Event Session - Little Lunch Online - #16

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Wendy Were, Executive Director, Strategic Development and Advocacy | Australia Council

Friday 17th April, 12:00pm - 12:30pm AEST

Live Stream


LLOL #16 was a lunch in two parts. 

First up, Australia Council's Executive Director of Strategic Development and Advocacy Wendy Were was in conversation with Anne Dunn on the topic of advocacy in the time of COVID-19 and beyond. 

Then in part 2 we got stuck into one of the questions raised in LLOL #13 - what are the practical things we can do right now to get support to independent artists. 

Here is Anne Dunn's update following Little Lunch #16

Last Friday we had a useful discussion to explore whether there is any useful action/advocacy we could take in the short and longer term to improve the position of artists and art workers. In particular we looked at:

  • $5m Resilience Fund from the Australia Council (AC) and whether it can be increased  or expanded 
  • How we can take action ourselves or connect with others to do some advocacy with people in the sector and governments, and to increase pressure on the Commonwealth Government for an Arts Package?
  • What can we do now to consider the future for artists and arts workers during the recovery period and beyond.

Wendy Were from the Australia Council clarified that the Council sees its role in advocacy for the arts as a whole and their focus is about the economic value and positioning the arts as an economic force, as well as promoting the social and cultural value of the arts. She described advocacy as making a case for the arts and changing people’s minds.  She made the distinction Important to make distinction between advocacy to government (educating and providing information to influence policy) and lobbying (putting direct pressure on government to achieve specific outcomes) and identified the role of the Australia Council (as an arm of government) as the former. She suggested that it is most effective when taking action that we find people who have influence to assist us with our advocacy and to focus on decision makers who can be persuaded to understand the critical need for investment. 

Wendy informed us that the Australia Council is committed to collecting and making available information that can be useful for the sector to undertake its own advocacy and that they regularly publish material on their website for public use.

The discussion that followed this presentation raised some concerns with the arts sector having economic value as its major focus. It was felt that the economic argument has been at the forefront of advocacy for many years, and has had little or no effect on either governments or the public. Points raised include:

  • We are in a health crisis, and the value of the arts in health and our experience in promoting good health needs more air space
  • We know the economic argument is important now to ensure people keep a roof over their heads, but this is not enough to ensure long term sustainability
  • We need to seek recognition that the long term recovery for this nation will take time and provides an opportunity to argue for an arts-led recovery across all facets of society - the social, cultural and economic benefits of the arts
  • Presentation of the statistics is not enough, it is crucial we work with hearts and minds. We have to change the way in which advocacy is done, not just what is being presented.
  • We need to make people conscious of how the arts are contributing right now to people’s wellbeing – digital performances, people singing from balconies, choirs etc. This is an opportunity for all artists and the public. It’s about what is the value for the public and what we can do for the community to help us get through the crisis. 

What people think we can do right now is:

  • We can each take action in our own communities to make our elected representatives across all tiers of government aware of the difficulties we are facing, and the value we bring to recovery from this crisis. Our individual approaches to politicians will have an impact and they can be encouraged to talk to the relevant arts minister about increasing support for artists and arts workers. In terms of the efforts to secure an Arts Package from the Commonwealth Government, getting Government backbenchers to lend their support and take the issue up with Cabinet Ministers would be very helpful. The Australia Institute has prepared a case and the ABS has produced the stats that support it. These are available to everyone
  • People could organise a grass roots campaign to encourage community support but this might be more effective as a longer term strategy
  • Currently there are peak bodies who are very active in advocacy and lobbying for immediate crisis support – eg an Arts Package, and changing Job Keeper eligibility. The most effective action we may be able to take on this front is to support the work already being done, add out voices to this action rather than starting new action 
  • We can’t limit our thinking to just one campaign – we need grass-roots activity, cross-portfolio collaboration, across art forms discussion as well as skill development
  • We need to keep talking to each other -  keep on doing things like Little Lunch On- Line where we can plan and dream together (thanks Arts Front and Feral Arts!)  

What do we need to do to build a stronger future?

  • Be First Nations First in everything we do and say
  • Build a better relationship with the public about our value. We have a brand issue with the word “arts” as many people assume it means orchestras, operas and ballets, etc. and the work that sits outside the opera, ballet and orchestra is the most engaged with the community
  • Consider new forms of leadership amongst us. Times have changed, old systems have let us down and new ones need to emerge that allow for different voices to be heard and new leadership to be seen
  • Develop community-based advocacy - getting a story together and sharing that among ourselves, with other parts of the sector and then with the community 
  • Discover and recognise what is already happening and where people are currently doing this advocacy in their communities.  Many people are doing grassroots organising and mobilising , particularly in Indigenous communities where Arts, Advocacy and Activism is all the same thing. We need to celebrate and learn from this action
  • Activate the 600 strong Arts Leaders cohort developed by Australia Council investment over 10 years, now well-placed to use their influence and support future action
  • Consider seeking to have a Royal Commission into “The Value of Creative Practice”
  • Consider the world’s wisdom on “Living Wages” and whether there is scope for such support in this country

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Little Lunch Online - #16 - Zoom Meeting

Questions and Comments

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Key Points

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    Australia Council funding
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    Grass roots campaign
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    Arts Leadership