JRowing in central Queensland in the 1980s, Ruth Claire didn’t even know that a career in the arts was a possibility. Rockhampton was a “beef town,” she says, full of cowboys and miners, where there was nothing to do but drink. Her stay-at-home mother became depressed after her father, a Vietnam War veteran, left. Even after a period of working on a major TV series and with a memoir published to her name, Claire says she still deals with feeling like she doesn’t belong in the industry.
“Nobody wants to hear that story,” she told me. “It’s not a pretty story.”
“I was a smart kid with a lot of talent, but no one in my family had gone to university before me. I was driven to succeed so I could get out of Rockhampton, but I went to a bad school with over 2,000 students and no cultural or artistic opportunities. There was no It guides me. I still feel working class, no matter where I live. I still navigate the arts world like a complete stranger.”
Australia does not like to talk about separation. But after I posted a callout on social media looking for creators from working-class backgrounds like myself, they came out in droves: writers, actors, stage makers, musicians who wanted to discuss the many barriers to success.
Cultural, financial and emotional gaps exist between the creative working-class and wealthy, networked, mostly gatekeepers of Australia’s arts and culture. There are additional hurdles faced by people of gender, gender, ability, ethnicity, and those who live outside big cities – resulting in an entire creative culture that looks, to the outside, largely homogeneous: lots of white and wealthy people who seem to know each other already .
In Claire’s case, the cumulative effect of years trying to force her way through made her feel like she didn’t have a seat at the table. The challenges are piling up. middle rent crisis and cost of living crisisMost working-class artists cannot count on a mother and father bank or a partner to support their careers. Many optimistic creatives lack the financial resources to access networking and educational opportunities, and lack the means to survive long enough for a break. When they do, there is little social or financial capital to sustain – and the devastating impact of the pandemic on Australia’s art industries has made it even more difficult.
‘This is not sustainable’
Last month, Evelyn Aralwin told The Guardian Australia that she “One salary away from povertyWhen writing her poetry collection Dropbear, which won the $60,000 Stella Prize. “Arts are supported almost exclusively by unpaid labour,” she said in her speech. Through the struggle and sacrifices of artists and art workers accepting punishment and unacceptable working conditions at last for love and affection…this is not sustainable, and never has been. This structure results in collective inequality of representation and will continue to restrict access to designers from working-class and marginalized contexts.”
The design appears. From the coalition government’s ongoing cuts in arts funding to cuts in public schools And high educationAnd the working class and other marginalized people were kept out of the nation’s cultural conversations. As Alison Crogon pointed out in her last article Art Destruction CampaignPublic funding continues to prioritize the “high” and mainstream arts that few can experience, let alone create, “to draw a line between the “legitimate” art of the respectable classes versus unbridled, experimental, different, and new art.”
Ben Eltham, Monash University art academic and co-author of Australia Institute for Creativity in Crisis Report. Most of the available funding goes to art organizations, particularly 28 major performing arts companies, with very little funding left for regular and independent artists. It is very difficult for a budding artist to get a break, and even when they do, there is not much support for them to continue working. It is a winner-takes-all market, profitable for the lucky few but most of them live below the poverty line.”
Wages are low and work is insecure. “If you are working class, how likely are you to be able to afford to work in unsafe conditions? There is no sustainable career path, so they leave the cultural sector to work in industries that will pay them a living wage.”
There is no masterpiece in poverty
In 2017, in the last major study conducted on the issue, Council of Australia found that artists made an average of $18,800 annually from their creative work. For the book much less, With nearly 50% earning less than $2000 annually According to a survey by the Australian Authors’ Association in 2020. That was before what Eltham calls a “once in a century meteorite” that smashed the sector in 2020, in the form of a global pandemic. Nearly 40% of jobs were laid off in the first three months. From February 2020 to November 2021, those working in the performing arts and live events industries reported income losses totaling $417.2 million, and more than 374,000 canceled gigs. That’s an average income loss of $25,000 per year per artist, rising to $38,700 in 2021.
The cost exceeds the financial. The Support Law helpline reported a 300% increase in calls, with more than 2,700 hours of advice provided to clients in all areas. Data collected by I lost my shit Last year, it found that more than half (57%) of those working in performing arts and live events had sought employment outside the industry.
The sector has yet to recover, but the federal government is working to scrap its technical stimulus packages, resulting in a 19% drop in federal funding for the arts in its most recent budget — equivalent to a $190 million loss. This includes cuts in regional art funding of up to $10.5 million, and for films and television worth up to $45 million. Comes amid calls for universal basic income and alternative funding models, with pilot programs in Ireland and the United States showing what is possible.
On the ground, he feels the pain very much. Writer Travis Hunter says that although gender diversity posed barriers when they first started in the industry, being a working class made it a constant struggle.
“We need to acknowledge that breaking into the arts these days essentially involves working in a job, without pay, as long as it takes to get noticed — and that this is not a business model that can work for business at all — the class and other marginalized people,” he said. They say. “There is tremendous overlap between class and other forms of marginalization, particularly for the transgender and gender diverse community, which suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment due to discrimination.
“Participation in the arts can be very healing and empowering for people as diverse as myself, but any real diversity effort really needs to address the physical barriers of class and economic deprivation that accompanies marginalization. This means that you pay creators for their time and work as a start.”
“You cannot create a masterpiece while you live in poverty.”
The fight for education
Guardian Australia author, playwright and columnist Van Badham says a big part of the problem is the failure to acknowledge the division of public and private schools into the cultural industries. “Certainly there are students in public schools working in cultural industries,” she says. “But not – in my experience – in numbers that are representative of the general population.”
Data on this point is elusive. While arts companies regularly conduct self-assessment of diversity, class background is not a standard. What we know is that More than 65% of Australian children In 2021 it went to public schools, but public school funding in the last election budget fell by half a billion dollars. If the coalition is re-elected, funding for private schools will increase by more than $2 billion.
according to Creativity in Crisis Report, music and arts education has been decimated in the wake of continued cuts to public school funding. “There is no new music room, no end-of-year play, no artist visit… and that has a huge impact on working-class children,” says Badham.
Raised in the southern suburbs of Sydney, Badham is proudly working class. Having studied Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, she pursued her career in London for 10 years.
Badham believes that Australia has “intentional class blindness”. The advantage outside, she says, was that “no one could hear my prickly tone.”
Even among class-conscious Britons, “Badham was discovered and developed as an artist, secured jobs and made connections. Back in Australia, the reception was often, ‘Why is the waitress talking about dramaturgy?'” Working-class children are intimidated by art forums. Nobody wants in Indeed, to be treated like a stupid peasant.”
The university sector is another piece of the puzzle. Alliance decision Fee increase for humanities and technical studies Double them in some cases – making higher education for working-class artists an elusive investment. With universities excluded from subsidizing employers during the pandemic, along with federal funding falling by more than $1 billion over the next four years, the higher education sector has been brought to its knees.
Financial pressure has led to the closure of many technical schools and degrees across the country in the past two years. These include Monash University’s world-leading Center for Theater and Performance, the Drama Departments at Newcastle University and La Trobe University, and Fine Arts courses at Griffith University, Australian National University, University of New South Wales, University of Sydney and Charles Sturt University. The lack of access to affordable arts education has made a career in this sector out of reach for many.
Using data from 2017 to 2018, the federal government itself estimated this cultural and creative activity Contribute $115.2 billion to the Australian economy each year, employs about 645,000 Australians. The arts help define us as a nation and shape our culture, but while 32% of Australians fall into the ‘low income’ and ‘poor’ categories, According to recent OECD dataWorking class views are missing from that conversation.
With election days looming and no art politics in sight from either major party, Australia is in danger of losing a generation of working-class artists – and their opinions, voices and stories – to obscurity. As Araluen said in her Stella Award speech, “I doubt we’ll ever know how much the arts have been lost over these past few years.”
“Working class people have stories to tell that strike the balance that society so desperately needs,” Claire says. “We need to recognize the barriers they face that prevent these stories from being told.”