Are the arts a luxury?

Posted: May 27, 2012 by mschneiders in Arts & Culture
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Liz Bennett discussing arts funding with Mara Schneiders

Are the Arts a Luxury?

Amidst the current economic turmoil attention has been drawn to funding for the arts. How important are cultural events to a community?

Tasmanian Opposition Leader Will Hodgman stated in a media release on May 13th that if elected, they would halve funding to the biennial Ten Days on the Island arts festival.

Ten Days on the Island is Tasmania’s state-wide biennial multi art-form festival. Ten Days report that the 2011 festival included over 260 events, in 111 venues in locations across the state. They estimate more than 150,000 people – Tasmanian and visitors – took part.

Will Hodgman argues that the festival has been running for over a decade and should become more self-sustaining.

The Festival costs taxpayers $1.25 million each year. In the current climate, Tasmania cannot afford it.

Ten Days executive director and producer, Marcus Barker, told The Examiner recently that such an investment has huge returns for the community. Referring to an economic impact study by KPMG, Mr Barker highlighted the “nine-fold return on the $2.5 million funding provided jointly by the state and local governments”.

Dr Sue Henderson is a local visual artist, and lecturer in drawing at the University of Tasmania, School of Visual and Performing Arts. 

Events such as Ten Days on the Island give people a chance to see, hear, and do things outside their usual world. It gets people thinking and talking.

Ms Henderson had two installations in the last festival and believes such opportunities are vital for artists, as well as being important for the wider community.

Many people mistakenly believe that people do not go to see art. But statistics show that more people visit than attend football.

Click here to get a statistical overview from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Arts and Culture in Australia.

Installation at Georgetown Municipal building by artist Sue Henderson as part of the Ten Days festival. Artists created pieces for specific places speaking about the interaction with land and water resources.

Elizabeth Bennett, prominent  in the Northern Tasmanian arts community, with experience as teacher, director, producer and board member, considers there is an important role for state and local government funding. Yet she also argues that funding should not be seen as automatic.

As much as we can say it would be great for events like that to fund themselves, the reality is that they can’t.

I guess it is up to each event to prove that they are worthwhile. It is an ok debate to have, so that people don’t get complacent, but if we slash funding to culture, we slash funding to creativity.

Ms Bennett sees the arts as significant for communities.

 If we think of the theory that strong communities are creative communities, we can really see that the arts are not a luxury but are a way of making our communities more creative and there are a number of economic benefits that come from that.

Listen to an interview with Elizabeth Bennett as she considers whether the arts are a luxury.

‘Umbrella Momentum’. Taking to the streets of Launceston as part of local youth arts festival ‘Streets Alive’. Festivals such as this rely on grants and sponsorship to take place.


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