Australia’s Last Poet Laureate Was A Convict?

Big news out of Australia where the first national arts policy since 2013 was announced.  In addition to commitments of funding to specific entities and organizations, arguably the most significant element of the policy is a commitment  “….to protect First Nations knowledge and cultural expressions, with a particular brief on cracking down on fake art that plagues the $250m-a-year Australian Indigenous art market.”

Other elements of the plan include the establishment of a poet laureate position which last existed during the country’s convict era,  a state of the arts report to be issued every three years, and the establishment of  “a quota for expenditure on Australian content by multinational streaming platforms such as Netflix and Stan..” The amount of this quota is rumored to be about 20% and The Guardian article quotes people who are concerned streaming platforms may pull out of the country if they are required to produce Australia based content.

It happens that I saw a piece on Vice last night before I saw The Guardian article. Vice asked Australian artists what they thought about the plan.  Many felt the money was going to the usual suspects and advocated for a universal basic income plan for artists.

Others felt that the arts were unfunded in proportion to their footprint:

“The arts sector will get $286M over four years, or $72M a year. The fossil fuel industry gets $11.6B a year in government subsidies. Australia’s arts sector employs about six times as many people as the fossil fuel sector.

The requirement for locally generated content was cause for hope for some:

“I started to lose hope in local content knowing that reality TV filled up much of our “Australian” quota on broadcast networks. The possibility of streaming services now being made to spend 20% of their budget on original, local content honestly makes me feel hopeful and excited to pursue my career on my home turf.”

APAP’S Conference Takeaways

Last week I mentioned some of my experiences at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference.  The conference recently sent out a list of 10 takeaways for their own. The vast majority of them are focused on topics of striving for healthier work environments and practices with the goal of alleviating stress and unhealthy expectations of oneself and others.  That is probably a good indication about where things generally stand with arts organizations and practitioners across the country.

APAP cites a session panelist who reported:

Ryan George of Tour Health Research Initiative shared statistics from a 2019 study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research, “34% of touring professionals reported suffering from clinical levels of depression, five times higher than the regular population. 27% reported clinical levels of anxiety. Only 8% reported attending weekly therapy, and 73% attended no therapy at all. 83% reported feeling overworked or some degree of burnout. 26% reported serious suicide ideation, six and a half times more than the regular population….

The takeaway list also mentioned the ongoing effort to more formally track compensation practices among presenting organizations. There had been some crowdsourced efforts in the past where people were self-reporting data into shared spreadsheets. But that was limited by the fact that you needed to know about the effort and receive a link to the spreadsheet.

They provided information about the effort with a link to submit a request to join the next phase of the survey:

In fall 2022, APAP with AMS Analytics launched a pilot of a first-of-its-kind, industry-specific initiative and tool that will gather comparative compensation and demographic data in the field. The session “A Look at Industry Pay: Piloting the APAP Arts Compensation Project” gave an overview for the project, data from the 67 presenting organizations that participated in the pilot study, and an invitation to join the next phase of the survey.

These are only two of the ten takeaways. You can find the others here.

A Few Lessons From Covid and SVOG

I was attending the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference recently and sat in on a Life After SVOG session. There were a number of things discussed that either fell into the category of “the pandemic revealed the need for this” or “this was always a problem and the pandemic revealed the need for change.”

In the former category, representatives from the National Independent Talent Organization (NITO) and National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) both mentioned that it became clear that there was a need for affordable touring insurance.

The NITO rep also brought up the need to have more transparency about ticketing fees. I didn’t get a chance to seek clarification, but my assumption was that since the organization represents the artists, they were questioning whether the venue was making revenue on performances that was being excluded from what was supposed to be shared with the performers.

In terms of overall advocacy, there was discussion about breaking down silos and making common cause with other industries in the future. For example, while arts groups were successful in getting relief for organizations and individual artists in the form of millions of dollars, there was a group advocating for aid for workers excluded from payroll based programs like PPP which secured relief in the billions, some of which arts and culture workers were eligible to receive.

Along those same lines, the way the relief programs were administered varied from state to state. In Oregon offered grants to individual artists whereas New York didn’t. So there is a perceived need to ensure people and groups which were excluded in programs in the pandemic aren’t overlooked in the next crisis simply because they reside in a different state.

In terms of problems which always existed that have come to the fore, panelists mentioned that cultural workers had started to demand organizations reconcile their internal cultural to their externally declared culture. Basically, organizations would publicly advocate for a fairness and equity they didn’t provide their own staffs. Among the results have been unionization efforts among museums and theaters revising their un(der) paid intern and apprentice programs.

Another thing that people will probably says has been revealed is the hunger they have felt to be assembling again live at conferences. As much as people complained about attending conferences in the past, there are exchanges that happen in person that aren’t possible when you are half paying attention to a video screen while working in another screen.

For example, the ego boosting experience of people telling you how great your blog is and wanting to take selfies…

Make 2023 The Year Of Library Advocacy

Right at the end of the year, New York City based columnist for The Guardian, Moira Donegan, wrote a loving piece about how she is thankful for US public libraries.

One of the first things she mentions is that the architecture and design of many libraries is rather intimidating and makes her feel under dressed. She says when she works at tables in New York Public Library’s iconic 42nd Street branch, she is always nervous that someone is going to chase her away. I have written about how people can have a similar experience with arts and cultural organizations. Though many theaters, museums, and libraries are not as grandiose as the 42nd Street branch.

Donegan opines that the US is fortunate to have had the spate of museum construction when it did because it would be difficult to generate public will behind such an effort now. But citizens have garnered immense benefits as a result.

If the public library did not already exist as a pillar of local civic engagement in American towns and cities, there’s no way we would be able to create it. It seems like a relic of a bygone era of public optimism, a time when governments worked to value and edify their people, rather than punish and extract from them. In America, a country that can often be cruel to its citizens, the public library is a surprising kindness.

[…]

The majesty of library buildings is matched only by the nobility of their purpose. The public library does not make anyone money; it does not understand its patrons as mere consumers, or as a revenue base. Instead, it aspires to encounter people as minds. The public library exists to grant access to information, to facilitate curiosity, education, and inquiry for their own sake. It is a place where the people can go to pursue their aspirations and their whims, to uncover histories or investigate new scientific discoveries.

When I saw a tweet that NYC Eric Adams was requiring the NYC Public Libraries system to cut “cut their budgets by $13.6 million by the end of fiscal year 2023, and another $20.5 million over the next 3 fiscal years.” My first thought was that he does not truly understand the vast number of social services libraries provide to their communities. They metaphorically serve as the wetlands which buffer communities from the onslaught of hurricanes. Creating an environment where their role is diminished will only serve to magnify the manifestation of social problems throughout the City.

If you don’t know, this year make an effort to explore all the services your local libraries provide to communities from classes, computer access, tax help, shelter from the weather, social services access, counseling and, yeah, books.  Likewise think about your own value proposition for the community and increasingly communicate that outside the framework of selling tickets.