January 6, 2017

Beatrix Payge

So if I’m being honest, 2016 hasn’t been the greatest year. There have been the deaths of David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder (amongst many others). Brock Turner spent only three months in jail for rape. Donald Trump is the President elect and Time’s Person of the Year. Suicide Squad apparently was rubbish. Castle, Rizzoli & Isles and Agent Carter weren’t renewed for another season and Ghostbusters got dragged purely because it had four women as the lead characters.

However, 2016 has also been responsible for more funding cuts in the arts sector. In October Educational Minister Simon Birmingham announced that funding for training and education in certain areas in the arts sector would be cut, due to his belief that studying the arts is a ‘lifestyle’ choice.

These are just the latest in a long line of funding cuts to the arts sector that began in 2014 with the removal of funding for the Australia Council for the Arts. In her article ‘Arts Training is an Essential Part of an Innovative Nation’, Jo Caust details all of the financial cuts of the last two years and some of the affects they have already had.

Australia seems to pride itself on its innovation and, as Caust points out, our films, literature, actors and artists represent Australia. The importance of this can be seen in Melbourne, with the various statues around the city, and our world-renowned street art.

Yet despite this, the arts sector is continually looked down upon. In VCE ‘smart’ subjects such as maths and science are viewed as being much more difficult than creative subjects, be they arts or design of even just literature and humanity subjects. As such, when the scores are scaled at the end of the year, maths and science scores are regularly scaled up yet the creative subjects are regularly scaled down. Whilst I did math methods in year twelve and psychology in year eleven, the vast majority of my subjects were creative. I did art and throughout the year I had to complete two folios, two final pieces as well as several essays and an end of year exam. I often stayed back after school or in lunch to work on art. It was the subject I spent the most amount of time on, yet my score got scaled down five marks at the end of the year.

I have also seen this bias at university. I have just completed a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in history and creative and professional writing. Going into 2016 I picked my eight subjects, then realised I accidently chose subjects from 2015. No matter, I thought they usually just keep going. Four of my eight chosen subjects weren’t run in 2016. I ended up completing two subjects that I really wasn’t interested in because otherwise I would be unable to complete my history major. I heard from numerous students who experienced this, but it seemed to be limited to people doing Arts. My friends doing law, psychology and health sciences didn’t experience this.

This disregard is seen in the wider world. I have heard of numerous artists stating that they have been asked to work for free in order to ‘build their reputation’. If a scientist or mathematician were asked to do this there would be outrage.

I understand that the maths and science sectors are critical for modern life, but as the amazing Robin Williams put it in Dead Poets Society, ‘…poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.’

Relaxing and down time for many people is spent watching movies or TV shows, listening to music, reading, eating out or even going to art museums. Yet these are the areas that regularly face funding cuts and being looked down on as lesser. In her article ‘Cuts to Arts Education Another Blow for the Sector’, Maeve Marsden points out that we live in a capitalist society. Whilst artistic pursuits are often done for hobbies and have been done in the past for love, our society means that if someone chooses this for their career, they need to be able to live off of it otherwise they will probably be critiqued for being bludgers and not doing anything with their life.

As a society we need to learn to value the arts sector, its workers and its students. It adds so much richness to our lives, yet is constantly disregarded. We need to start valuing the financial importance of the arts as well as the emotional importance. Stopping funding cuts would be a great way to start this, and hopefully 2017 will undo the downward trend of the last two years.

-Beatrix Payge

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