Opinion: The Greens’ plans for the arts in WA

The continual underfunding of the arts does more than deprive arts workers of pay and job security. It deprives our communities of culture, argues Tim Clifford MLC.

Western Australia is a wonderfully diverse state. Filled with rich culture and inspiration as far as the eye can see. The art that is created upon its red dirt, sandy shores, rocky outcrops and among its tall timbers is like no other.

And it’s this very art that we call upon in times of uncertainty. We look to it for meaning and for feeling. For escapism, and for guidance on where to next.

It is the lifeblood of our communities. It’s the repository of society’s collective memory. It’s the  rich tapestry of heritage, storytelling and connection to country as detailed by our First Nation People.

And it contributes $3.3 billion to our economy each year.

Yet each year, there seems to be less and less funding and support available – at both a state and federal level.

Each year the industry suffers death by a thousand cuts.

Liberal and Labor politicians alike see funding for the arts as a frivolous extracurricular while they simultaneously proclaim the importance of the sector.

‘How good is art?’ they say while siphoning funds away from the industry.

‘We’ll use big art to attract big tourists!’ while ignoring the small, local artists.

Read: Reinventing the arts sector’s trajectory as WA election looms

COVID-19 exposed just how underfunded the arts industry is, and consequently how vulnerable the sector is in the face of external changes. It also exposed how desperately we cling to art in times of crisis.

As the pandemic forced us into our homes we turned to the arts. To TV, to novels, to podcasts, video games and music. To YouTube and how-to videos on new artistic hobbies.

But as events were cancelled and galleries closed here in WA, thousands of jobs were lost. As too was millions of dollars of revenue.

Though some financial support was provided during these times, it was almost too little too late.

If only stable and reflexive funding were available to the industry before the pandemic, it could have been safeguarded from these impacts. Our arts workers could afford to pay their rent and their bills while supporting the rest of WA through these trying times, which they did regardless.

And, if this stable reflexive funding were available from state governments the creative industries would not have to rely on conditional funding from the fossil fuel industry. An industry that funds the arts to fulfil its social license obligations, then brazenly gags any critique or reflection of its environmentally and socially destructive practices.

Woodside and Fringe Festival anyone?

Governments cannot continue to force the arts to rely on funding that comes with strings attached. The arts must be allowed to explore life unconditionally.


The Greens understand how integral the arts are to our society. And how the continual underfunding of the arts does more than deprive arts workers of pay and job security. It deprives our communities of culture.

To support the arts in its role as culture creators and innovators, The Greens will allocate $3 million per year to support long term planning while directly investing $25 million per annum into arts sector job creation and increasing funding for research, development and artistic innovation by $4 million.

Additionally, The Greens will invest in creating new opportunities for young and emerging artists.

Currently the arts represents just 2.5% of total employment in WA, while the sector’s national rate is considerably higher at 3.7%. It’s clear that successive state governments have failed to invest enough in creative initiatives to develop our industry and enhance our state’s profile.

The Greens seek to change this. The Greens seek to establish WA as an incubator for arts and culture.

This will be done through investing $3 million into a WA screen production hub, and by investing $400,000 to promote WA arts to the rest of Australia and the world while supporting local residency and masterclass programs.

It will also be achieved by supporting and promoting First Nations art.

As mentioned earlier, art is the basis of the rich, ancient culture of our First Nations. It is part of the story of lands as old as time, and of the many legacies that lived before us. Art is also critical to the social fabric of First Nations communities, playing a significant part in cultural identity, healing and wellbeing.

Yet despite this richness, less than 2% of the already meagre state arts budget is spent on First Nations art. And this, of course, reduces the opportunities for First Nations peoples in the arts. Resulting in less than 1% of people employed within WA creative industries identifying as Indigenous.

The Greens want to ensure the future sustainability of ancient stories and practices, and increase access to professional and market development for First Nations practitioners and their work. To do this, The Greens will invest $4 million in a First Nations arts and culture strategy to promote arts, language and culture practice and visibility in WA; embed First Nations culture and art into the school curriculum; commit to a feasibility process for an Aboriginal Arts Centre in WA; and create more community-led and designed opportunities for Western Australians to connect to First Nations arts and culture.

Western Australia and its First Nations People have so much to offer the world, particularly in the arts. We must help celebrate this diverse culture.

Governments cannot continue to force the arts to rely on funding that comes with strings attached.

The final component of all of these initiatives is to support arts education. To instill in students the value the arts has in all of our lives.

This will be achieved by $1.5 million to embed arts-based learning in all schools; by investing $4 million to increase community arts participation; and by investing $19 million to improve regional and remote access to the arts, generating better arts employment opportunities in regional areas.

The Greens have a long list of what we want to achieve in the arts, and where we want to direct funding. And that’s because support for the arts is at the very centre of The Greens’ identity – well, aside from immediate action on climate change, of course.

By properly funding society’s mirror, we can reflect on our past and shape our present. We can be inspired to preserve through dark times and we can look to the future and create something new. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we must nurture and protect all that we cherish, and the arts must be at the top of that list.

Learn more about The Greens (WA) arts and industry policies.

ArtsHub has also approached Labor and the Liberals for details on their arts policies and platforms, which will be published in the coming days. The WA election takes place on Saturday 13 March.

Tim Clifford
About the Author
The Hon Tim Clifford MLC is The Greens (WA) spokesperson for The Arts, and a keen gamer and music aficionado. To see more of his work in this space visit Tim on Instagram (@timclifford_). Facebook (Facebook.com/TimCliffordEastMetro) and Twitter (@timclifford_).