Creativity in Crisis: Is education the answer?

Equal opportunities can save the next generation of storytellers.

The Centre for Future Work’s report into the arts and entertainment sector’s post-pandemic recovery paints a picture of a creative industry on a knife’s edge, having faced nearly a decade of successive budget cuts, bungled policies, and governmental neglect.

The newly released ‘Creativity in Crisis’ report outlines the economic importance of the arts and entertainment sector: a $17 billion direct contribution to GDP, a workforce of over 350,000 and a higher rate of employment per $1 million in turnover than both the extractive and construction industries combined. Few who live and work in the sector would doubt the immensity of this contribution.

What is most striking is the role of education in both the decline and recovery of the sector. The authors identify the Federal Government’s recently passed Job-ready Graduates Package as a particularly damning indicator for the future of the arts in Australia. Far from being conducive to employability, the report highlights that $1 billion in cuts to higher education by 2024 will deny students the opportunity to hone skills of critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and leadership.  At the University of Sydney, management have sought to impose austerity measures, including course cuts that have threatened media, theatre, and performance units across its creative faculties. 

More alarmingly, the report draws attention to an exodus of artists. The steep rise in casual and contract employment across all facets of the industry due to a decade of funding cuts has led to only 19% of professional artists being securely, full-time employed in 2019. This lack of security, further worsened by the pandemic, has led many artists to abandon the industry in favour of more stable employment. Insecure employment coupled with more expensive avenues of study lead the authors to envision the arts and entertainment sector becoming more insular and elite. If only those from secure backgrounds or with pre-existing wealth can afford the risk of creating, the voices represented become narrower. We are losing the next generation of storytellers.

From this dire analysis, education emerges as one of many solutions, and as a means of creating a clear framework for revitalising engagement with, and the accessibility of, the Australian arts and entertainment industry for future generations.

The authors call for the proper funding of state school creative arts programs to bring them in line with those offered at elite private schools in the nation’s capitals. This has the dual benefit of laying a broad foundation for the artistic development of future generations and also working to reduce deeply entrenched inequality in the accessibility of arts education between private and public schools. It is interesting to note that, in 2019, private schools received more Federal Government funding than universities. Specifically, the authors recommend the funding of strong music programs in public schools across every state and territory. They highlight the need for subsidised music tuition and the development or expansion of ensemble programs across the board. This will go a long way to improving diversity in the arts. If school children, regardless of race, geography, or their parents’ income all have the same access to creative education and resources in school, our arts and entertainment industry will look very different in ten years. It will more accurately reflect the diverse backgrounds, stories and perspectives of Australia as a whole.

If this recommended investment in public arts education is supported by a reversal of the funding cuts to universities, the authors argue that the skills and talents of arts workers in Australia will be preserved. Of course, for all the recommended investment in education, the authors identify an increase in government funding across the board as being core to the post-pandemic recovery of the sector. Notably, they call for a $100 million increase to the Arts portfolio for collecting institutions such as the National Gallery in addition to introducing Australian made content quotas on all streaming services. They also recommend an annual $20 million increase to the Regional Arts Fund and call for stronger minimum standards of employment such as a minimum call-out fee for performers to alleviate job insecurity in the industry. 

The report illustrates the dire need for a community-wide response to the systemic degradation of the arts and entertainment industry in Australia, starting with our very first days in school. If Australia can provide equal opportunity and engagement with the arts, across the nation, all our lives will be richer for it.

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