Let’s shelve the disappointments of this election and use the benefits of adversity as our impetus, to propel our artform forward and achieve improved recognition and support nationally. We can tap into unprecedented industry cooperation and a more sophisticated arts advocacy effort to unite all music interests. Let’s start today, together and at the grass roots, to build a compelling case for why all Australians deserve a better deal for music.
For the arts this election has been about disappointment. There have been many: the Coalition’s refusal to announce an arts policy, to annul the unpopular Catalyst grants program, reverse ‘efficiency dividends’ on cultural bodies, or properly redress impacts of the 2014/15 arts budget decisions. As a result dozens of companies are deeply impacted, and four of five national service organisations defunded, including Music Australia. And while we must wait for election results, it appears unlikely this situation will change.
Build on positives
However there are positives: the ALP announced a solid arts policy, with specific commitments to music, including increases to school music education for programs such as our own Music Count Us In. A platform by The Greens demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the role and potential for the arts in a modern society. And an Arts Party – with a solid music policy – came into being for the first time.
Within the arts, important developments marked a more sophisticated sector with substantially improved advocacy. Activist movement freethearts and sector wide advocacy body ArtsPeak, substantially increased public awareness and industry cooperation, and now offer strategic development platforms.
Live Performance Australia provided real and inclusive leadership across the sector with forceful and impressive campaigning. APRA AMCOS also powerfully mobilised thousands of musicians and colleagues in support of its important strategic work, including in export and live music.
Here at Music Australia we developed statements on Contemporary Music and Music Education, underpinned by detailed policy work, and worked closely with all peak bodies to develop a national contemporary music plan to provide a blueprint for future growth.
However, our positives are yet to deliver results so – we say – our advocacy work starts today.
A solid case for music – together
Music must make a comprehensive case across the entire artform for why it deserves greater government recognition and investment. This must be backed by credible data, persuasive advocacy, and driven by a united and integrated professional effort. The music sector has over a dozen peak bodies and specialist agencies. When education is added in the list grows to twenty. These all do important professional work. However we can only expect real results and meaningful reform, when we make a solid case with one, unified voice. Governments expect this, and music fans and the public deserve it.
And the imperative is strong, as we reflect here in our news story Is it time for musicians to become more political?
So how do we do it? Well we’re clearly on the right track. Music Australia does its bit by bringing parties to the table, as we will again with our national Contemporary Music Roundtable in August. The contemporary sector ought to revive its Contemporary Music Working Group, last active some eight years ago, rebranded and repositioned for contemporary times. The major performing arts companies must make a meaningful commitment to the whole sector and entire artform, and build policy consensus with independents and the small to medium art music sector. We also will benefit from more well-known artists speaking out as Jimmy Barnes did earlier this year. And there is a powerful case for an overarching body, backed financially by the major music interests, and open to all. UK Music which, over the past decade, has forged an impressive record of achievement, provides an inspiring case study, increasingly delivering important and constructive results. These bodies in turn must all integrate closely with our broader arts and education advocacy colleagues.
Where do we start?
It is our view we must start at the grass roots. While high level lobbying is vital, the case for music is most powerful when demanded locally, by school teachers and principals, citizens, community leaders, local mayors, and political party members. This will gain support from backbench MPs, then work its way up the political system. And we must remember, while music is a multi-billion business, ultimately it is about public participation. If this is demanded, then our industry can thrive.
And it also good to know that music is a relatively easy sell. Who wouldn’t want more music education in their school, or local community, or a regional music festival attracting tourists to a country town, or activities to engage young people, and opportunities for citizens to socialise and be entertained? This is the bedrock upon which dynamic domestic businesses, musicians’ careers and export success stories can be built.
When do we do it?
Now is the time. Over this next term of government Australian music has a unique opportunity to build on the positives resulting from recent adversity, including that driven by enormous technological change wrought upon our industry. We can leverage increasing industry cooperation, unite, and demonstrate exactly the rightful place for our artform in the public Australian agenda.
Here at Music Australia, we will start with a delegation to Canberra in spring, to advocate for music and music education in particular, and we invite all our music colleagues to join us.