Why we need to be vigilantly aware of the implications of short-sighted cuts to investment in the arts.

So far this year we’ve lost Pierre Boulez, David Bowie and Alan Rickman – and it’s only February. In their different ways and through distinct art forms, each of these three great men had a transformative effect on my own life and I’m sure on the lives of many fellow Limelight readers.

Boulez altered the way we think about art. Love him or loathe him, classical music in the second half of the 20th century can be divided into pre and post-Boulez. As he famously threatened, he really did blow up the opera houses – and much more. Bowie, through his chameleon-like personae, a common touch and music that influenced everyone from Lady Gaga to Philip Glass, in some ways achieved even more. The range of people touched by his unexpected passing has been extraordinary. And Rickman’s gifts, evident in witty, subtle performances from Barchester Towers to Hogwarts, spanned the generations.

They seem a diverse trio, but one thing they each had in common was growing up in unremarkable circumstances. Bowie and Rickman were working-class boys who got their chance in the enlightened post-war British education system. In rural France, Boulez went to the local Catholic school (perhaps somewhat less enlightened) but he soon benefitted from the best musical education that Olivier Messiaen and the Paris Conservatoire could offer. All three were ordinary, yet extraordinary lads, State educated, and encouraged to embrace the arts. Early on, their imaginations were nurtured through investment in creativity.

Late last year Symphony Australia let slip that neither they nor the ABC were prepared to continue to support the annual Young Performer Awards, the only national competition for young Australian musicians. This came only days after the federal Arts Minister announced he would lop a further $45 million off an undisclosed number of arts programmes. One immediate impact is that only three of 13 youth theatre companies in Australia will retain federal funding this year. Not least for the sake of the next Bowie, Rickman or Boulez, we need to be vigilantly aware of the implications of short-sighted cuts to investment in the arts. 2016 looks like a year when something will have to be done.


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