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TRACKER: The Sound of One Hand Clapping. Federal Budget 2011.

<Tracker – June Edition>

KISSmyBLAKarts by Sam Cook

The Sound of One Hand Clapping. Federal Budget 2011.

Since the announcement on May 11th of the first Federal budget for the Gillard Government, I’ve been on the hunt for the media release, paragraph, or dot point relating to an Indigenous arts investment. Searching far and wide has felt like a quest. More often than not, it’s felt like I’ve been traversing the impossible triangle. I mean it certainly looks possible, until you begin to notice a paradox when you view the triangle as a whole. That pretty much sums it up. Talk about brain fry.

I’ve web crawled, I’ve News media trawled, I’ve phoned a friend and hedged a bet to end up with the conclusion that there simply is no Indigenous arts investment announcement in the May Federal budget. Nil, nada, none. In fact, there’s not a lot of arts investment at all save for $10 million 5year roll out to the Australia Council for emerging and young artists to produce new work. In reality, it’s a no change arts Budget, keeping to the status quo and suggestive that within this, there’s nothing to whinge about, to be grateful that the funds weren’t reduced.

But what if the status quo still keeps investment into Indigenous arts at the bottom of the pecking order? Can we at least voice our views on the drudgery of this landscape which has continually provided a platform for Indigenous arts practitioners to dream a little, then halve the expectation and deliver work off the smell of an oily rag, while the building your company inhabits is falling down around you and riddled with asbestos? I guess the mental health investment will inadvertently support the Indigenous arts, because working under such relentless conditions can be pretty depressing.

One area noticeably absent has been Indigenous visual arts. It has had a significant amount of hand up from the Government for decades, but I wonder, could it’s lack of representation in this years budget have something to do with the redistribution of power to the community based Art Centre over the high end galleries? In recent years, the carve up of the Indigenous visual arts pie has changed and so has the narrative around this $500 million dollar industry altered to become “they (Art Centres) are taking our (Galleries) business and flooding the market”. I thought empowerment was the point and in reality they (Galleries) should be very happy they’ve (Galleries) milked the gravy train (Indigenous visual arts) for the past 50 years.

The communications and media sector was the only segment that came close to any arts investment and features $12.5 million to Community Radio, an increase of 25% over their 2010-2011 funding level and to the Indigenous communications sector, $15 million dollars to National Indigenous Television (NITV) for its annual operation. This sounds like a lot, but in comparison to other broadcasters such as SBS ($207 Million) and the ABC ($1.13 Billion), it’s a drop in the ocean. Equally, it represents a token investment and keeps Australia’s only National Indigenous TV service in high risk, whilst it seeks to command more control over the station. As an outcome of the Stevens review into the Indigenous Broadcasting and Media sector, frightening implications around investment equating ownership aspirations by Government emerged. Equally frightening if not resoundingly patronising, is the inference that a television station dedicated to Indigenous excellence with aspiration and modelling on SBS and the ABC is out of step with community and that it needs to move closer to a low-cost community TV model. That $15 Million to see NITV through the financial year is a puppet master contract if I ever did see one. The obvious questions I have is where’s their triennial agreement and where is their real investment?

I do wonder whether the lack of art support generally, paves the way for the Arts Minister Simon Crean’s proposition of a national cultural policy. It would indeed glimmer in the sun after no real investment in this upcoming financial year, and possibly next years budget. So my prediction here is that in the 2013 election year we could very well have upon us an arts windfall, aimed at bringing back the waning ALP Arts vote. It does feel like a no brainer given we’ve not had a cultural policy since Paul Keating’s Creative Nation was launched on 18 0ctober 1994, seeking to link support for the arts to future economic prosperity on. It is such a distant memory to anyone in the arts, in fact given a whole generation has come through since then, it might not be a memory at all.

It would however, give the Indigenous arts sector time to look at the way in which it talks about itself and begin a lobbying process now in order to be one of the few who make it up the chain of command to land on Crean’s desk for deliberation.

It may also pay to raise the profile of where the Indigenous arts wants to be and on whose terms, rather than definitions imposed upon us. For starters I’d like the Government to stop saying Indigenous arts when they are only talking about the visual arts sector. It keeps all the other expressions marginalised and creates a culture around greater society claiming that’s all we do.

In this window of lobbying I would like to re-imagine cultural policy and the way in which it informs society, or often doesn’t. I say this as we’re still an elective of society rather than a critical part of its wholeness, which is a fundamental flaw of present day Western Culture yet remains understood in Indigenous spaces.

So consider the opportunity of what this might mean, over the feeling of being shackled to a process of subsidy that will never give you what you want, nor often what you need, but will give you just enough or not enough on the premise that you will do great things. Now is the moment to rise up through this, dream big and create our shared destiny in the Indigenous arts. It’s time.

Impossible Indig triangle.jpg

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