Federal Arts Funding cutbacks (take 2)

So here we go again huh?

If you’re running a small to medium arts company right now I feel for you. I especially feel for you if you’ve just heard that your funding isn’t going to continue.

I was in your position a few years ago when I was the CEO of Legs on the Wall and the decisions came down from Ozco. Prior to that I was a Director at Ozco of a wildly successful program which was also the victim of federal budget cut backs to the arts.

If you’re reading this and working at Ozco right now, I feel for you too.

To those at the head of companies and on boards of companies doing innovative, kickass meaningful work who didn’t get through this first round, I hear you.

If you’re feeling anything like I did at the time then it’s a mixture of white hot rage and deep sadness.

It’s okay to sit with that feeling for a while- resist the urge to move on too quickly. That shit’s real. But stay there too long in the pit of raging despair though and you’ll end up paralysed and deeply fucking cynical.

It’s bloody hard being a funder in this situation too, please don’t ring them up and threaten to commit suicide or tell them they are completely rooted and don’t understand what being an artist is. Those things happen more often than you think and I’ve been on the other end of my team getting those phone calls.

Just don’t do it.

They are the front line staff on the end of a political process that doesn’t have anything to do with them. If you’re feeling like that, you’re not in a good place – The Wellbeing Helpline is accessible 24/7 by calling 1800 959 500 within Australia. The Wellbeing Helpline is available free to anyone who works in the Australian performing arts industry. Or take a look at Beyond Blue’s website .

At some point you need to gather yourself and make a plan because walking around for too long like a hose that’s become unhinged is real, but it isn’t healthy.

For what it’s worth I’ve put together a few tips that might help you- no matter which side of the funding paywall you’re sitting at.

1.

Resist the urge to buy something really extravagant to make you feel better. Take a long hard look at your personal finances. Do things that don’t cost too much money. Think about a side hustle. Realise, that just for a little while you’re probably going to have to dig into survival mode, even though you thought that was over for a while.

Look into income protection. Have a think about what you need financially. Both for happiness and for survival.

2.

Try every day to clear the lump of anxiety in your brain. Here’s a simple meditation you can do focussed on bird songs and can be done anywhere. It helps clear the white noise in your brain, the regrets of the past and the anxiety of the future. If you’re a nature type like me, it totally hits the spot.

Sit (or stand) anywhere and close your eyes. Find the place in your brain in which you can hear the sound of a bird in your environment. To do this you’re going to have to delete the other noises. Try harder. Focus. Focus until you can only hear the birds.

Find each of their songs, seperate them from each other. When that’s all you hear, breathe in deeply thirty times, each time in tune with the bird calls, each breath an opportunity to once again block out the white noise. When you’re done, open your eyes, ground yourself and walk on.

3.

If you work at OzCo, like I once did, please be kind to yourself, it’s gunna get harder. Try and understand what the sector is going through and walk the line of lobby and support, with arms length obligations, in a kind and compassionate way.

Don’t stop seeing work by defunded companies, even though the foyer walk is going to be a biatch- they’ll be coming to you for project funding in droves and you’re gunna want to know what they’re doing. You know inside that there’s a decent percentage of unfunded excellence, even if you can’t always say it out loud in public.

Think about seeking outside help to guide you through the worst of it. There is zero shame in finding the support you need and investing in a confidential and clever professional outside of the organisation. Personal and career coaches who specialise in the creative industry are going to be your best friend. Someone like Sarah Gilligan The Boltcutter could be the kind of grounded help you need, she’s ridiculously qualified and she works nationally via video call. I’ve just done an Infinity Black Session with her and she knows her stuff because she’s also been where you are at.

4.

If you’re funded or defunded be careful what you say to the media. And by careful I mean, consider whether you want to make a statement at all, especially if you’re feeling a touch of the ‘unhinged hose’ coming on…

5.

If you haven’t already, now really is the time to get clever about your business models, keep the hope but build elasticity into it.

6.

Learn to read the room. Or in this case the Minister. He’s made it pretty clear from his entry into politics how he feels about arms length bodies and ‘wooly headed dreamers’ like playwright Bob Ellis. It shouldn’t be a surprise that funding wasn’t restored to The Australia Council.

Get savvy about politics, or connect with people that are. Get savvy about non funding reliant life and company models. Now is also the time that state and local governments and philanthropists need to lean in, and we need to lean into them, irrespective of political persuasion. Healthy and uncensored art is a sign of a functioning democracy and freedoms and we have to work out if we want to fight for that.

For me the last Ozco decision on organisational funding triggered some massive life changes, it made me think deeply about what I wanted and what it took to be in the snake pit at a time where back stabbing was a fully funded sport. Pretty much none of my values aligned when I looked around and the only thing to make it right was to make a pretty big shift. You might just need a small adjustment.

No one knows the answer except you. But it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

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