“What we stand to lose today is terrible,” Artistic Directors tell Government

The eight most influential theatre directors in Australia have lambasted the Government’s decision to remove resources from the Australia Council in the wake of the funding cuts that fell on 65 arts organisations last week. Referring to the current cultural climate as “dark days”, the Artistic Directors from the Confederation of Australian State Theatre Companies (CAST) have issued a jointly worded statement warning that the outcome will be “a destructive impact on a generational scale”.

The open letter, signed by Geordie Brookman (State Theatre Company of South Australia), Jonathan Church (Sydney Theatre Company), Peter Evans (Bell Shakespeare), Eamon Flack (Belvoir), Matthew Lutton (Malthouse), Brett Sheehy (Melbourne Theatre Company), Sam Strong (Queensland Theatre Company and Clare Watson (Black Swan), comes as a more personal statement after Friday’s press release issued on behalf of CAST condemning the funding decisions that have left many in the arts community reeling. “This is an unprecedented assault on the independence and the viability of the arts in Australia,” they wrote, warning that the impact would be felt not just on every stage in the country but overseas as well.

Criticising as “poor policy” the Turnbull Government’s decision to stand by the removal of $12 million a year from the Australia Council’s coffers in order to create what is now called the Catalyst Fund, the eight ADs describe the resulting losses as “without purpose or rationale”. “For this reason we stand side by side with artists, arts workers and audiences everywhere in requesting that the Government review its cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts,” they conclude.

The seven Australian CAST directors describe themselves as having honed their craft in the small to medium sector, which they believe has now been badly damaged. “We know in our bones the vital importance of the companies lost today,” their statement says, while STC’s director Jonathan Church warns of his experience in the UK where he has seen how recent cuts in public funding have caused “significant damage to the development of artists and arts provision to communities.”

Coming at the end of the first week of the election campaign, CAST hope to raise the profile of arts policy and put last week’s cuts firmly on the political agenda. “In these times of wild change, and in the midst of a storm of political claims about our bright and shiny future, our government has chosen to reduce the character and imagination of the country,” they say. “What we stand to lose today is terrible.”

Statement in full:

CAST Artistic Directors fear for our cultural vibrancy

These are dark days for the cultural life of the country. Today’s losses will have a destructive impact on a generational scale. The variety of our cultural life has been severely restricted. Great artists and great works will fail to materialise as a result. The viability of all of our surviving arts organisations, big and small, will be dangerously tested in the months and years to come. The impact will be felt for a long time, and it will be felt everywhere – not just in the communities who have lost arts organisations. It will be felt on every stage in the country, and it will be felt overseas. There will be less variety, less brilliance, less diversity. This is an unprecedented assault on the independence and the viability of the arts in Australia.

The loss to artists and arts workers is terrible. We offer our support to all those who have been affected. But the great and lasting loss is to audiences and to the dignity of the country. In these times of wild change, and in the midst of a storm of political claims about our bright and shiny future, our government has chosen to reduce the character and imagination of the country.

To what end? No one can say. These losses are without purpose or rationale. It is important to note they are not the result of budget cuts, as has been reported. The total sum available to the Ministry for the Arts remains the same. Nor are they an efficiency measure: the national arts bureaucracy has in fact been made less efficient. These losses are the result of a government taking money from its own independent body and creating a new bureaucracy as a rival to that independent body. It is the equivalent of taking parts from one car in order to build a second car: neither car will be going anywhere. In short, this absurd situation is the result of nothing but poor policy.

Professionally, we artistic directors are the product of the Australia Council’s past support, and whatever success we have had in our careers has been largely due to our working in or with the small to medium sector. All of us honed our craft and qualifications with the sector which has been so badly damaged. We did our apprenticeships in a manner which is now radically restricted and reduced. And each of us represents dozens and dozens of other artists who live and work by the vibrancy of the small to medium sector. We know in our bones the vital importance of the companies lost today. Not just for the artists they produce, but for the work they create and the communities they represent. For this reason we stand side by side with artists, arts workers and audiences everywhere in requesting that the Government review its cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts.

What we stand to lose today is terrible. What we stand to gain is essential. Two generations ago the arts led Australia out of its colonial past. A generation ago the arts led Australia onto the world stage. Today, many people and many communities in Australia are looking for a bigger picture, for their place in a larger story. Enter the arts?

Signed,

Geordie Brookman – Artistic Director, State Theatre Company of South Australia
Peter Evans – Artistic Director, Bell Shakespeare Company
Eamon Flack – Artistic Director, Belvoir
Matthew Lutton – Artistic Director, Malthouse
Brett Sheehy – Artistic Director, Melbourne Theatre Company
Sam Strong – Artistic Director, Queensland Theatre Company
Clare Watson – Artistic Director (Designate), Black Swan State Theatre Company

Coming from the UK, I have seen how recent cuts in public funding here have led to significant damage to the development of artists and arts provision to communities. There was a belief in the UK that philanthropy might help fill the funding gap. The reality has been that for small and middle scale companies in particular this has been a false belief. As a newcomer I have been extremely impressed by the output of the Australian industry both in terms of excellence and efficiency in the use of resources. It would be a grave waste of opportunity to risk unpicking what is a vibrant, collaborative and successful sector.
Jonathan Church (Artistic Director, Sydney Theatre Company)