Cuts Undermine the Arts in Australia

Robyn Jay

The government recently announced cuts to student loans for a swathe of arts-related courses, branding many of them ‘lifestyle choices’ that did not lead to jobs.
Writer, composer and actor
Phil Scott says the cuts will save little and cripple the arts in Australia.

These cuts will save very little money in the overall scheme of things, and will effectively undermine the arts in Australia. Not now: there are musicians and actors and creative artists around now. No, the cuts will affect art in the future.

Some people argue that only a few get to the top in the arts. So? Show me an industry where everyone is at the top. Idiots! Without being stars, many people make a living out of acting, playing music, writing, or other creative pursuits. Many, many more – the ones whose courses are still being funded, weirdly enough – make a living out of enabling creative work to be realised: sound producers, managers etc.

But if there’s nothing painted, no one around to perform, no one around to think up new music or sing it, then what use are those others? The Liberals will always fund hangers on, because that’s basically what they are themselves: predatory leeches, sucking everything they can out of society and ruthlessly exploiting the people who create the product.

The Government’s skewed educational thinking applies here too: they firmly believe that the children of the richest people are the smartest (or most creative etc), so if parents can afford to indulge their kids in unsubsidised courses we’ll all be just fine. No we won’t: it doesn’t work like that. Brains and creativity do not go with wealth. There’s no correlation. I wouldn’t say all rich kids are dumb, of course not, but plenty are unmotivated because they’ll never have to do any real work to survive.

In the arts specifically, Australia has an international reputation for punching above its weight, and that’s because we don’t restrict access to arts study exclusively to those who can afford it. We ensure the best get a chance to be heard- or we used to. This government is stopping that happening, and there can only be one result: our international reputation will plummet. The artists we eventually send out into the world will be either second rate, or untrained: both equally useless.

There are organisations and individuals around who do a difficult and frustrating job, working tirelessly to make our well-meaning but stupid-as-shit general population interested in the arts. They market the arts, they make them attractive and interactive and family friendly and in many cases affordable. They try to get through to people that art enriches us; that it is not irrelevant or stuffy or elitist but that it touches everyone.

Art is about us. It is revelatory. It is a reflection of the best and the worst things around us, and therefore creates a perspective. It stops us from closing in on ourselves. Instead, it opens us up: opens our eyes, our ears, and our souls. The people who are explaining that don’t get much help from a government that officially pushes the opposite view.

This government sees the arts as self-indulgent, expendable and above all dangerous. The Libs in particular, because of their extremely narrow social agenda, don’t want a broad perspective created. They don’t want people to be made to think or feel; they want people to shut down and shut up. Artists make these dullards suspicious.

That’s why these cuts to arts funding (all of them, not just the student loans but all the millions of others too) are more than mere short-sightedness: they’re malicious and deliberately punitive. The tunnel-visioned greed-mongers running the place hate the fact that creative artists are better people than them. Yes, “better”. Better human beings. More highly evolved in terms of empathy, skill and imagination.

Understanding that truth is at least some comfort in The Era of the Bean-Counting Philistine. Meanwhile, in the arts, in education, and in so many other areas we are saddled with a truly lousy, third-rate government comprised of incompetent, blinkered, unimpressive deadbeats. It’s heartbreaking.