#FreetheArts – this Friday!

Some thoughts on next steps for #FreeTheArts

#FreeTheArts has achieved a lot in a short space of time, but to grow the campaign we think we need to move beyond just arts workers. We want:

  • A campaign that’s lively and urgent! One that has artists and arts lovers and their families and friends involved on every level
  • A campaign that reminds everyone that the purpose of George Brandis’s National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) is to eliminate diversity and dissent, and to destroy the small-to-medium arts sector
  • A campaign that will not accept this permanent loss of funding as an option

The Australia Council defunding has already cost people their jobs. Tours are being cancelled. Books are not being published. Arts orgs are already closing. The effects are being felt right now. We cannot wait to act.

But we also believe that bargaining with politicians or hiring a lobbyist is not going to restore or grow arts funding. If that approach worked, the ABC would be A-Okay.

What changes policies is the sense that large numbers of people oppose something. So we need to push our message as widely as possible.

What we want: For Brandis to give the money back

We don’t want a campaign that focuses on encouraging politicians to grow some arts appreciation. Our message is much simpler: we want George Brandis and the Ministry of Arts to give the $125 million stolen from the Australia Council back.

There is a long list of art that Brandis’s slush fund will not support: all writing and literature, videogames, film, the majority of music, and any individual artist, as well as art which is politically engaged or artistically innovative, bold Indigenous art, art that is provocative or carries dissent.

This is censorship. We also believe that without our intervention, it will be the beginning of the end for the Australia Council.

The good news: we think the NPEA can be undone. After all, it’s just a bureaucratic process a politician made up. From the Save Australian Live Music campaign to the movement against fee deregulation, we have seen that it’s possible to change the minds of governments. Every day, artists make the impossible visible, practical, real. That’s what we need to do with this campaign, too.

How we do it

We need to make ourselves heard though a massive, Australia-wide public outreach and education campaign. We need a campaign that advocates for the artists currently facing loss of livelihood, or the prospect of taking a second or third job to supplement their practice, or arts organisations considering shutting their doors.

We can start by reaching out to audiences – not just our own, but also large audiences at big public events – at the Arts Centre, at the Film Festival, at galleries and launches and openings. We propose distributing leaflets with simple statements that explain artists’ reality to audiences. We will supplement this with a coordinated PR and media outreach.

In a couple of months’ time, when we have built wider support, we propose holding a rally – with the aim of equalling the size of the 2010 Save Live Music rally. We need to galvanise the extended arts community across the country so that the arts aren’t vulnerable like this in future.

We are proposing:

A concentrated leafleting campaign of arts audiences across the country, particularly events put on by organisations that receive arts funding and have large audiences, such the Australian Ballet, Opera Australia etc.

We propose starting with the Bell Shakespeare performance of Hamlet, showing at the Arts Centre this coming Friday, 17 July. We are asking people to meet out front from 6.30pm. 

Want to help hand out the leaflet on Friday? Simply leave a comment below (make sure you sign-in with your email address) and we’ll be in touch.

Download copies of the double-sided A5 leaflet we’ve written.


Note: we will only be organising leafleting in Melbourne (because that’s where we’re based), but we’d be happy to support a national public outreach and education campaign in any way we can. We’ve listed some interstate performances likely to attract large audiences below. Let us know below if you decide to organise any interstate leafletting.

Saturday 18 July: Opera Australia’s Turandot is showing at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Wednesday 22 July: Black Swan’s Blithe Spirit is on at the Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of Western Australia

Friday 24 July: the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s Betrayal is on at the Dunstan Playhouse

Friday 24 July: Queensland Theatre Company’s Happy Days is on at the Billie Brown Studio, The Greenhouse

Saturday 25 July: Opera Australia’s Anything Goes is on at the Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre


FreetheArts Melbourne is a coalition of individual artists and arts workers directly affected by the arts cuts. We’re not members of any specific organisation, but we are angry, driven, and we believe this campaign is very important. To keep in touch and get involved email: FTAMelbourne@gmail.com

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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