Writers to Prime Minister Tony Abbott: Restore funding to the arts!

This open letter has been run on Meanjin and Overland websites. We have republished here in order to allow as many writers, artists and cultural activists to lend their support.

fist-holding-a-fountain-pen-concept-icon-black-colorful-hand-holding-pen-in-prAn open letter

Dear Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Arts George Brandis

We view with dismay the many proposed changes to health, education and welfare support announced in the 2014 budget, and fear that the consequences these changes are likely to have will be dire for our most vulnerable citizens: the young, the elderly, the disadvantaged and Indigenous Australians.

We also strongly object to the reduction in arts funding, specifically the Australia Council’s loss of $28.2 million (not to mention the attack on Australian screen culture with cuts of $38 million to Screen Australia’s budget and a massive $120 million cut from the ABC and SBS over the coming four years). This decrease in federal support will be devastating to those who make art of any kind in this country, and many important works, works that would inform national debate and expand the horizons of Australia and its citizens, will simply never be made. Ultimately, these cuts will impoverish Australian culture and society.

Cutting the support the Australia Council offers will mean the loss of libraries, galleries, museums, concerts, regional tours, writing centres, and community and regional arts centres. In 2009, 11 million people visited an art gallery. To give that number context, it’s more people than went to the AFL and NRL combined. Those numbers tell us what many already know: that art is as crucial a part of our national identity as sport. Australians are passionate about creating, attending, consuming and investing in art.

The sector is ‘central to the social life of Australians’, as last year’s Creative Australia policy noted, and ‘an increasingly important part of the economic mainstream’. Following two comprehensive government reviews and a long process of consultation, the Creative Australia policy had promised to invest an additional $200 million in the sector; there is no mention of this additional funding in the current budget.

Importantly, the arts sector is one of the largest employers in the country. ‘In 2011, cultural industries directly employed 531,000 people, and indirectly generated a further 3.7million jobs,’ critic and writer Alison Croggon recently observed. ‘Copyright industries were worth $93.2 billion to the Australian economy in 2007, with exports worth more than $500 million.’

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that in 2008–9, the arts contributed $86 billion to the Australian GDP – that is, 7% – $13 billion of which flowed directly from our field, literature and print media.

It is worth noting that the mining sector only provides $121 billion to the GDP, and employs fewer workers (187,400 directly, 599,680 indirectly), yet receives far more government financial support at federal and state levels.

Government support of the arts is vital to civic participation, as well as employment, innovation, growth, education, health, trade and tourism. The arts, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found in 2011, help build a ‘socially inclusive society’, one that makes people feel of value, and encourages greater participation in employment, education, training and volunteering.

Australia has a long history of valuing the arts and supporting its artists and writers. The Commonwealth Literary Fund was first started in 1908 and eventually became the Literature Board, before moving to the auspices of the Australia Council. The $200 million in grants the Australia Council as a whole currently bestows enables large organisations, such as the Australian Ballet, to put on annual programs, but also allows regional companies such as Back to Back Theatre or Bangarra Dance Theatre to tour internationally. It helps decades-old publications continue to foster a love of literature, finding and supporting new writers who will become tomorrow’s great Australian authors.

The loss of funding indicated in the 2014 budget will devastate these smaller organisations and practitioners, robbing Australia of a whole generation of artists, writers, publishers, editors, theatre makers, actors, dancers and thinkers. Crucially, it will deprive people, particularly in rural and regional areas and in remote communities, of the opportunity to create, educate, learn and collaborate. These proposed funding cuts endanger us intellectually, artistically and severely damage our reputation internationally. Moreover, we fear the prospect of a world of culture and art that is unaffordable to the majority of Australians.

You have an opportunity now to restore and increase funding to the arts. We ask you that you don’t devalue our artists or their work, and instead recognise what art offers Australia.

We look forward to your response.

Zora Sanders, Meanjin
Jacinda Woodhead, Overland
Alex Miller, author
Alexis Wright, author
Anna Funder, author
Christos Tsiolkas, author
JM Coetzee, author
Sonya Hartnett, author
Chloe Hooper, writer
Don Watson, writer
Hannah Kent, author
Shaun Tan, author and illustrator
Garth Nix, author
Peter Temple, writer
Sally Rippin, author and illustrator
Andy Griffiths, author
Kim Scott, author
Alison Croggon, writer and critic
Daniel Keene, playwright
Robert Drewe, author
Kirsten Tranter, author
Fiona Capp, author
Tony Birch, writer
Michelle de Kretser, author
Larissa Behrendt, writer
Lisa Dempster, Melbourne Writers Festival
Jennifer Mills, author, fiction editor Overland
Martine Murray, author
Andrea Goldsmith, author
Emeritus Professor John McLaren AM, author
Marion Halligan AM, author
Dr Clare Wright, author and academic
Dr Jessica Wilkinson, poet, academic and editor
Ivor Indyk, Giramondo Publishing, UWS
Evelyn Juers, author
Peter Rose, Australian Book Review
Professor Gail Jones, author
Dr Jeff Sparrow, Overland
Favel Parrett, author
Dr Benjamin Law, author
Dr Maria Tumarkin, author
Matthew Lamb, Island
Sam Cooney, The Lifted Brow
Rjurik Davidson, writer and editor
Amy Middleton, Archer Magazine
Alice Grundy, Seizure
Elizabeth McMahon, Southerly
Tessa Lunney, Southerly
David Brooks, Southerly
Geoff Lemon, Going Down Swinging
Robert Skinner, The Canary Press
Alex Skutenko, Overland
Lesley Halm, Island
Dr Peter Minter, Overland
Dr Kate Fagan, author and musician
Susan Hornbeck, Griffith REVIEW
Geordie Williamson, Island
Kent MacCarter, Cordite Poetry Review
Josephine Rowe, author
Richard Watts, writer and broadcaster
Angela Meyer, author and literary journalist
Delia Falconer, author
Connor Tomas O’Brien, Tomely
Van Badham, writer
Melissa Keil, author and editor
Professor John Kinsella, poet and writer
Gideon Haigh, journalist
|Dr Tom Cho, author
Judith Beveridge, Meanjin
Kalinda Ashton, author
Simon Mitchell, author
Margo Lanagan, writer
Lally Katz, writer
Sally Heath, writer and publisher
James Ley, writer and editor
Luke Davies, writer and poet
Omar Musa, rapper, poet and author
Ben Walter, writer
David Leser, writer and journalist
Ben Eltham, writer and journalist
Robert Macklin, author and journalist
Alan Close, writer
Chris Womersley, author
James Bradley, author and critic
Bronte Coates, Stilts
Carmel Bird, writer
Maxine Clarke, poet and writer
Alice Pung, author
Kate Larsen, writer and arts manager
Craig Sherborne, author
John Birmingham, writer
Steve Bisley, actor and writer
Candida Baker, author
Hannie Rayson, playwright
Di Morrissey, author
Marele Day, author
Rebecca Starford, Text Publishing and Kill Your Darlings
Susan Johnson, author
Mungo MacCallum, writer and journalist
Thomas Keneally, author
Melissa Cranenburgh, editor and writer
Charlotte Wood, author
Rachel Power, author and journalist
Andrew Nette, author
Sandra Symons, academic
David Whish-Wilson, author
Michael Rowbotham, author
Paul Clifford, Westerly
Delys Bird, Westerly
Mark Roberts, Rochford Street Review, Rochford Street Press, Social Alternatives.

(Signatures are still being collected for this letter. If you are a writer, editor or publishing worker, please leave your name in the comments section of the letter over at Meanjin, or email Jacinda Woodhead at jacinda@overland.org.au.



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