‘I feel like it’s time to have a response to the way in which taxpayer’s money is being worked with,’ says NORPA Artistic Director Julian Louis.
The theatre company director has paired up with Arts Northern Rivers CEO Peter Wood to call for a meeting of all Northern Rivers arts workers and supporters at the Lismore City Hall this afternoon, Monday 16 December.
The unprecedented forum has been announced in the wake of recent federal government announcements of department mergers.
Is the term ‘arts’ a dirty word for federal government?
The Arts Department is to be merged with Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications as part of changes that will reduce 18 federal departments into several super departments.
‘Even the word “arts” is not in as a ministerial focus for this government,’ said NORPA Artistic Director Julian Louis, ‘I think that’s concerning’.
Instead, the arts are to be considered under the new Communications Department.
Mr Louis said he studied Communications and understands the area can come under the broad term of ‘the arts’ but the arts, by definition, includes so much more.
‘The Arts is actually a massive industry across all forms of artistic endeavour such as literature, music, visual arts, theatre, festivals,’ he said.
‘I mean these things are a massive part of our economy and our society.’
The theatre company director said civilised societies have held up the arts as an important part of society and in certain other governments, such as former ALP leader Julia Gillard’s, has been part of the prime minister’s portfolio.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also has the arts as part of her portfolio.
‘I know that the Morrison government said let’s do away with red tape,’ Mr Louis said, ‘but often that’s just a one liner and we just want to understand it a bit more’.
No industry consultation before change announced, says NORPA chief
Mr Louis said there was no consultation with people in the arts department or in the industry before the merger was announced in early December.
He said he wants to ‘unifiy’ the creative industries from the region to ‘talk about it’ and to ‘maybe put a response together’.
‘There’s a lot of rumblings from the artistic community,’ he told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom on Friday,‘maybe it’s a pre-emptive strike that we are actually having here’.
‘We want to make sure that the weight and the power of our collective voices is felt in our region and is felt from our region at a federal level,’ he said.
Funding concerns with all from independent artists to Arts Council ‘struggling’
NORPA is one of very few regional theatre companies left in the country and Mr Louis said there is a concern within the industry in general that the federal government’s announcement could lead to significant funding cuts.
‘We’re seeing the liberal government under Senator George Brandis have a little bit of disregard for the Australia Council and it its role in that millions were taken from the Australia Council and administered through his office,’ Mr Louis said, adding that the Arts Council still hasn’t recovered from the changes.
‘The small to medium sector and independent artists are struggling,’ he said.
But the theatre company director said the meeting this afternoon isn’t about funding.
‘The conversation we want to have is about how the arts is taken seriously at a federal level in terms of leadership and it’s vision,’ he said.
‘If we continue to make the ‘arts’ a dirty word, not even have the word itself in the social and political arena, then we’re sort of saying everything we’re doing is a side project,’ he said.
‘In my view, it’s a fundamental aspect of being human.’
‘We need stories’ says theatre company director
Mr Louis said artists generally wanted to be part of building ‘a great society’.
‘I think the arts plays a very important role in that, particularly now when we need stories, we need to reflect on who we are and where we’re going,’ he said.
‘This is a very special place for story and for very old stories, for indigenous stories and for contemporary stories and for contemporary art, contemporary theatre and all of the forms,’ the Northern Rivers arts leader said.
‘So let’s make some noise and let’s be heard.’
Mr Lousi said Federal Labor’s opposition spokesman for the arts, Tony Bourke, had spoken in defence of the arts and against the coalition’s announcement but that he hadn’t heard from other politicians on the matter.
Local federal members for parliament, The Nationals’ Kevin Hogan in Page and Country Labor’s Justine Elliot in Richmond, haven’t commented.
This afternoon’s meeting is a drop-in drop-out session from 4.30 until 6.30 at NORPA’s headquarters in the Lismore City Hall, chaired by Mr Louis, Arts Northern Rivers CEO Peter Wood, Ken Crouch from Screenworks and Byron Youth Theatre Director Lisa Aspostolides.
To hear the full interview with Julian Louis, go to Community Newsroom via bayfm.org.au, where this article first appeared.