We can safely say now that the performing arts and entertainment sector has been pretty well usurped for 2020. Not just in Australia, of course, but world-over. We know it too well; no one reading this can be unaffected. And if you are at all like me, you may have been wondering why the national conversation has so infrequently even skated across the fact that our sector has been so seriously damaged. 

The production management mantra used to be ‘first in, last out’. In this new world, the truth is inverted. The live performance sector was first ‘out’, and it looks like we’ll be amongst the last back ‘in’. I really needed to see this recognized by our federal ministers and responded to in earnest. The Morrison Government on Saturday (August 22nd) established the ‘Creative Economy Taskforce’ to auspice a $250 million JobMaker plan for the creative economy. Five days later, they requested that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts report on our contribution to the nation and give evidence on the impact that Covid-19 has had on our industry. This inquiry is timely, and I would love to think it somehow related to the advocacy abounding from the recent #Arts Day on the Hill.

#ArtsDayontheHill began in 2019, driven by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) to provide an annual focus day for arts advocacy in our national parliament. For one day in the year, the spotlight is on us – the designers, artists, practitioners and audiences – to develop long-term policy change that will benefit the arts sector. This year that Arts Day was August 14th, and a hybrid, digitised, social-media-driven version of events unfolded with arts advocates engaging MPs across Australia to sway the conversation.

Advocacy should not rest on the gains of a single day, however, and we should all be equipped to be an advocate on any day of the year. Designers, perhaps more than many, are confident, informed, connected thinkers. But how to advocate, to be engaged – not just in an emergency, but in an ongoing manner? How to contribute to strengthen the context in which we create and exchange our ideas and designs? How can we look holistically and consider? Are we the best voices to speak loudly? If not us, then whom? Who is missing? What can I change in order to shift that imbalance?

To answer some of these questions, the Australia Council has a fabulous tool nestled amidst its website, which demonstrates the broad reach of our sector (#1). Their Electorate Profile Tool enables the user to enter into the search function any seat in Australia, and draw from recent Australian Bureau of Statistic data on the percentage of that local population who accesses live events or entertainment, who involves themselves in community art projects, who expressly engages with First Nations art and cultural practice, who purchases tickets, who attends cinemas, who visits art galleries – and on it goes. The statistics about engagement are fascinating Australia-wide, and each percentage point represents a significant voting margin. When we are having conversations with MPs about issues in their unique electorate, this resource is gold.

Any of us can contact our Member of Parliament, invite them to a Zoom Room, a rehearsal, a design studio to discuss what is pressing, give voice to the issues and the questions. What is a Member of Parliament for, if not to listen, consider and improve the situations of their constituents? 

Similarly, anyone can make a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts inquiry. Email communications.reps@aph.gov.au or complete the online survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Stateoftheartssurvey before Thursday October 22nd (#2).  It will take around 10 minutes and may well provide crucial information for the committee to consider and include in their report.
At last check, the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research put a whopping $111.7 billion figure on the economic contribution of cultural and creative activity towards Australia’s economy (#3). We are a sector worth championing and now is an excellent time to start.


(#1) The Australia Council Electorate Profile Interactive Online Resource provides information on arts and culture for each of Australia’s 151 federal electorates. See https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/electorate-profiles/

(#2)  There is no set format for submissions to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts inquiry, but submissions should be prepared solely for the purpose of the inquiry and should not be published prior to being accepted. For further notes on making a submission to a parliamentary committee inquiry, see https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Making_a_submission and for the terms of reference for this inquiry, see here https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Communications/Arts/Terms_of_Reference

(#3)  The Bureau of Communications and Arts Research 2018 working paper Cultural and creative activity in Australia 2008-09 to 2016-17, found an increase in the value of cultural and creative activity from $86 billion in 2008-09 to $111.7 billion in 2016-17; ultimately, 6.4% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Areas contributing the most were design ($42.8 billion), fashion ($14.2 billion), and broadcasting, electronic or digital media and film ($9.7 billion). See https://www.communications.gov.au/departmental-news/economic-value-cultural-and-creative-activity

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