WAVES OF UNCERTAINTY - Red Stitch Actors Theatre

Opinion piece by Jarrod Briffa

The Federal Government budget reforms have sent waves of uncertainty through Melbourne's Arts community.

We don't need to stress the importance of the humanities. If you are reading this, it's likely we are preaching to the choir. While the arts often benefit from government support, it is also essential that it remains free from government control to encourage conversations that might push political boundaries and question our norms.

Red Stitch, a company Donkey Wheel House Events worked closely with for their debut production of PLAYlist, recently published in a position statement that "Art is political. Theatre should be entertaining, but it should also challenge us, act as a voice to the voiceless and cause us to reflect and to question our assumptions". This statement has gained my attention for two reasons. One, it identifies why it is important that the government take an arm's-length approach to funding in the arts. Two, by observing the government's 'carrot and stick' approach, with the leaking of these proposed reforms, we see how quickly a government can foster uncertainty and quieten the voice of passionate opposition.

The government continues to leak information, including last week's release of the draft guidelines for the proposed National Program for Excellence in the Arts. While there is obvious discontent among smaller companies towards the likely withdrawal of their funding, I sense that many smaller companies fear becoming disfavoured and cannot risk criticizing the changes. The public voice on this issue, or lack there of, is evidence of that. The art may be political, but so too is where the funding comes from.

The bigger companies within the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG) continue to remain quiet while they are quarantined against the changes. Whoever said an opinion was free was only looking at one-side of the coin.

The small-to-medium sector, that are rendered most vulnerable by these changes, currently produce most of the 'new' Australian work - despite only receiving 30% of the current funding. Small-to-medium sector companies do not curate their work around what will make the most money. If money is not your primary incentive then you can take chances and deliver on diversity. It is these passionate and committed people that are at risk. And in turn, our cultural freedom.

3 things you can do to support the arts in Melbourne

- Support #FREETHEARTS by attending the rally and signing the petition

- Become a subscriber with a local small-to-medium company and support their longevity

- Purchase great value tickets for exceptional theatre. Buy a four show pass with Red Stitch and get the fourth show free

The opinions in this article are personal and not written on behalf of any company mentioned above.

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