Running up to 2020 ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Running up to 2020

It struck me with seismic force yesterday that the Australia 2020 Summit is this weekend. Well, at least it doesn't give me too much time to panic. And I'm looking forward to it with lively interest: whatever transpires, positive or disappointing, it can't fail to be educational.

Summit participants have been given a private website in which we can engage in preparatory chat. A smart idea, I think. Interestingly, the "stream" (we're all in different streams of this great big delta of ideas) that has most taken advantage of this is Creative Australia. Unkind souls might suggest that this is because artists haven't anything better to do: personally, I can assure you that this is definitely not the case. Lately I have been heard muttering that April is indeed the cruellest month...

Trawling through the different streams, I also notice that Creative Australia has by far the biggest component of recommended background reading. All sites have links to a background paper and an overview of the public submissions; a few maybe have links to a couple more documents. Creative Australia includes links to no less than 10 rather hefty documents from a wide variety of sources, local and international, including a couple of the excellent Currency House Platform Papers series.

Combined with my own background reading, this adds up to hundreds of pages of information and argument. Perhaps the key issue here is that Summit work is unpaid. Anything new or revelatory in that? Not for anyone who works in the arts...we've long known that arts work is anything but a soft option. And while I'm here, the TN 2020 wiki is still open for business, and will be until Friday morning, when I'll be heading to Canberra. It includes some interesting discussion from various bods, and anyone else who wants to chew my ear is welcome.

UPDATE: Creative Australia co-chairs Cate Blanchett and Julianne Schulz outline the broad agenda in the Age today, and it makes me feel very upbeat. They've been listening: and they're taking the ball and running with it.


Anonymous said...

I had a meeting with the Australia Council yesterday and it was brought to my attention that they don't and in fact it is against their policy to fund a remount of a work. I cant help thinking this is problematic. If the funding bodies continue to fund new work and don't fund it's subsequent incarnations (if it is deemed worthy) then how is a production / artists meant to grow and develop? How do independent artists bridge that gap between emerging and emerged? How do they acquire funding for the next tier of the industry? Why when remounting work, do we yet again have to ask creatives and production team to work for free? By continually funding new work and only new work, don't we perpetuate a cycle where artists can't go anywhere? They run this treadmill and very rarely are given the paid opportunity to develop, refine, improve their initial attempt - unless by some lighting strike of fate they are snaffled by the professional companies. Plays need audience for the work to grow. After development they need a production. After production they need another production and perhaps even another. We need to foster artists growth as well as help them emerge. If a play is successful in it's first run, why can't it have a funded second season? Why do we continually ask our artists to subsidise the work? It's easy to ask people to work for free the first time, it's so much harder the second. If we had funding to support that second tier, it might make the jump to the third and fourth tiers so much easier. Can the Australia Council work with us, rather than against us? It would mean better work, paid artists and an industry that is about growth and development rather than a flash in the pan.

Alison Croggon said...

I didn't realise that...! I totally agree with you about the need for work to have a life. It's what happens in Europe, where touring is much more standard than it is here, and productions can run for months and months. I expect too that this policy comes down to limited budgets. Certainly, it's worth raising. I guess it couples with the relarive abandonment of mid-career artists, once they're no longer "new", at precisely the time when they should be doing their best work.

David Williams said...

Hi Alison and Anon,

The Theatre Board of Australia Council has never funded remounts (the funding category has been called 'New Work' for more than a decade, after all). This however doesn't mean that there is no support for the continuing life of good work. There's a range of funding mechanisms by which such work has been further developed and given an ongoing life. The Theatre Board funded means of doing this are primarily through Playing the World, a funding category for international touring, and initiatives such as Mobile States, which supports the national touring of innovative performance work. This is in addition to other shorter term initiatives which have funded touring. The producers grants first awarded last year give producers money to invest directly in the proven work by selected artists, and indeed a big part of the Theatre Board's 'Make it New' process has been to promote a producer-driven funding paradigm which would allow producers the ability to make sustained investment in the development of particular artist's work over three-five years. This can hardly be seen as "working against" artists.

Also, the funding allocated by the Theatre Board to organisations such as Performing Lines goes primarily to the further development and touring of high standard productions, and on a bigger scale the organisations funded by the Major Performing Arts Board also directly engage in further development of artists and the artform. A recent example is of course Company B's production of The Seed, which went from an independent show to a mainstage production. In Melbourne the Malthouse also regualrly does similar things. Big chunk of Ozco money in these companies. Lots of 'working with' artists going on here too.

Then lets not forget that the Australia Council is only one small part of the arts funding landscape in this country, and can't reasonably be expected to be all things to all people.

And then of course, there's Playing Australia, which funds national touring. $3.1 million in grants was announced yesterday.

If you want to remount your work, go to a producer or a venue. They have the physical and financial resources that are appropriate for this. The Australia Council has problems, but I don't think this is one worth much attention.

BTW, I should mention that I'm in no way associated with the Australia Council, but my company version 1.0 has been regularly funded by the Theatre Board.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks David - of course you're right (and I'm not thinking straight - better fix that up quick smart). How many remounts have I seen at the Malthouse...?

Julian K said...

I read the Age article today by Cate Blanchett and Julianne Schulz. I'd have to say it is pretty disappointing - it all seems a bit naive. The language used and the examples presented are pretty trite. It's a pity there isn't better, more incisive commentary in the mainstream press. Most of the commentary seems to be happening in the blogosphere - with posts by Marcus Westbury, Ben Eltham, Mark Bahnisch, Jason Hill and you. I find this a bit unusual. I hope the debate is a bit more revved up than the Age article suggests!!

Alison Croggon said...

I don't have any problems with that Age article. It's saying the obvious, but the obvious needs to be said, because it very seldom is. And the blogosphere is always where the interesting conversation is!

Julian K said...

I was going to list some of the metaphors in the article, but won't. Look, if it's an article for punters, fine (which I'm assuming it is). However, I'd like to see more column inches devoted to informed and robust debate on the arts in Australia. The dumbing down of arts debate is a real issue and only serves to reinforce an arts policy which is grossly lacking. there's more robust debate in the business sections of newspapers these days than in the arts sections. There's certainly more debate around policy!!