Commentary: Is music more deserving than other arts when it comes to public funding?

Scottish arts management consultant Anne Bonnar on her blog 21st Century Culture, 10/30/11

Although the level of [public funding] cuts to the arts vary across wealthier nations, the story of how they are applied is becoming familiar. Scotland's priorities have been to protect 'frontline services.' Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop partly justified continued 10 million investment in the Youth Music Initiative in terms of its contribution to the development of skills. There can be no doubt a universal engagement in music by young people has benefits to individuals and society. But does the proportionately large investment in music signal a belief that investment in music has higher value to the public pound than investment in other areas? There is a handful of studies which have attempted to establish IF there is a relationship of cultural participation to well-being. The findings of these studies can be controversial and unsettling. One of the common threads is that engagement in some art forms has a higher degree of impact on health and well-being than others. This is particularly true for music. The most recent of these studies is the Italian 'Happiness Index'. The Impact of Culture on the Individual Subjective Well-Being of the Italian Population. The study looked at the differences according to the art form and found engagement with Jazz Concerts, Opera/Ballet,and Classical Music were much higher predictors of happiness than other art forms and that there were some activities for which high access entails a negative (though modest) impact, Poetry Reading and Cinema d'essai. Classical music improves the Well Being Index score by 9.7%, and the more often the greater the benefit. Whereas the same score for theatre is 2.38% and for visual arts its 3.89%. As the authors point out, some of these results may have a particularly Italian flavour. Such research moves on from the transformational arguments with cultural magicians sprinkling their fairy dust of engagement in the arts to bring vitality into the grey lives of recipients. It moves on from the instrumental. It provides empirical evidence that culture is linked to well-being and provides particular evidence of the positive relationship between health and happiness and culture. But some culture is more equal than others when it comes to health and well being, as these studies suggest and that makes for uncomfortable reading for cultural leaders vying for public investment.


Commentary: What would happen if government didn't decide which arts are most important?

Adelaide-based arts writer Jane Howard on her blog No Plain Jane, 10/15/11

Today I spoke on a panel on arts funding with the Festival of Unpopular Culture:

You know how everyone complains about how the Australia Council devotes most of its energies to major flagships and opera? And everyone else gets, well, chicken feed? And when you try to debate that you get this whole series of arguments about how opera's a great art form and needs funding and whatever? Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have a conversation about what things could look like, rather than a defensive argument about what they're like now? Well, let's pose a hypothetical. Let's assume every Arts funding body in the nation got shut down, all the money got put into a big pot, we were rebuilding the entire funding system from scratch and everybody had to reapply from one big cultural slush fund. What would we do?

The recent Australian Theatre Forum began with Postcards from the Future from a collection of artists and arts workers, and I decided to start my response to the hypothetical like that. It wasn't until I finished writing did I realise just how much of an ode to those three days this was. This is an idealistic version of a community and a nation I would like to be working in in ten years.

Dear Jane, I am writing this as I prepare for my panel at the 2021 Festival of Unpopular Culture: The demise of a festival culture and the rise of independent arts practice in Adelaide. After 2011, all the arts funding bodies in the country sat up and listened. Australia went through a radical change where, just as prophesised, all funding structures - and the default allocations which exist there - were removed, and as a collective industry we worked towards a democratic system. While a loss of funding structures opened the doors to a more equitable system, it also had the side effect of a lot of uncertainty for many. But this lead to artists creating work that is more sustainable than I can remember: work is more environmentally and economically conscious, and sector links are stronger, more supportive, and built on a basis of resource sharing. Without the Australia Council telling people which companies are the most important because they get the most money, we get to tell people what art is important, why it is important, and why they should see it based on the art itself. In return, artists ask for the voice of the audience, listening and responding to what they have to say. 


Commentary: 'Occupy Wall Street' protests the economic disparity in art world

Paddy Johnson, Art Fag City blog, 10/24/11

Last week Internet commenters took to counting the reasons why Occupy Museums is so ill-conceived. A splinter faction of The Occupy Wall Street movement, the group announced its plans to travel from the Frick to The New Museum in protest of economic disparity in the museum world. The original call to action describes an "absolute equation of art with capital" and museum shows "meant to inflate these markets", each of which are "pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism." When I asked protestor James Rose what he thought, his response was simple: "I love museums. They've been my source of inspiration and by no means am I anti-museum." According to Rose, Occupy Museums is the process of self education in public forum. "I was shocked when I found out how much corporate money plays a role in what gets shown." I'd wager that only a small percentage of protesters involved in the movement want a completely democratic museum, though. "Understanding Occupy Museums is understanding what Occupy [Wall Street] is," [artist] Noah Fischer told me. "Little groups of people form, and they're not closed like cliques, like in other social situations - it's all about information sharing. There's larger forums where we can communicate, too, and this kind of open identity and anonymity at the same time in the way that you interact with people." This is what is new and transformative about the movement and, ultimately, what Occupy Museums is about: using the open process of self-education as a means of self-empowerment. It is a fight against passivity, and a demand that the people of all income stratas be given a voice. However, getting museums to be open to this kind of conversation seems a larger hurdle. We've been talking about the problems caused through economic disparity for the last 40 years and plenty of protestors have hit brick walls. For now though, participants seem cautiously optimistic. "It's not like we're saying that we know by having these series of actions that we're going to entirely change the way the art market functions," Riley told me over the phone. Fischer, who was part of the conference call, quickly followed this up, saying resolutely, "I think it will."

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