Lim reiterates the importance of programming women composers; Sydney Con introduces a new composition prize for women.

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Liza Lim has called on Australian festival and concert programmers to achieve gender parity in music commissions and performances. One of Australia’s leading composers, Lim made her appeal at the Women in the Creative Arts Conference in Canberra on Friday.

Lim cited four prominent European festivals in new music that have recently committed to an equal gender split in programming over the next five years as a something Australia should be working towards.

“In year 12 and at the beginning of tertiary studies, we see a 50:50 gender split but this dwindles to around 20 to 25 percent participation by women in the industry, and even less for composers,” Lim said.

“Sexism is structural in our society and as a result, so is the magic ingredient that allows an artistic practice to thrive – what we call ‘luck’. For the luck mechanism to kick in, it requires that you’re given a go in the first place. It requires multiple opportunities to try things out, to practice, to fail, to partly succeed and to keep trying.” 

Lim explained her concept of ‘structural luck’ in her speech, seeing it as a key factor in determining success in the arts. “Rather than ‘luck’ arising randomly, I would like to see ‘luck’ structured in a way that gives women in music the same opportunity as their male counterparts to be heard and to shine,” she said.

“The gendering of access and inclusion in the music business means that women overall make fewer such gains and tend to have less structural luck,” she added.

Lim also noted the recent reports on gender inequality for women composers both locally and internationally, citing the University of Sydney’s Skipping a Beat report that showed how women are chronically disadvantaged in the Australian music industry.

“It is heartening to see a number of important shifts in response to statistics and reports on gender inequality, with APRA AMCOS now requiring a split of 40 percent female, 40 percent male and a 20 percent male/female participation in music projects to be considered for funding. Quotas create pathways to careers, skills and to re-imagining legitimacy. Quotas create a space for talent to rise up! If we envision a culturally vibrant future, it’s absolutely imperative that we make space for and invest in a diversity of artists right now,” said Lim.

Sydney Conservatorium has created its own “lucky break” for four women composers through its two-year Composing Women development programme. Launched in 2015 by Professor Matthew Hindson as the National Composers’ Development Program, it gives participants acces to leading artists and music and arts organisations as well as financial backing and mentoring. “While it may only be four places, it signals moving beyond lip service to redress a gender imbalance,” said Lim.

For the 2018–19 programme, Lim announced new partnerships with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Chamber Opera (with NIDA), the American star flautist Claire Chase, as well as national organisations including Musica Viva, ABC Classics, Classic FM, APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre.

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music has also established a new composition prize, the Sue W Chamber Music Composition Prize to support female composers of creative Australian art music. Sponsored by Sue and Richard Willgoss, the prize is worth $7,000. Applications close on October 13.