Social media is a wonderful (and horrid) thing. It can publicly open wounds, share declarations of love, be a source of information. It can be a means of crowdsourcing solutions – and sometimes be a means of processing thinking – I thought I would share this recent discussion on my facebook about the support and definition of artists in Australia. I think this is really interesting… and I thought I’d share it, to see what you think… and to demonstrate the delight of a FB conversation.

Augusta Supple: still thinking about the new writing forum at NIDA yesterday- Old Worlds, New Horizons – and wondering what the playwrights would REALLY say about new play development and production in Australia if a couple of VERY significant cultural gatekeepers weren’t there…

Anna: Hmmm interesting.

Augusta Supple: there are so few companies that support and produce new Aust plays at a professional level that it becomes impossible for playwrights to really say what they want or need… conversations are hamstrung… and it is to the detriment of our culture…

Anna: Yes. The Arts do need support. We could learn a lot from other cultures (like Germany) when it comes to the Arts. Where to start? Thinking cap is on!

Augusta Supple: The first place to start is for there to be GIANT subsidies by all tiers of government for artists – first, free space. Then peppercorn rates on utilities. Then impressive tax incentives for people to support/invest in the arts. and when there is a mass of companies generating opportunities for our local artists, THEN they won’t feel frightened to have an opinion or ask for what they want or need… what do you reckon, Anna?

Anna: Yes. Agreed. It has to start with government. A healthy society is one with a healthy and thriving arts culture (able to reflect and mirror society’s issues through art and enable that freedom of thought and speech). I believe in Europe there are also proper contracts/ conditions for artists so it filters through on all levels. But yes, it starts with government incentives. I’ll get thinking. A revolution is needed. Thank you for raising this topic! X

Augusta Supple: An investment in art is not just an altruistic or spiritual pursuit – I think all artists should read Stuart Cunningham’s Platform paper “WHAT PRICE A CREATIVE ECONOMY” – it talks about the economic value of the arts on a society – which will empower all artists and melt the arguments of the toughest economic rationalist.

Anna: It is impossible to be truly creative when writers and artist are unsupported (financially and sociologically) because the focus is on aiming to please/get funding in order to survive, rather than being told “here’s your rent and space, please teach us through your art?” . It’s time for the starving artist to be fed so he/she can create, not beg.

Anna: Perhaps we can send a few (influential) people a copy of that book. I’d like to read it. I’d like to banish starving artist (in German-” breadless artist”) from our vocabulary for good. Thanks Gus, I’ll get reading.

Ian: so . . . who gets to decide who the artists are who get all this money? And is it wise to tie arguments for funding the arts to creative nation-building discourse/economic rationalists?

Augusta Supple: Ian – I reckon ALL the artists get resources – not just “selected”. All of them. Support them all. Why not? Why does it have to be an exclusive pursuit? And yes, I think all arguments – altruistic, creative nation building, economic rationality, philosophy, ALL arguments FOR art production should be used – ALL – I don’t see how arguing FOR resources and for funding and for tax offsets can ultimately be detrimental IF it gets production happening.

Ian: okay. Next question: define artist.

Augusta Supple: Someone who makes art.

Augusta Supple :‎(That COULD sound cheeky and/or glib – but what I mean to say is, that it is one thing to call yourself an artist, another thing to think about making art… and a completely OTHER thing to be a maker of art.)

Con: I tend to think if there were tax breaks for producers of shows who could claim losses against any income, then artists will get better at finding these sources whose risks are cut to nothing. Then you will get more artists doing their thing without having to chase subsidies – which is broken model. Then the artist will be someone closer to your definition Gus – ie anyone who creates art – and not decided by a government panel.

Ian: I guess my question is about quality . . . do we just want to say that anyone who wishes to be an artist therefore is an artist? It does have to be exclusive, in that we need some way to discern what is going on: if everyone is or can be an artist you are basically saying ‘all human beings should be funded to do whatever they want, whether or not they are any good at it, or whether or not other people like it’. That wouldn’t work: it is so radically inclusive that the word ‘artist’ would lose any meaning. Gus’s own categories: “it is one thing to call yourself an artist, another thing to think about making art… and a completely OTHER thing to be a maker of art” are value-laden criteria for inclusion/exclusion themselves. How useful is a distinction between ‘calling one’s self an artist’, ‘thinking about making’ and ‘doing’? Is it that simple? no. So, who decides? And I’m not trying to be difficult or snarky; just trying to think through how a cultural policy might work.

Augusta Supple: I disagree. I think it is that simple. If you make then you are an artist. And why does there need to be a focus on assessing on quality? How do you and who gets to assess the merit of something when art is subjective communication? I think pretending that there is any matrix to artistic assement is well, old fashioned and silly. Why not encourage quantity, knowing full well that quality comes through quantity of practice? I guess a fundamental point of difference I have with you Ian is this – I don’t think all humans are artists. I think to be an artist is an exclusive things anyway, and trying to assess “quality” is a different conversation.

Augusta Supple: And ultimately I think the individual decides if they are an artist… And it’s not an easy decision. And that decision is backed up with proof for the Tax office etc. I’m not saying the OZCO needs to fund everyone… I’m saying there should be more stragic tax breaks, infrastructures put in place. Project and triennial funding models are geared to help beaurocrats and administrators do their jobs, not artists to make art.

Ian: Unfortunately I disagree with you there. It is not simply a matter for an individual to decide whether or not they are an artist. ‘The artist’ is a social phenomenon, rather than an ontological one—that is, artists work in communities, in contexts, not in an existential isolation. ‘Communities’ of various forms decide who is an artist and who is not, communities made up of other artists, audiences, critics, etc etc. If the critique here is that the attempt to create representative structures for these communities (eg peer-assessment, artform boards etc) have mutated into self-serving infrastructure, then let’s fight that battle. But arguing that that artists (defined as someone defining themselves as an artist) are entitled to resources to do what they want to do because they are artists is not going to work, and will alienate more people than it will win over.

Augusta Supple: Happy to disagree with you there… but I guess in my view a person who makes art, who defines themselves as an artist, is automatically making something for an audience. I think the audience is the community as well… and an audience defines something as art and an artist as an artist… My question is this – What chaos/problem would arise if artists were resourced and entitled to resources? Why would people (or as i like to think of them… as audiences) feel alienated by artists being resourced to do what they do? What is the threat there?

Ian: The threat is, I guess, that everyone is competing for limited resources, and people are entitled to ask ‘why are we resourcing artists when hospitals are understaffed, classrooms overcrowded, public transport woeful etc etc?’

Augusta Supple: the artist response to that is – “why should the tax i pay from my day job in a cafe go to people who deserve a bonus for having a baby, or the security to buy thier first home?” But I htink that’s an ugly argument – which I don’t really care for or about. i think that the system we have does not support the creation of art, because it doesn’t support artists… and until artists have the freedom to say what they think and make what they want – we will live in in intellectual tyranny run by the popular opinion that art is an “add on” to life, not a part of life, just as transport, education and health are. I am saying that the support of art has to be rethought and I think offering practical resources to artists would not detract from the main populace – I don’t think Australians suffered because of the 1980s 10BA tax law for filmmakers, did it?

Ian: There was an argument that a lot of bad films got made as a result of 10BA . . . and artists do have the freedoms to which you refer. What they don’t have is the unqualified right to be paid for it, without any conditions being imposed upon them. First home support, baby bonuses were won by sustained lobbying and argumentation on the basis of something more than the assertion ‘we deserve . . .’

David: Thanks for the tip off on that paper Augusta. I’ve been looking for something like it for a while now.

Katie: Gus, re your original post, I agree there seems to be a real need at the moment to discuss the ideas around the making of theatre in Australia (particularly Sydney right now), the nature of what we’re making and how we can find more equitable ways to do it. What there doesn’t seem to be is a safe space to have those discussions. I also felt yesterday that there was way more unsaid than said and as an emerging artist I regret the opportunity to learn from those experienced writers onstage was lost. Does this mean we all have to be in the NIDA club (and be able to AFFORD to be in it) to have access to this knowledge?

Melita: Hi Katie, I went to NIDA. There is no club. Some peeps play that pretense for a bit after graduating – I think I did. but a few years we all realize we’re on our own and there’s no clear promised path. And there never really was any knowledge sharing – even when you were studying there. I’m not bitter about it , got a lot out of it, just wanted to emphasize : don’t believe the hype.

Melita: and I wish the iPad had not Americanised all my spelling along the way!

Katie: Hi Melita, yes there is a lot of hype – maybe they do that just so people keep applying! And actually that’s a bit sad to hear it’s not a place of knowledge-sharing. Guess it just means we have to keep the various forums and other talk-channels open :-)

Augusta Supple Hi Ian, A wonderful discussion – and thanks for your thoughts… I am a bit curious, what makes an artist qualified to be paid? I am suggesting that artists lobby for support just as the mainstream folk do… I’m not saying that they deserve therefore they should get… I am asking the questions, “what if we thought differently about this…. what if artists were not given grants but reduced rent, unused council owned spaces and venues (like the pop up scheme but on longer terms) and if they received living subsidies instead of grants? What if the general public were encouraged to be philanthropists and patrons of the arts?”

Suzie: God so wish i was at the forum!!!!! My son’s birthday – i was go -carting in Arncliffe!!!

Augusta Supple: So wish I was go-carting in Arncliffe. I’m heading to the forum tomorrow.

Ian: my question about what an artist is, and what qualifies them to be paid, is a genuine question. It is what Paul Moore’s PhD looked at.Qualifications? Track record? Peer esteem? All these and more? Rent subsidies is an interesting idea, but Sydney real estate being what it is . . . there is not that much unused space, and OH&S issues make owners reluctant to let people have access to what there is. Australia does not have a tradition of philanthropy, and there is a lot of work that thinks about why America does. There are a lot of people and issues competing for philanthropy, government money, space etc. The arguments for the arts have to be careful and persuasive, rather than standing on purported rights. At the same time, arguments based on economic value alone create distortions, too. The debate over the new Cultural Policy might be one place for people to develop arguments that might be usefully premissed upon an inherent value argument.

Augusta Supple: I guess I would answer the “why should artists be supported” argument and what qualifies them as artists as this: An artist defined by 5 years of practice producing work which is presented in the public domain, who continues to make art.” Additionally I think rental subsidies for spaces isn’t the problematic concept you assume (and I am talking about practice/rehearsal/studio space here not private property) and the start of this idea is the Empty Spaces project: http://emptyspaces.culturemap.org.au/page/local-government-and-empty-space-initiatives … I agree the arguments have to be persuasive but progressive. It is not enough to accept the model as it is: my question is why are we asking “what qualifies an artist to be paid?” when we should be asking “why aren’t our artists being paid?” – but I’m not even talking about payment. I’m talking about subsidy. I’m talking about resourcing. I’m not interested in grants. I’m interested in models of philanthropy. What we have currently is a tendancy for our artists to head overseas as cultural refugees, because it’s easier to be supported internationally than it is here. Why is that? Why is that so? What can we do about it? I am asking for us all to think practically about the alternatives. What if support was means tested?
emptyspaces.culturemap.org.au The City of Sydney introduced artist-run space Queen Street Studio to Frasers Property when the developer approached the council offering warehouse space on a temporary basis.

Van: ‎Augusta Supple, quality is important. In fact, in the arts, it’s the most important thing. In the theatre, it’s VERY easy to evaluate: “is this entertaining?”. It’s not a subjective question. I give anything the benefit of the doubt, but 16 scripts a day (I did thirty last Sunday, Jesus Christ) and if my eyes don’t glaze over and my soul weep for the cursed unborn after three pages, it stands a chance. Reading through a literary slushpile is the easiest way of determining that there is (thank god) NO such thing as universal entitlement to “artist” on the basis of the mere desire to make art, or even the wherewithal to complete a piece of it. Artistry exists not merely in doing, but SUCCESS at doing.

Augusta Supple: indeed I agree – but I do believe that the chance to practice and fail is important.

Augusta Supple: I don’t think I am making arguments AGAINST quality. I find it initeresting that there is a feeling that if there are more people being supported – more people identified as artists that the quality will go down. That’s interesting as I see a lot of theatre and performance and I must say that those who have been selected or chosen or legitimised by a funding program, or training institution etc DO NOT necessarilly make good art, or interesting art, or relevent art. I don’t see how allowing more support to more people will do anything but generate more work – in which there will be more crap, and more quality. what I am asking for is MORE. More chance for more, diverse range of people to practice – more support for more production. And Van, i think we both know – as i read a metric tonne of plays a month too – that great plays don’t just spontaeously appear , they take time and money and support- and writers need to be supported in their making. I am also not arguing for the universal entitlement of artist to be fully financially funded – but provided more (available) resources from a diverse array of sources. And I do believe that in the current climate that DOING in the current cultural and financial climate IS A LEVEL OF SUCCESS. And it is not the desire to make art that I think should be supported – it is the actual making which should be supported. AND I believe that more often than not – the audience knows what’s best.

Ian: so Two and a Half Men, the stage show, is a guaranteed winner?

Augusta Supple: Only if Charlie Sheen is involved.

Van: ‎Augusta Supple: No, doing is *not* a level of success. Doing is a privilege of the resource of time and usually financial support – I don’t think it’s a measure of any success that any dickhead with a trustfund gets to indulge a temporary desire to be a playwright. Public (and commercial, for that matter) resources are finite, and the issue is not that making more money available to more people will make the quality go down, but your argument is that “you should be able to self-elect to be an artist, and get paid as a result”. Jesus, no. Collective decisions need to be made, because theatre is a collaborative artform, hence why it’s fundamental to what we do that there be a process of external validation, selection and inclusion. I disagree with you entirely that the only thing that stands between someone who wants to be a writer becoming a writer is a development process – talent is crucial. Yes, you can learn technical craft, you can read a lot of plays, see a lot of plays, sit down with the best dramaturgs in the country, have a theatre company at your disposal but making good art requires at its foundation intuition and individualised aesthetics that are RARE. That’s why self-appointment and self-producing only gets an aspirant so far.