Be quietly optimistic – but don’t drop your skepticism

Blogs, Commentary

A great many in the arts have been celebrating the win by the Labor party in the Federal election. Looking back in history, they feel that the arts have traditionally been better supported by Labor than the conservatives and there is certainly evidense of support for the arts in university education and public galleries.

As a PhD candidate (without a stipend) and artist, however, I am still skeptical about how much I will benefit from this change of government. I say this because artists building small practices have not been supported, in my experience, as much as non-profits and public galleries, and politicians also like to support whatever will raise their profile and make them look good to the public.

With only 1 in 10 applicants likely to receive a stipend at PhD level, for a start I would like to see more money going towards those of us who who attepting to contribute to Australia as a “Creative” and “Culturally relevant” country, as well as more than just rhetoric, such as the saying that was bandied around several years ago about Australia needing to be the “clever country”. This doesn’t happen unless support is provided for higher education (Masters and PhD) and keeping the graduates in the country rather than seeing so many leave for better opportunities overseas.

Included in this situation is the issue that artists and many PhD arts students in Australia also live well below the poverty line. This is a situation that has not changed through changes of government despite promises made. Study and building an arts practice can be difficult enough, but without the finances for books, materials, internet, power, and even food, issues that are weighed up on a weekly basis, things will not change. Additionally, working whilst studying or trying to build up a body of artworks is tiring for even those in their twenties, leading to some giving up, others struggling and pushing themselves too far both mentally and physically, and in the end, it leading to producing less the ideal results because of fatigue.

So, in the end, considering this overall picture for arts students and practitioners in Australia, I will wait with some optimism, but also a retention of a little skepticism, until something other than promises eventuates. Then I will celebrate new opportunities and support opening up for the arts and post-graduate education, but not beforehand.

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