Jade Lillie has a tough job as the Head of Sector Development for the Australia Council for the Arts. She has just launched the Australia Council’s Let’s Re-Imagine Together, which asks, “readers, arts workers, all communities” what they envisage the cultural sector to be and what their “needs are” says Jade.
A discussion paper has been published by the Council on its site asking communities and artists to take part in future planning. The discussion paper is complemented by a series of town hall meetings open to all, either in person or remotely.
She recognises the late albeit significance of the $250-million investment into the arts sector by the Scot Morrison government.
“This is significant investment, and it’s important for the sector, and we hope that it at least goes part of the way to supporting the creative and cultural sectors to get back on their feet, they have been hit hard,” Ms Lillie told Neos Kosmos.
Great cities are driven by a robust cultural ecology. Artists, musicians, venues, galleries, pubs, restaurants, clubs, theatres, the lifeblood of a city, all lie comatose under the miasma of COVID-19.
Melbourne, Australia’s cultural centre is (for now) a dystopian fantasy. Its majestic art centre and recital venues, its hip lively inner-city areas, the coffee alleyways, and clusters of live venues – are now empty. Lonely police sirens, bird songs, and possum grunts, have overtaken the sounds of music and human life.
“The cultural sector was the first to shut down so any support that we’re able to provide organisations and artists to be able to survive was a key priority for us,” Ms Lillie said.
This is not the usual economic downturn. Arts and culture are the first green sprouts in a post economic crisis, like Athens post 2014 financial crisis, or New York in the 1970s.
“In my time I’ve never seen anything like it I would be hard pressed to identify a time that there’s been an issue that has affected every single person globally, every company, every industry globally,” she said.
“I think it’s something that we can all learn from as well and be prepared for the future in a slightly better way then perhaps we weren’t prepared for this one.”
The Council has a number of programmes like a resilience fund, to assist artists’ survival in this crisis.
“It’s not a lot of money clearly we got like $5000 for survival and $20,000 for adaptation and $20,000 for creation, but it was an attempt by the Australian Council to react immediately”.
Jade Lillie points to the 7000 applications for the resilience fund and says that “this financial year around $7,000,000 is being distributed through that fund”
Neos Kosmos knows that many Greek musicians who gig regularly, Friday Saturday or perform in festivals, applied for funds for the first time, because their source of income dried up.
Jade says that there were up to 70 per cent new applicants for the resilience funds.
“I think one of the biggest and most important things that we do is stay in touching connected to all of the new applicants.
“At the moment we are reviewing the criteria for the next set of grants available in the coming financial year, that’s certainly been something I know the investment team were looking at closely as to how we formulate and find those particular opportunities to make sure that as many individual artists and organisations in the community are able to apply,” Ms Lillie said.
The Australia Council may need to refocus on cultural festivals, like Antipodes Greek Festival which has like many ethno-specific festivals, been ignored by the Council even though it employs hundreds of artists, designers, arts workers, producers and brings in an audience of over 200,000 per annum.
“Look it’s hard to say exactly what will be funded through grant rounds, particularly given a disappearances of so many events, we are heavily invested in the peer review process, and I think we will be embracing the current context and the different requirements across all art form areas and areas of expertise,” said the ever-diplomatic Jade Lillie.
Ms Lillie says that the Council is in a “consultation phase” and that it is ready to “discuss and engage with artists, organisations and communities about what needs to be done over the coming years to support and develop a strong vibrant ecology.”
She adds that the Council will be asking questions such as what kinds of “capacity building initiatives” are needed, and what “investment models” are needed.
“The Council is considering what the key priorities for a system may be moving forward, and if we want to think about the type of sector we want to support and create and be part of developing over the next decade.
“What are some of the significant partnerships in areas of interest for the sector moving forward? What does leadership look like in future? These are the type of questions we will be asking in the consultation phase,” she said.
Given the large number of Greek Australian artists, the work of Greek Communities, and the number of festivals like Festival Hellenika in South Australia, and Antipodes Greek in Victoria, which are platforms for Greek and non-Greek artists, it is essential that these organisations and individuals take part in the consultations.
“Absolutely!” says Jade Lillie and adds that the Council welcomes input from the Greek community.
“Our research show higher levels of engagement amongst culturally diverse respondents compared to the population as a whole, and in some cases substantially higher.”
This is an opportunity for Greek Australian cultural and arts leaders to take a strong position in recasting the gaze of the Australia Council.
A series of online town hall discussions will be hosted
• Public town hall 1: Wednesday 30 September
• Public town hall 2: Friday 2 October
Details on how to register for the town hall sessions will be published in the coming weeks.