ABC The Drum Unleashed - Arts funding: think outside the box.
Ben Eltham has written and excellent and well researched article questioning the status-quo of music, arts funding in Australia. He points out that the vast majority of funding goes to classical music and in particular the symphony orchestras, and that the crumbs left over are all that supports contemporary practice and the development of music that represents our experiences, our stories in the now.
I wrote on this issue also a few years ago - the article can be found here on my blog
The paper examines the funding environment for sound focused art within Australia, be it, digital, new media or analogue. Some of the underlying assumptions commonly applied to sonic artworks, often considered too abstract and intangible for exhibition in art galleries and major public spaces, are discussed.
The paper asks why the audible domain remains subordinate? Why do we not respect and honour the audible culture, the experiential, visceral, instinctive, intuitive, spontaneous, intimate perceptual habitat where the human body is central, where the visceral engagement with sonic architectures dismisses the western mind-body split as hopelessly inadequate. We can listen with the mind, but not without the body.
Not withstanding consideration of the uniqueness of the sonic experience, many experimental sound artists have struggled to find funding support and to create opportunities for the presentation of their work in Australia.
Music based funding is characterized as conservative. The importance placed upon historic, practices has been clearly illustrated by the federal government’s substantial funding increase to the ABC symphony orchestras in early 2005 against the recommendations of the Strong report it commissioned. The report by James Strong, recommended the Queensland, Adelaide and Tasmanian orchestras be reduced in size . The state orchestras are supported by a budget of more than $57 million dollars per annum with a total of $80 to $100 million dollars being earmarked for classical music activities in Australia.
Figures for attendance at symphony orchestra concerts and analyses of the number of unique individuals who attended concerts (rather than repeat attendances) is difficult to find, however the Symphony Australia website has figures for 1999-2001 , which show a total of 990907 attendances with 263537 of those attending free concerts, and 76046 attending school concerts, leaving a total of 651324 ticket purchasing members of the public. This represents a subsidy of $87.51 per paying attendee.
Such subsidy is not and is never likely to be forthcoming for contemporary and experimental music, but what this figure does show is the vast chasm between the establishment institutions, the symphony orchestras and the other classical music endeavours and the music of our time.
As Ben Eltham points out, the orchestras, including ACO identify less than 10% of their performance program as Australian music.
It really is a shame that even after the Strong report, the vast majority of music funding in Australia supports the living archive of classical music and adds nothing new to our culture. It does not assist us in developing a contemporary Australian identity or culture and offers nothing toward the telling of our stories - the stories of now, which critically are well supported in publishing, and in the visual arts.