Opinion: ‘Art is fundamental to our society’ say the Greens

It’s time to treat the arts as a public good, matched by public funding, says the Victorian Greens arts spokesperson and member for Melbourne, Ellen Sandell.

I heard a heart-breaking story the other day.

A group of visual and performing artists had gathered to support a local fundraising art auction in Collingwood. After discussing the logistics of the show, the conversation moved to the state of their careers. All of them – bar none – said they were looking for ways to move their careers away from the arts, because it had become too precarious to survive.

The arts and artists are chronically underfunded in this country. And while Victoria, the creative capital of Australia, is better than many other states, arts organisations still struggle with funding uncertainties, and artists are leaving the sector in droves because it’s too hard to make ends meet.

It’s time to treat the arts as a public good, matched by public funding.

Art is fundamental to our society. It brings us joy, fun, deep thinking, connection with each other, and new ways of understanding the world and our place in it.

The arts also play a key role in Victoria’s economy. They contribute 7% of our total economy, and 9% of the Victorian workforce is employed in the creative industries. Beyond this, millions of visitors come to Victoria every year to attend our galleries and museums, festivals, theatres, music events and more.

But visitors don’t just come for the big flashy museums and musicals. They come because they want to visit the unique shop-front selling local pottery, or to see a gig at a small bar, and to feel the creative essence of Melbourne, which is upheld by all our artists and creative workers.

That’s why the Greens have put forward a plan for this Victorian state election to give our arts sector and artists a boost. Not just because it’s good for the economy, but because it’s good for people.

Our plan includes elements such as a new $1 billion Secure Future Art Fund for small and medium arts organisations to provide the ongoing funding they need to support artists and deliver the arts projects and events we all love so much.

It includes a ‘Living Wage for Victorian Artists’ pilot program to give artists a stable foundation to develop, create and innovate. Our plan also includes artists in the Government’s sick pay for casual workers scheme. Arts workers have been left out of Labor’s sick pay guarantee, which is available to hospo and several other types of casual workers, but the Greens think we should give artists and arts workers the same rights to sick pay as other casual and contract workers.

It also includes more support and subsidies for arts spaces and ongoing multi-year funding for festivals so they have certainty into the future.

Our plan also means protecting the iconic Nicholas Building in the CBD, a one-of-a-kind art deco building which is home to hundreds of creatives, and which is currently for sale. It’s at risk of being sold and turned into apartments. A group of amazing creatives and philanthropists, with support from the City of Melbourne, have stepped up to offer to buy the building to ensure it stays as an affordable space for creative businesses and artists. However, the Victorian Labor State Government needs to come to the table with a small amount of money to help make it happen, and so far they’ve refused.

We can pay for these plans by making the big banks, property developers and fossil fuel companies pay their fair share of tax and royalties.

We cannot afford to lose any more music or arts spaces in Melbourne, let alone beautiful heritage buildings. We cannot continue to see the arts as something ‘additional’ to our lives, unworthy of public support. Art is central to our lives, and it deserves a central place in our Government’s policy discussions and decisions.

The good news is that the Greens have a real chance this election in several lower and upper house seats, which will put pressure on the next Government to take our creative communities seriously. Places like Richmond (including Collingwood and Fitzroy), Northcote and Albert Park may turn Green at this election, joining our existing seats of Melbourne, Prahran and Brunswick.

Electing more Greens to our Victorian Parliament this November means electing people who will champion the arts in Victoria, now and always.

Read more about the Victorian Greens’ arts policies.

This is the first in a series of opinion pieces, exploring the arts policies of a range of political parties, which ArtsHub is publishing in the lead up to the Victorian state election.

The Minister for Creative Industries, Steve Dimopoulos MP, outlines Labor’s art commitments here. You can read the Liberal Party’s arts election promises in a piece from David Davis MP, the Shadow Minister for Arts and Creative Industries, here.

The election takes place this Saturday 26 November.

Ellen Sandell is the State MP for Melbourne, Deputy Leader of the Victorian Greens and the Victorian Greens' arts spokesperson.