, The Lifted Brow, and the Sydney Review of Books. The contribution these publications make to our cultural life is already significant, but at a moment in history where our cultural experiences are defined by distance, publications that can facilitate the circulation of ideas and help us understand our present circumstances should be doubly supported.

In writing this piece, we acknowledge the importance of the Australia Council as an independent body tasked with equitable distribution of Federal arts funding in response to submissions from the sector, and according to fair and rigorous peer reviewed processes.

We acknowledge that the damage these current decisions will cause is due to a chronic and long-term disregard for the arts at a Federal level, which will compound the impacts of the COVID-19 health crisis. The arts and culture sector has already suffered from six years of budget cuts and policy making that is reactive, openly hostile to the sector, or missing in action. It is not the fault of the Australia Council that it must operate within such restrictions.

The 2014 Federal budget stripped, without consultation, 104.7 million dollars from the Australia Council’s budget to fund a duplicate administrative body, the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, which was quickly disestablished. Whilst 8 million per year was returned to the Australia Council, its funding has never been restored to pre-2014 levels, and there is a greater loss when adjusted for inflation and growth in GDP. The small to medium and independent sector of the arts has borne the brunt of these cuts, which have meant that heading into the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis the arts was already operating in incredibly challenging conditions.

When gatherings of over 500 people were banned on March 13th 2020, the impact on the arts and culture sector was felt immediately. We have been the first to lose our jobs, to see our exhibitions closed and festivals cancelled, to lose casual event and installation work, to see years of investment and strategy disappear overnight. To date there has been no acknowledgement by the Federal Government of the impacts of COVID-19 on our sector, either in a public statement or a targeted stimulus package. Now, due to previous neglect, we are facing further reduction in our capacity at the precise moment when the rest of the economy is receiving much needed support.

Since the advent of this crisis, it has been a popular refrain that art will prevail, that nothing can keep artists from their craft. It is true that people will respond creatively to change and it is true that art can be a calling, or a vocation, like any kind of work. It is true that art requires talent, skill and tenacity. But it also requires time and resources. It requires wages. It requires real estate, power, gas, water, internet, food, childcare, infrastructure to support it and connect it to publics.

The idea that ‘art will prevail’ is a dangerous pretext to undermine its economic needs. The human spirit will prevail, but continued attacks on the arts sector with funding cuts and reactive changes to its departments and councils will decimate the depth, breadth and quality of our nation’s culture.

Right now, we call on the Federal government to demonstrate its support for the arts, both symbolically and materially. We stand with peers, colleagues and friends across the country to call for:

Urgent allocation of additional funding to the Australia Council to support organisations AND individuals that are under extreme pressure.

Action on the advice received from the peak bodies in the Australian arts sector outlining the industry-specific stimulus measures that are desperately needed to prevent further and sustained damage to Australian culture.

Expansion of Job Keeper and JobSeeker programs to accurately reflect employment conditions for arts and culture workers, many of whom are Sole Traders or work in local government or publically funded organisations.

Advocacy by Government both publicly and to parliamentary colleagues on the significant benefits that flow from the arts and culture sector to the Australian community and economy.

These actions should be coupled with long-term, increased investment in the arts sector amongst broader economic reform as we move past the COVID-19 crisis.

Semaphore editorial committee
Christina Chau, Kelly Fliedner, Alana Hunt, Melissa McGrath and Gemma Weston

[What you can do] 

We urge you to join us in advocating for the arts, and the Australia Council for the Arts, by contacting your Federal Member for Parliament and the Cabinet and Shadow Ministers for the Arts.

You can copy, paste and customise our letter or draft your own describing your personal experience, views and demands.

[Who to contact]

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Cyber Security and the Arts: paul.fletcher.mp@aph.gov.au

The Hon Tony Burke, Shadow Minister for the Arts & Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives: tony.burke.mp@aph.gov.au

Full list of names and contact details for Western Australian Federal MPs and Senators here

A PDF with all these contacts here

[Further reading]

Julian Meyrick in The Conversation
Arts and culture under the Coalition: a lurch between aggression and apathy, 10 April 2019

Richard Watts in Arts Hub
What the Arts got from Budget 2019, 2019 (pay wall)

Australia Council for the Arts
Arts Nation: An Overview of Australian Arts, 2015 

Benjamin Law in The Guardian
In times of crisis, we turn to the arts. Now the arts is in crisis – and Scott Morrison is silent, 27 March 2020

Australian Museums and Galleries Association
AMaGA congratulates the successful applicants for the Australia Council’s 4-year funded organisations, 3 April 2020

National Association for the Visual Arts
NAVA congratulates Australia Council Four Year Organisations and thanks peer assessors at this troubling time, 3 April 2020

The Chamber of Arts and Culture Western Australia
Chamber of Arts and Culture Chairs Group COVID-19 Response Communique, March 2020

Australia Major Performing Arts Group
Unfunded Excellence on the rise, 16 April 2019

Ben Eltham in The Guardian
We are witnessing a cultural bloodbath in Australia that has been years in the making, 6 April, 2020

Kaya. We acknowledge the Whadjuk People of Boorloo boodja who are the traditional owners of the land where Semaphore is made. We respect their culture, their custodianship, and their continuing contribution to the life of this city and this region. That includes recognising and respecting sovereignty while working in solidarity towards a treaty and supporting ongoing connection to country. That means linguistic rights, economic opportunity, and artistic endeavour. To their Elders, past, present and emerging, we say thanks.