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Grants council reflects on artists' wages

Australian Council chairman Rupert Myer at the Canberra Glassworks.

Australian Council chairman Rupert Myer at the Canberra Glassworks. Photo: Jay Cronan

Cursed with being brilliant but poor, long-suffering until after their deaths when their work could be fought over and sold for millions has been the fate of many famous artists for centuries.

However, the chairman of the Commonwealth's arts funding body has said it's time to cast off the notion of the ''starving artist''.

On the 40th anniversary of the Australia Council for the Arts, chairman Rupert Myer has said the time has come for artists to be paid properly for their work.

The Australia Council issues grants valued at more than $170 million a year to artists and organisations in every state and territory in the areas of music, literature, theatre, visual arts and dance.

The council's funding decisions are made at arm's length from government by peer review.

''We want to raise the profile of the artist in the community,'' Mr Myer said when visiting the Canberra Glassworks yesterday.

''It would be great to see more artists being able to live off their art and to be recognised for the quality of their work and have their art marketed internationally and our dramatic artists be selected for productions not just here but internationally as well.

''Part of achieving that is raising the profile of the artist and while it's not a government role to provide that [better income] it is a government role to enable and facilitate policy where creativity can occur and those sort of outcomes can be achieved.

''I don't think it's too lofty an ambition, I think it's realistic to think we could raise the profile of the artist in the community.''

The Australia Council marked its anniversary last night with a function at the National Gallery of Australia with guests from government, members of the diplomatic community and Canberra artists.

Mr Myer said artists often gave their time for free but their efforts should never be taken for granted. ''There is a huge element of volunteering across the arts,'' he said.

''Artists are extremely generous with their time and talent but what the world wants is content, content, content across all art forms and it's not reasonable to think that artists should remain unremunerated for the expertise that they bring to different projects.

''I think in every sector volunteering is a characteristic, so it's not to wish away the culture of volunteering but nevertheless it would be good to see artists be able to live on their work.

''That's one of the key messages of our 40th anniversary.''

The council has laid claim to helping such famous names as Cate Blanchett, Judy Davis, David Gulpilil, Geoffrey Rush and recent Grammy winner Gotye get ahead during their early career.

''Many of the artists supported by the Council in the last 40 years have gone on to become celebrated household names,'' Mr Myer said. ''This includes dancers and choreographers such as Meryl Tankard and David McAllister; writers Peter Carey, Les Murray and Tim Winton.

''Last year, more than 13 million people in Australia and beyond our shores enjoyed art created and presented with the support of the Australia Council.''

12 comments

  • There is a Commonwealth arts funding body?! So my hard-earned tax dollars are subsidising a lifestyle choice?! Not happy. *winces*

    Commenter
    jg
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    February 19, 2013, 8:28AM
    • @jg i am equally miffed about this, $170 MILLION to subsidise finger painting!!, how do we get some of this?

      Commenter
      stoney
      Date and time
      February 19, 2013, 9:04AM
      • If you choose a career in the Arts, no body owes you a living. Let the market decide what its worth.

        Commenter
        Lookoutsmithers
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        February 19, 2013, 10:07AM
        • maybe...I'm not sure about the market's ability to decide all things all the time though.

          Commenter
          sud1101
          Date and time
          February 19, 2013, 1:09PM
      • I think the amount to the arts is not only generally well directed but also adds a great deal to Australia. It is pretty small (as far as I can tell) compared to other forms of government support for things that are rightly also considered important.

        I don't believe it is a lifestyle choice anymore than a career in anything else is...and whilst one chooses a career in the arts I guess, I figure support is proportional...I mean, to decry support for the arts through a funding body seems odd if the same cries are not made for other areas - support for the banks, mining, sport etc. I wonder what the sector value of the arts is in Australia...what it contributes in economic terms? that might help place the $170 million in context a bit more. For me anyways...

        Just thinking out loud, but a supporter of the arts...

        Commenter
        sud1101
        Date and time
        February 19, 2013, 1:08PM
        • @jg @stoney etc, before you jump on the 'my tax dollars' complaint bandwagon, perhaps you should do some research into how much money these so-called 'finger painters' contribute to the economy, because it's far greater than the amount the government spends on grants. If there was no long-term benefit they wouldn't spend the money in the first place.

          Commenter
          tephra
          Date and time
          February 19, 2013, 1:12PM
          • @tephra, the only long term benefit would appear to be to the ARTS COUNCIL itself. The words conjour up an image of a small group of people who hand a few bucks to people who call themselves an artist. WRONG. go to http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/about/structure

            This Arts council is as big as a small Government dept, look at its structure looks like well over 200 well fed staff. I trust Tony Abbott is reading this. I am just surprised Nitro Gangster is not spitting the dummy at this waste of money.

            Commenter
            stoney
            Date and time
            February 19, 2013, 4:41PM
        • Artists don't have "wages". They are self-employed. They make stuff, and sell it, and get to keep the money they can sell their product for.

          If they want "wages", they can go and work for other people.

          Commenter
          enno
          Location
          sydney
          Date and time
          February 19, 2013, 2:31PM
          • Would you decry the fact that small businesses receive Fed funding ? http://australianbusinessgrants.com.au

            Artists are small businesses and dare I say also Taxpayers. Grants are also seen as taxable income and help Australian small (and large) businesses to survive and flourish to the benefit of Australia and Australians. They are not handouts.

            Successful artists are wonderful ambassadors for this country. Many give their time freely to teach, talk and present without compensation. I would assume commenters have seen films, a television series or read a book. The arts sector contributes $30 billion a year to GDP*, more than agriculture, forestry and fishing combined. More people see live music each year than attend football games. If the Arts sector was to disappear we would be up the creek financially and culturally.

            *http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/they-kill-us-for-their-sport-williamson-laments-arts-funding-cuts-20121115-29ejt.html

            Commenter
            IgnoranceIsBliss
            Date and time
            February 19, 2013, 2:36PM
            • Thanks IgnoranceIsBliss, it's good to hear the voice of reason for once on these comments. So often people love to have the knee-jerk reaction to their hard earned tax dollars being spent on something they have no idea about. The contribution to the economy by the arts sector is phenomenal, not to mention that the creative thought process is at the heart of so much innovation in the world today.

              Commenter
              SupportForTheArts
              Date and time
              February 19, 2013, 4:22PM

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