The arts will survive

Last week I published an article about the recent cuts to funding for creative courses. When I wrote it, it was mainly to get my anger and frustration out on paper, and maybe inspire some emails to the feedback line. What I did not expect was the reaction my writing had.

Within days, it had gone viral in the arts community, shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook alone. My phone was constantly buzzing with new comments, shares, messages from people who had read it, and requests for interviews from reporters. I could barely keep up and was completely overwhelmed that my writing was resonating with people to this degree.
But I wasn’t done there. At the same time, I was frantically emailing the feedback line, and sending emails to my local member and the Minister for Education himself. It took a few days, but I did hear back from him (or his assistant), and I’d like to share with you what I received.

First, my email.

Dear Senator

I am a 24 year old actress working in all aspects of the industry. in light of your recent announcement to VET fee help cuts for creative courses, I would respectfully request that you do not go ahead with the bill.
To say you only wish to help ‘legitimate’ students is highly insulting to us as a whole. Have you ever enjoyed a film, a television show or seen a live performance? Have you ever marvelled at graphic design, or heard a piece of music you liked? Then you sir, have enjoyed the arts. And if you take away more funding, you will contribute to its continual destruction.
The arts of all descriptions are not a ‘lifestyle choice’ as you have claimed. Technically speaking, all careers are a lifestyle choice including the one you have chosen. By this logic I shouldn’t have to repay my current VET fee help debt for my Diploma in Music Theatre because I was not a ‘legitimate student’. But I know that won’t happen. These continual cuts to the arts by your government is what makes finding work hard. 
The arts is the very fabric of society. We hold a mirror up to the world, cause people to think and dream and in a lot of cases, re-examine themselves and become better people. By taking away VET fee help, you will be removing jobs from educators and taking away opportunities for talented individuals. Under these proposals only the very wealthy will be able to pursue their gifts. How in the world will this ‘encourage study’, as you claim? 
The arts teaches empathy, humanity and acceptance of all. We pour our hearts and souls into our work and we do it with the majority of the world fighting us tooth and nail every step of the way. 
Please take a few minutes to read my blog on the matter. 
I thank you for your consideration and welcome any response.
In response, I received this email. I’ve also attached a screenshot (with personal information blacked out for obvious reasons)
Dear Miss (Name)
Thankyou for your email of 17 October 2016 to Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, concerning the exclusion of the Arts from the eligible course list. I have been asked to reply on the Minister’s behalf.
While I appreciate your concerns, the Australian government has a responsibility to ensure that tax payer’s money is well directed and spent in a way that offers the greatest benefit to the Australian community. To this end, access to VET Student Loans will be restricted to courses that have a high national priority, meet industry needs, contribute to addressing skills shortages and align with strong employment outcomes. This will ensure the Government’s investment in vocational education and training is better targeted and large loan amounts are no longer paid for courses that have limited public good.
The eligible course list is available on the Department of Education and Training’s website at http://www.education.gov.au/vet−student−loans. Stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on the composition of the eligible course list. 
Feedback must be sent to VETStudentLoansPeducation.gov.au by 23 October 2016 and entitled ‘Feedback on the eligible course list’.
Please bear in mind that any proposals regarding VET Student Loans are subject to the passage through Parliament of the VET Student Loans Bill 2016.
Thank you for taking the time to write to the Minister.
2016-10-23 13.07.18.png
Do you need a minute after reading it? I know I did.
I don’t know how people can make it any plainer to the powers that be. But a few things are clear to me and anyone else with a functioning brain.

1. They have not thought this through.

“Limited public good”. That’s the words they used. That proves that they do not see the arts for what they truly are, and when it’s explained to them, they still do not see the value and probably wouldn’t until there was no art. They seem indifferent to being responsible for the decline of jobs and the value art brings to society.
Imagine a world with no movies, tv shows, radio, paintings, art galleries, designs, jewellery, graphics, musicals, plays, music, anything creative. You can stop imagining now. I know I can’t bear to think of it for more than a few seconds. There’s little doubt in my mind that society would soon cease to function as it does. As I said, without art, life has no meaning.
Imagine for a moment that the government called sports a ‘lifestyle choice’ and referred to it as an illegitimate occupation.

angrymob

Artists impression

There would be a riot. National outcry. Everyone would be disgusted. Because in this country sport is practically a religion. What if everyone in Australia could embrace the arts like they do the football? Or cricket? Or the Olympics? I suspect the country would be a much better place.
Several years ago Australian acting legend Tony Sheldon was up for a Tony Award for his performance in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. An Australian actor. An Australian musical based on a beloved Australian classic. He was up for  a TONY AWARD, the Oscars of theatre, and we did not hear one peep about it from the media.
What if a sports star was up for some award, for throwing pieces of leather around while a stadium screams for blood? We would hear nothing else for weeks.
Tony Sheldon, who I had the honour of meeting briefly during the 2013 run of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, was playing Bernadette Bassenger, a transgender character so rarely seen and definitely in pop culture at that time. When’s the last time one of our own was up for a Tony Award? Why didn’t this honour get any attention? It was a tremendous achievement!

2. They are attempting to do good by attacking the wrong people.

The main reason these cuts are being made is allegedly to stop sub-par courses taking advantage of students. I want to make one thing very clear. I am not against the idea of this. What I am against is the disrespect shown to the arts and the fact that quality courses are inevitably going to get caught in the crossfires here. Places like the Actor’s Centre Australia. Founder Dean Carey has built this college up for nearly 30 years to bring arguably the finest acting course in the nation, as well as part time courses, workshops and drop-in classes for working actors. Hugh Jackman himself graduated from here and is the proud patron.
I do not understand why genuinely good courses are going to be penalised. Furthermore, the people in charge of this decision have not consulted a single person in the industry itself while ultimately deciding the fate of so many. What is wrong with these politicians?

Colleges are going to have to rework their courses and get extra credentials in order to keep going and make the courses affordable. Educators are going to suffer. Students are going to suffer. The industry will suffer.

But we will not fall.

At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, the arts will survive. They survived the Holocaust and Soviet Russia. They survive communism and fascism. They survive indifference and disrespect. They survive budget cuts and limited funding. Because at the end of the day, art is what makes the world a better place.
The bill will likely pass parliament, and we will have to regroup. And we will. We will find a way forward until people see the light. Nothing lasts forever. And as long as artists push ahead with what they do, breaking the barriers and holding a mirror up to society, we will win.

Because

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see” – Edgar Degas

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls…The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web,” -Pablo Picasso

“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realise our perfection.” – Oscar Wilde

“Layer by layer art strips life bare,” – Robert Musil

I just wonder how much longer it will take for those blind politicians to see art for what it is.

2 thoughts on “The arts will survive

  1. Vineta

    Thank you for your brilliant argument against this new attack on the Arts. I emailed the ABC asking Q&A to bring Simon Birmingham in to argue his diabolical case against the Arts with leaders in theatre, musical theatre, dance, opera, fine arts, film. Let’s see how he stands up to people on the coal front, who know what the Arts contribute to the fabric of Australian life, who understand this work is a vocation which demands a 24/7 commitment to it. I hope others approach the ABC’s Q&A and if there are many voices, who knows it may happen. That’s a legitimate forum for this discussion. Your comment on the Soviet system is very true – I come from a country where the Artists were sent to Siberia to die so there were no dissenting voices left against the Soviet ideology. Is this what the LNP is doing? I do believe it is. RigaRoofCat

    Reply
    1. AbStar921 Post author

      I hope they do! Let’s see how long he lasts in the face of the truth.
      I studied the Soviet Union in great detail during my final year of school, and we had to learn all about censorship, Siberia and how artists survived, amongst other things.

      Reply

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