Think you value the arts? Show us how!

Apparently Australians value the arts. A growing number of us allegedly believe that the arts make for a richer and more meaningful life. These ‘facts’ are the opening lines of an Australia Council Report from 2015. But Australians must be tricksy hobbitses! Because I often find it hard to see the evidence of us acting like we value the arts in broad daylight. Maybe saying ‘I value the arts’ is one of those little lies we tell ourselves and repeat in surveys to make ourselves feel better? Maybe we do value the arts. But if so, what actions are Australians taking to support the arts? Saying we value the arts means nothing if the arts sector slowly dies because independent artists don’t have enough time in between their shifts at the local IGA to make their art!

For years it’s been clear to those of us in the arts sector that things need to change. Australians need to value the sector in new ways that grows the arts. Yes, we need more money invested in the arts – by the public as audience, patron and tax payer, by governments, and by the private sector. This won’t happen through wishful thinking and money alone isn’t the only solution. What we need is action! But first we need a cunning plan.

Don’t expect to lay eyes on meaningful Federal or State arts plans any time soon. The coal-blackened oceans will be lapping up against parliament doors in Canberra and Brisbane before that happens. The grassroots must start the change. You’d think if we valued the arts enough, local governments in and around the Coast would have developed strategic plans to support and grow the arts years ago. Some local artists will say that tells you everything you need to know about how much the Coast and Hinterland communities really value the arts!  But zip-it you cynics – there is hope!

According to Arts Queensland, five of the local governments around the Coast are currently preparing strategic arts policies. Noosa Council has been developing its Art and Cultural Strategy since February 2017. Our biggest LGA – Sunshine Coast Council- will shortly release its Draft Arts Plan for public comment. This document sets a 20-year vision for growing the arts sector up to 2038 by putting ‘local artists’ at the centre of a practical, action-based strategy. The Sunshine Coast Council’s Arts Advisory Board (SCAAB) has guided Council staff through this process and suggested a methodology that enlists practicing local artists to help shape the plan. As a member of SCAAB I’m encouraged by the progress to date, and support the key initiatives behind Arts Plan. I reckon it’s a solid plan of attack that reflects the ideas of the arts community. Clearly I don’t speak for my colleagues on SCAAB, (as you’d expect they are fiercely independent), when I say am nervous about two things affecting the ultimate success of the Arts Plan.

First, for the Arts Plan to work it needs to be owned by our arts community. That means that everyone who says they ‘value the arts’ and practicing artists really need to read and critique the Draft Plan when released for public comment (hopefully mid-June). Critical thinking is a vital part of arts practice. Without it mediocrity flourishes and bad ideas take root. Similarly, your critique of Arts Plan (provided you are well informed) will focus and localise its policy intent.  Secondly, the key actions in the Arts Plan must be enthusiastically funded by Sunshine Coast Council. It can’t be avoided. The private sector must also play its part in supporting the actions in the Plan. Political and consumer pressure are needed if the arts are to flourish in our community.

So if you really value the arts, show it. Review the SCC Arts Plan and make a thoughtful submission!  Consider contacting your local councillor and ask them to back the actions of your local arts plan with new money. Don’t stop there! Ask your local businesses which local artists they currently support. And at some point, think about how art can add more value to your life. Get out and create, buy, and experience art and get to know your local makers and artists. These are all practical ways you can show you really value the arts!

Phil Smith is President of the Sunshine Coast Creative Alliance and sits on the Sunshine Coast Council’s Arts Advisory Board. He is an architect and urban designer at Deicke Richards.

Kate Lawrence
Author: Kate Lawrence

Creativity, Community, Culture