There is one glaring problem emerging from Covid-19 in respect to the arts sector. Especially within the Federal Government, the arts sector is missing in action. While this may be less so within State Government, at a national level it is a significant issue.
It is easy to point the finger at Government saying they don’t care. Over the past few months we’ve all engaged in a fair bit of finger pointing, however in doing so we are ignoring the basic reason for their current lack of support. That is, no one is giving them a reason to do anything else.
Of course, the problem hasn’t just started, the problem or lack of advocacy started way back at the global financial crisis, or even prior to then. Had there been a concerted sector and peak body program of advocacy over the past decade or more it would have been a lot more difficult for the Federal government to ignore the arts sector, in the way it has in recent years.
A symptom of this lack of advocacy can be seen in the diminishing investment in art funding by the Commonwealth over the past decade. A government with an in-depth understanding of the sector and its impacts would be more inclined to increase funding. Certainly, had the level of advocacy been effective it would be more difficult for a government to reduce funding.
The arts sector needs to up the ante. Every peak body needs to be present not only in the corridors of power in their State but also in the corridors of power in Canberra. The sector may benefit from a single peak body that represents all parts regardless of genre or location. This could be funded from a membership fee upon arts organisations and upon artists, as these are prime beneficiaries of advocacy.
The challenge for the arts sector is that a lot is going on in the world at any one time and the sector is only a small part of the global action. In fact, right now, because the arts sector is missing in action it nothing more than a dot on the political road map. On any day, at any time in Government there is a constant flow of news, events, people all jostling for the attention of politicians and political advisors. If the arts sector remains M.I.A. it will continue to be overlooked, simply because it existence, and importance, will be overwhelmed by everything else going on.
This is not to suggest advocacy doesn’t take place. We know it does, however the evidence, as witnessed by current Government apathy is that despite the efforts to date, the sector is not being heard, or taken notice off. The sector needs to get better at advocacy and do a helluva lot more of it.
Advocacy is not entire the responsibility of peak bodies, even though it is a key activity for those bodies. Every arts organisation should be meeting regularly with their Member of Parliament at both Federal and State level. They should also be meeting with those in opposition, and those in the fringe political parties. Every conversation with these people helps to shape future arts policy.
A quick scan of many arts organisation websites illustrates how badly these organisations contribute to improved understanding of the arts by Government. Leaving aside the low investment in marketing, what marketing is done tends to focus upon what the organisation is doing, rather than what the organisation is achieving. For example, an organisation might state in its marketing that it helps disadvantaged artists gain exposure, however the organisation doesnt talk about the positive impacts this exposure creates. Within The Cycle model marketing is a key activity for building your family of supporters. Advocacy and marketing go hand in hand.
It is a mistake to assume politicians know about you or the art sector; or that they do their own homework. These are busy people and they don’t have time to find out about you. They rely upon you to keep them informed, and if you or the arts sector remain missing in action, you will remain unheard, and unnoticed.
Every artist also has a responsibility to engage in advocacy. Make the time to meet with your local member of government. Even if its only for ten minutes. Imagine the message that would be delivered if every creative in every electorate phoned their local member and asked to meet with that person?
Social media provides artists and creatives with a platform for advocacy. Using these platforms for advocacy does however come with a caveat. Slagging off at government is not advocacy, it is trolling and that will not endure you to any politician.
It is true that building relationships takes time, and its true that after every election cycle you may have to rebuild some of those relationships. It is true that effective advocacy is expensive, however it is important to look at the benefits. At the end of the day you are advocating for the survival of an entire sector.
I’m John Coxon, founder of art4u.australia, a consulting agency helping arts organisations to remain viable through application of The Cycle, a proven model for arts organisations. To discuss marketing or advocacy contact John.