Guest Blogger, Politics, Theatre

a letter to mitchell browne, ‘why should artists at work fund idlers at art?’

I’m so happy to bring you this letter. One of my favourite artistic collaborators, Dave Lamb, has written this beautiful, eloquent, generous and immensely clever response to Mitchell Browne’s Syndey Morning Herald article ‘WHY SHOULD ARTISTS AT WORK FUND IDLERS AT ART?’ Enjoy and, if you happen to know Mitchell, please pass this on. Dave wants to hang out. 


Hi Mitchell

My name is Dave, and I’m an artist. We’ve never met, although you assume an awful lot about my lifestyle.

Last week I read your opinion piece on the Sydney Morning Herald website, along with the comments it generated. I must admit, I originally felt a lot of the ire that was expressed there, but I realise it’s not fair or productive to respond with scorn or sarcasm – that would only serve to distance our positions further, and one of the chief goals of the arts is, in my opinion, to bring different perspectives of life closer together in an attempt to create mutual understanding.

I respond in that spirit, not to criticise or correct you but hopefully to further our understanding of each other. Most importantly, I don’t want you to feel that all I’m saying is “you don’t understand art” – that would be unfair, narrow-minded and probably quite offensive to you. My hope is that this response reaches you and that you read with an open mind, and possibly come to a different understanding of the potential and importance of the arts to our society.

Your central point – that $200 million funding for the Australia Council is in effect a robbery of hard-working taxpayers to fund the laziness of artists – seems to me to have 3 elements: firstly, that tax revenue would be better used if spent directly by the taxpayer; secondly, that artists take advantage of funding to be lazy and self indulgent; and finally, that funding the arts in general is a waste – that the people paying the taxes should be able to choose to pay or not, in whatever amount and for whatever work they deem worthwhile.

I agree that all government expenditure warrants scrutiny, and I understand that it’s easiest to complain about funding for the things that you don’t believe benefit you – I personally don’t believe that as much funding should go to the defence force, or to religious counselling in schools, or diesel fuel subsidies for mining corporations, but there are cases to be made for the programs and business models that receive that funding.

If we were able to choose where our tax revenue went, the very real possibility is that some things that were crucial to our society (roads and public transport, or maybe health and education, or perhaps defence) would receive far less funding than they need, because people don’t use them every day, or don’t recognise the flow-on benefits that such funded services provide. We live in a pluralistic society, which generally means that we accept the unique perspective and needs of every person that lives within our borders. Pluralism is about more than just race or religion or creed, it’s an understanding that even though I don’t particularly like or value the things that some other people do, our society and government operates to give as many people as possible the freedom and ability to live in the way they choose.

For some people, that includes the arts.

polyglot theatre

SOUND OF DRAWING, Polyglot Theatre, 2014, Sarah Walker

The purpose of government funding for the arts isn’t solely to pay an individual artist. Funding is often used to subsidise ticket prices for national arts events – exhibitions, festivals and companies – ensuring that access to art forms across a wide range of disciplines isn’t restricted just to those who can afford it. It means that participation in art, creatively or receptively, is possible for people from all backgrounds and sectors in our community, and sends a message that we encourage representations of lives other than our own – Pluralism. The existence of government funding for the arts is a statement that art is important to the development of a society beyond its current understanding of itself.

The $200 million funding is distributed to both individual artists and companies across myriad art forms for several purposes. In some cases, the funding is used to develop and present a piece or series of works in an artists’ discipline, in others it is used to fund further training in a particular field or form. In all cases, the recipient must have proved both a level of skill and capability in their practice that shows they are pursuing this art form as a career, as well as a plan detailing how they will use the funds to contribute something to the society that has paid for it.

Funding isn’t just handed out to whoever is standing in line with an idea – grants are given to artists who have already invested their own time and money in educating themselves and expanding both the skills of their craft and their knowledge of arts history and practice to understand where they fit and what they can contribute. For many artists, years have been spent working several different part-time jobs so that they can afford weekly classes and workshops. Crucially, the time spent on these unpaid creative endeavours is not the same as engaging in a hobby or playing for enjoyment. For a career artist, it is work.

The impression of the artist being idle is an old one, and if any artistic career looks easy than it’s a testament to the skill of the artist. The audience should only see the finished result. They shouldn’t see the pain, the uncertainty, the regret, the self-loathing, the incessant questioning and reassessment and screaming silently “What the hell am I doing this for?”

As an actor, particularly while performing in schools as an aid to English education (yes, that gets funded too, but out of the education budget rather than the Australia Council) one of the most common questions I am asked is “How do you remember all those lines?” The answer, invariably, is “Hard Work”, but the audience isn’t there for the hours of rehearsal and forgetting and paraphrasing, they only see the lines being remembered. Hopefully.

Often, we will pay for the hard work ourselves, either because we want to showcase our talents or because we believe so strongly in the work that we want to give it to an audience. But some works require financial backing beyond the capacity of a part-time cafe job. That’s where funding comes in.

Rehearsal photography, COMPLEXITY OF BELONGING, Chunky Move, MTC, Melbourne Festival and Falk Richter, 2014, Sarah Walker

Rehearsal photography, COMPLEXITY OF BELONGING, Chunky Move, MTC, Melbourne Festival and Falk Richter, 2014, Sarah Walker

The potential end result of funding individual arts projects is that individuals and companies receive both awareness among the audience and income from the presentation of the work, both of which afford them the opportunity to create more and different work supported by their own financial resources and a connected audience base that has the potential to grow by the expansion of access and awareness.

The intent, just as in any other instance of government funding, is that from an initial investment a company is able to grow to the point of self-sufficiency, generating employment for more artists, which in turn generates future tax revenue for the government that exceeds the initial investment – tax revenue on both the income from and audience and the wages paid to artists. The investment is intended to ultimately create ongoing return.

Funding for individual artists serves a similar purpose. The artist receives the grant to assist them in activities to further their skills and develop new networks. Think of it in the same way as a commonwealth supported trade apprenticeship – by providing support for an artist to undertake classes, workshops, creative development or exploration of form, the funding assists the artist in developing skills and networks that further their career prospects and employment potential, leading to more work that converts back into tax revenue for the government.

And now, some perspective on that $200 Million you’re worried about Mitchell. It equates to less than $9 for each Australian citizen. Of course, not all Australians pay taxes. Statistics from the 2009-10 financial year indicated that 55% of adult Australians paid tax – that’s around 7.15 million people. So the $200 million in funding for the arts is around $28 for each taxpayer.

For some people that’s still a lot of money, and I understand that it might seem like there’s no return for them, so what does their $28 get them? Reporting from the last 6 years shows funding being distributed to professional theatre companies around Australia, which subsidises ticket prices for the audience; to art galleries to facilitate free entry; to tours of performances and festivals to regional Australia, ensuring arts access is not restricted to major urban areas. It has facilitated new work from musicians – both classical and contemporary; from writers – both literature and performance; from actors, dancers, visual artists, jewellers, sculptors, circuses and more. All of this work was available to Australian audiences in return for that $28 of their tax revenue. And if they chose to engage, they would walk away with so much more.

Quantifying the effect the arts has on society is always a difficult prospect. Statistically, in a study performed by the Australia Council in 2010, 53% of Australians engage in the arts as an audience, and a further 40% also actively participate in creating art. That’s around 9.2 Million artists engaging in theatre, music, literature, visual art, dance, craft and more and 12 Million receiving that art.

In financial terms, ABS data from 2009-10 shows that the cultural and creative sectors provided a Gross Value Add of $86 Billion to the Australian economy, outstripping the contribution of both retail and education, and more than doubling the contribution of Agriculture, Forestry and Mining at $29 Billion. As a point of comparison, the mining industry alone received $492 Million in government subsidies in 2012-13, along with generous tax concessions.

But art is intended for more than financial gain – Phil Scott wrote (also in response to your piece, Mitchell) that “Art sees society through an individual and questioning perspective”. He echoes the opinion of Shakespeare, who thought the purpose of theatre “both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ‘twere a mirror up to nature.” I agree with them both, but frame it a little differently.

I think the power of great art is not that it tells us who we are, but that it allows us to recognise elements of ourselves – emotional states, or behaviours, or hopes and dreams and fears – in other people. If we are told that we are a certain thing, either good or bad, we can listen and agree (or not), but remain largely unaffected. But in seeing elements of ourselves within a fiction or a representation – either on stage, or within a piece of music, or in the form of a sculpture or twist of a brushstroke – we have a very real chance of understanding that aspect of ourselves by recognising it and describing it in our own terms.

This is, I believe, a far more powerful and instructive form of self-reflection – nobody has told you “You are this thing”, you haven’t needed to be defensive or react to them to protect your idea of yourself, but you’ve come to understand something about yourself by observing. And once we acknowledge that we can understand more about ourselves, we acknowledge that we have the ability to change if we choose. And once we acknowledge we have that choice, then we become very aware of the effects of the choices we make. And then we can extend our understanding towards others, observing their choices and the effects they have. And, potentially, we find it easier to accept things in others we have previously just reacted to.

The writer, Dave Lamb, in a promotional image for Pop Up Playground and the MSO's PAPER ORCHESTRA, Sarah Walker

The writer, Dave Lamb, in a promotional image for Pop Up Playground and the MSO’s PAPER ORCHESTRA, Sarah Walker

Do you see what I’m trying to say, Mitchell? Art gives us the opportunity to observe and understand both ourselves and others without threat or fear. Good art tells us something we didn’t already know, and great art helps us understand the things we already did. It shows us who we are, asks us if we accept ourselves in that way, and gives us the power to change if we choose. The very best art will tell us not just who we are, but who everyone is, and will allow us to accept and understand not just what makes us different but what makes us unalterably the same.

I hope you choose to engage with the art available to you as a result of government funding Mitchell. I hope you take a chance with your spare time and surprise yourself. If you’re ever in Melbourne and looking to fill an evening, I’d love to take you to a show that was funded by an Arts Council Grant and sit and talk about it afterwards. If you’re here during the Fringe or International Arts Festivals, I can make a week’s worth of recommendations – I’ll even pay for the tickets, it’s the least I can do.

Art offers us opinions and perspectives other than our own. Art offers us choices. But the first choice has to be ours. I hope you make that choice Mitchell, I hope you discover the other worlds that are there for you, and I hope it inspires you and your talented tradie mates to share your stories with the rest of us – I bet you could teach us a thing or two, and I hope I get to learn them.

Yours faithfully and artistically,

Dave Lamb

Dave is a Melbourne-based actor who is currently appearing in The City They Burned. He tweets at @davenlamb and, if you want to see him doing something utterly ridiculous… He calls this evidence that you shouldn’t take him too seriously. My deepest thanks to Dave for this wonderful letter. 

More of Sarah Walker’s amazing photography can be found here



58 thoughts on “a letter to mitchell browne, ‘why should artists at work fund idlers at art?’

  1. Very thought provoking….. maybe we should ban people who decry such funding from observing any form of art that in some measure received Govt. funding…….. even in newspaper or TV.

  2. I think you explained it brilliantly, when you said “The very best art will tell us not just who we are, but who everyone is, and will allow us to accept and understand not just what makes us different but what makes us unalterably the same.”

    The arts as a whole are crucially important in bringing people together across languages, cultures, socioeconomic divides and in so many more ways. I believe that one of the biggest problems with the world today is the us versus them mentality. One amazing function of the arts is to reach people who do not speak the same languages and teach them to understand, each other, the world, a situation, a problem, etc.

    Actors may not have as global a reach as music or a work of physical art, due to some language barriers, but there are so many other barriers that acting can be bridged, gender, age, education, race, religion, various cultures within the same languages spectrum, and more. Even as films are being translated into more languages than ever, the reach of good acting spans the globe to show us that human emotions, joys, and difficulties are truly universal.

  3. Yadda Yadda ……so some guys go out onto the street and point a gun at passers by to ‘secure’ funding for their arts project which consists of making some beats and rapping some social commentary over the top. This is called theft and terrorism. It doesn’t matter how much that rap music benefits the local community or wider society – we all still recognise it is theft and terrorism.

    Getting a third party (such as a mafia, some hired thugs or a government) to point the gun on their behalf does not make it any less an act of theft or terrorism.

    Any artist who receives government subsidy needs to ask themselves this simple moral question:

    “If the government placed the gun in MY hands and said “YOU GO OUT AND SECURE YOUR OWN FUNDING” would I really be prepared to threaten people with violence to make them fund my art installation/ play/ sculpture/ painting?”

    If art really is that beneficial (insert long winded justification about the arts benefitting society etc etc) then YOU SHOULDN’T NEED TO RESORT TO VIOLENCE AND THEFT TO FUND IT.

    Using a gun to fund ANYTHING is an admission that that thing is NOT valuable enough to secure voluntarily, you know by just ASKING NICELY.

    • I’m curious at your assertion that government tax revenue is taken forcefully, in a manner resembling terrorism. Is it not payments made by people living within a society, contributing to the development of that society with money to be dispersed by elected representatives in a manner they judge to be fit?

      If we’re debating the manner in which tax is collected, and the reasons for it, I’m afraid arts funding is the least of our concerns.

      • > I’m curious at your assertion that government tax revenue is taken forcefully, in a manner resembling terrorism.

        The assertion is easily proven. Just stop paying taxes and keep refusing to pay through all of the threats you will receive. Eventually armed thugs dressed in matching blue costumes will try to confiscate your property and/ or drag you away by force. At this stage if you continue to refuse to surrender to the threats (or if you try to escape the cage) you will be shot.

        ‘Terrorism’ is defined in my dictionary as: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

        ‘Voting’, ‘democracy’, ‘taxation’, ‘socialism’ and other manifestations of statism are all ways of pursuing political aims which fundamentally rely on the use of violence and intimidation (and theft).

        Ah, but government violence, intimidation and theft has the consent of the people! Well, only the people who support it…. just as other forms of terrorism also have the support of the people who support it. Government (and its supporters) justify their use of coercion and violence by the idea of ‘the greater good’ just as terrorists (and their supporters) justify their use of coercion and violence by the idea of ‘the greater good’.

        Since when did ‘the greater good’ (which is a very subjective thing!) every justify coercion, violence of theft?

        The first rule of economics is that there are infinite desires and finite resources. There simply is not enough money in circulation to pay for all the hospitals, wars, arts installations, roads, sculptures, government departments, welfare, Christmas lights, grants, wind farms, soup kitchens, schools, military industrial complexes and expense accounts.

        Pointing guns at people and demanding they hand over a proportion of their earnings to fund stuff that YOU want is a very effective way of getting your favourite things funded. Of course. That is why it is so popular.

        If you can convince the public that you have the MORAL RIGHT to behave that way then so much the better!

        > Is it not payments made by people living within a society, contributing to the development of that society with money to be dispersed by elected representatives in a manner they judge to be fit?

        Yes it is that. So is being forced at gunpoint to fund ‘Tony’s Shoe Emporium’ retail chain. So is being forced at gunpoint to hand over one of your kidneys to someone with kidney failure. So is being forced at gunpoint to have sex with lonely young men who can’t get a girlfriend. So is being forced at gunpoint to give away all of your food to the homeless. All of these things are of great benefit to the people who benefit from them… obviously!

        Deep down I think you know that using coercion and violence is immoral, which is why you called it ‘payments’ instead of ‘violent confiscation of property’ or just ‘theft’. ‘Payments’ implies a voluntary transaction. Yeah, those street muggers I encountered the other say offered to spare me from a knife in the throat in return for an in the spot ‘payment’. It’s OK because they are going to use my money to buy spray paint for a mural they are going to make underneath the flyover….

        > If we’re debating the manner in which tax is collected, and the reasons for it, I’m afraid arts funding is the least of our concerns.

        The is no debate about how taxes are collected. Ring up your government and ask them if they will point guns at you if you don’t hand over your money. They will say “Yes that is what will happen”. Ask them for the contract which outlines their obligations as service providers and your rights as a consumer of those services and they will say “Sorry we don’t use contracts, we use guns, clubs, tasers and cages instead of contracts”

        I disagree that arts funding is the least of our concerns. For a start arts and other ‘worthy’ causes seem to have confused you into openly supporting coercion and violence and theft even though I bet you would say you do not support that kind of behaviour if someone asked you on the street. That is called ‘cognitive dissonance’.

        Let’s say you are an artist receiving some kind of government funding. One day the government says “sorry we’ve run out of other people’s money – you’re on your own”.

        1. Are you willing to resort to coercion and violence to secure more funding?

        2. Are you willing to point a gun and ME or my family or friends and demand we help to subsidise your arts project?

        3. Are you willing to elect a third party to threaten me on your behalf as your ‘elected representative’?

        4. Or would you forgo the violent and coercive route and choose to seek funds in a peaceful and civilised manner by promoting the value of your work and asking for donations/ sponsorship/ loans/ investment from anybody who is interested?

        It really is that simple. And I suspect we actually agree on what is moral / immoral and what is socially acceptable/ unacceptable. But like all moral issues there is a mountain of propaganda and euphemisms designed to cloud the moral issue or even flip it on its head so that moral behaviour appears to be immoral and immoral behaviour appears to be moral.

        As a side note ….. the increase in government funding and general control of the arts (which very much includes government control over the education system) inevitably leads to the gradual removal from the arts of all concepts of moral judgment, along with all concepts of aesthetic judgement (the two being intimately linked).

        These days both morally and aesthetically ‘anything goes’. (Aesthetic relativism encourages moral relativism and vice versa). Cue never ending wars and a dumbed down culture that is so oblivious it doesn’t even care ….. or know that it is even possible to judge what is going on around them.

      • Except that tax revenue isn’t collected by violence and intimidation, and it isn’t collected to further political aims – it’s paid in accordance with laws of a society that are agreed upon by the populace, by way of elected representatives, to further the common good. If you choose not to pay taxes, the penalty is you are deprived of access to the things taxation funds.

        I don’t agree that this system is terrorism or theft when they are supported by the majority of a society, and the support for the system engenders trust, peace and community strength. Taxes, while a source of anxiety for some, do not cause societies en masse to live in fear.

        I think the difference between taxation for common good and some of the examples you have given – forcible donation of a kidney and rape at gunpoint particularly – is this: your examples give a personal benefit to a single person at the expense of the extreme deprivation of another individual’s personal freedom, whereas public works and programs funded by taxation benefit a large proportion of the population by depriving each individual of a proportion of their income that is equitable compared to the rest of the population.

      • > Except that tax revenue isn’t collected by violence and intimidation, and it isn’t collected to further political aims – it’s paid in accordance with laws of a society that are agreed upon by the populace, by way of elected representatives, to further the common good

        Look, even the government will tell you that you are totally mistaken. Taxation is enFORCED by laws and all laws are enFORCED using violence and intimidation. That is what ‘law’ means. A law is just an opinion backed by the willingness to use force. Without that force (guns, cages, clubs, men in matching blue costumes etc) a law is merely an opinion, or an idea, or a wish or a suggestion.

        A law is not automatically moral (or immoral). Therefore all laws must be judged according to moral principles before we can know if supporting a law is a moral or immoral thing to do.

        There is no such thing as ‘the populace’ just as there is no such thing as ‘a forest’. There are only people and trees. A populace cannot agree to things anymore than a forest can fall over. Only individual people can agree (or disagree) just as only individual trees can fall over or remain standing.

        If I do not support a particular political policy or law then am I not part of the populace? If so how can the populace be in agreement if I (as part of the populace) disagree?

        ‘Common good’ is also a meaningless (totally subjective) phrase as I explained already. The whole point of elections is that there is no such thing as the common good. If there was then the ‘populace’ would all vote for the exact same policies and the exact same political party.

        By definition anybody who does not vote has NOT consented to have any guns pointed at them and half their earnings confiscated by force. And anybody who does vote has petitioned a third party (government) to point guns at those people and take their property by force – under threat of extreme violence and even death.

        If the government represents the will of the voters, then when the government points guns at me and steals my property (my earnings) then it is acting on behalf of those voters. So those voters are the ones pointing guns at me, using government as a third party agency (basically hired thugs).

        If the government is NOT acting on behalf of the voters then it is just a violent mob acting of its own accord.

        Either way ‘someone’ is pointing guns at me and stealing my property under threat of violence. This is totally immoral behaviour, by any moral standards. Even a child understands this. I’m sure you do too.

        > I don’t agree that this system is terrorism or theft when they are supported by the majority of a society

        You’re just saying that if terrorist group has a big enough mob of supporters their coercive and violent acts cease to be terrorism. I don’t believe you really think that.

        > and the support for the system engenders trust, peace and community strength.

        The system is based on coercion and violence. Using flowery language does not change this fact. It just makes you sound like Hitler (or Blair or any other politician). You are simply saying LA LA LA LA LA after I’ve pointed out how statism is immoral because it violates the most fundamental moral principles that we teach to three year olds….. “don’t hit” and “don’t steal”.

        > Taxes, while a source of anxiety for some, do not cause societies en masse to live in fear.

        That is not an argument. Taxes are enforced under threat of violence. People fear that violence. People pay their taxes to avoid that violence.

        Without taxes there could literally be no wars. Wars cause societies to live in fear and endure generational trauma. Taxes reduce the standard of living for everybody and money worries are a source of anxiety for most people – even today, despite massive advances in technology and productivity.

        We are a hundreds, if not thousands of times more productive today than we were a couple of centuries ago… yet most people still struggle to keep a roof over their head and put food on the table. Why? The answer is TAXES which always increase to match any increases in productivity and wealth. It has been calculated that if the US government had remained the same size it was after WW2 then the average blue collar American would no be earning the equivalent of at least $200,000 a year.

        Also the massive poverty that results from taxes and a heavily socialised society (welfare, government schooling etc) leads to massive social dysfunction, violence and crime… which are all things which cause anxiety and fear.

        So yes taxes do generate massive amounts of anxiety and fear.

        > I think the difference between taxation for common good….

        There is no such thing as the common good. The fundamental reality of human societies is that we all have differing needs and wants. This is precisely why having Group A use coercion and violence against Group B to further their objectives is such an immoral and destructive way to behave.

        Please can you make your views crystal clear on this subject by just answering my simple question, instead of evading it. Because I don’t believe you really do support the use of violence and intimidation even if you think you do. Answering the following questions will let us both know what your true views really are…

        Let’s say you are an artist receiving some kind of government funding. One day the government says “sorry we’ve run out of other people’s money – you’re on your own”.

        1. Are you willing to resort to coercion and violence to secure more funding?

        2. Are you willing to point a gun and ME or my family or friends and demand we help to subsidise your arts project?

        3. Are you willing to elect a third party to threaten me on your behalf as your ‘elected representative’?

        4. Or would you forgo the violent and coercive route and choose to seek funds in a peaceful and civilised manner by promoting the value of your work and asking for donations/ sponsorship/ loans/ investment from anybody who is interested?

      • I can’t give you an answer to that question, because I fundamentally disagree with the premise on which it is based. I do not agree that taxation is violent coercion, and in Australia I have never yet heard of taxes being collected by holding a gun to somebody’s head – has this happened to you?

        I could say to you that reasons for the existence of poverty when productivity and overall wealth have increased might include inflation, a populace that has grown at a higher rate than wealth, corporate greed or financial mismanagement, among a wealth of others. I’m certain you would disagree.

        I also disagree with your assertion that people who do not vote do not give consent for the operation of government – if you have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process and choose not to, you forego your voice in legislative debate. I think it a great shame that you would make that choice, but it’s yours to make, and I find it strange that with such forthright ideas about politics you would choose to abstain.

        Finally, I will say that this article was written as a response to an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald that questioned the justification of arts funding specifically – that is the query I was addressing. It wasn’t written in support of taxation as a general rule, as a dissertation on the systems by which it is collected, or an investigation of the moral implications involved within.

  4. Here in America we are entering the Ice Age. Funds have been taken away from the arts. Opera is defunct. Concerts are rare to come by. In the shades are the playings of the greats of the past. Instead we have noise and it is disguised as music. No great songs just repetitious crap. Who let the dogs out? The ASPCA. Are music genius is Miley Cyrus and Justin Beaver. Music is for the dogs.
    Art is not appreciated and museums are empty. America is the land of the brain dead. We are now a nation of Zombies. We go to work, eat, reproduce and crap. We appreciate little. It is a sad state of affairs.

  5. Government funding for art should exactly match government funding for war. War money sponsors destruction. There should be an equal amount to sponsor creativity. Otherwise, things get rather out of balance.

  6. I believe some art can be therapeutic. My sister died, and I took art seriously for a whole summer. It took her 14 years to go down with cancer. She gave up.
    My sister and I stayed together at her home to grieve. I painted and painted that summer. I believe the experience with the art kept me from staying in the darkness and gloom of my sister’s death. She was gone, but I must stay in the light. I found comfort at home when I returned. I continued to produce art with acrylic, or water-color. My sister’s perfection was not there to chide me. I painted as freely as I wanted.
    I have had few lessons, but I do think that art is valuable to the artist. It is work to paint water, rocks , and trees. It is work and boldness to push yourself to paint a flower, and include the details. Have you studied a flower lately? Have you looked at a rock from an artist eye? I say funding or not, those who paint have something more they want to say.

  7. What an amazing insight!I recently had the chance to witness an art therapy session at an orphanage by my best friend, and was surprised with the energy of the kids. The experience of therapeutic benefits of art is truly one of a kind. Also making it a point to visit the arts festival happening here till the next week without fail, thanks for sharing this!

  8. Arts are what make us different from other species. They are the pinnacle of human civilization. God bestowed the knowledge of arts to mankind in various forms so that life won’t be boring for them.

  9. Sometimes art forms and music can stimulate peoples thoughts feelings and emotions In ways that they never thought was possible and they end doing creative things or doing things that they thought that they could not do before, like myself I play piano and guitar and speak read and write Thai language and for most part self taught but the inspiration came from hearing two friends who both played guitar and loved music and this happened when I was 17 coming on 18 years of age which was when I started to play guitar and then at age 21 piano as well and then at age 23 I had made my first trip to Thailand and then at about 25 years old I started to teach myself Thai language and now at 55 years old and I’m living in Thailand, I was born in Erith in south London in 1959 all I want to say is it just shows you how art and music can stimulate you into doing things that you never dreamed of or thought was possible so yes we should never stop investing in art forms and music it’s the safety valve for the human spirit and is what keeps us all sane as we cascade across the universe on this massive spacecraft that we like to call earth so have a nice trip folks.

  10. Reblogged this on Jump Start Art and commented:
    Scored one for the good guys. I didn’t read every word, but I believe this article was well researched and I agree that art pulls its weight. I find art very therapeutic and inspiring. With the rising costs of healthcare and mental illness, it may be a better investment than we project. And it is a better world to live in when more people are achieving self actualization. Art inspires awe, a wonderful feeling and one that is well worth the money.

  11. Differing viewpoint here: although I agree wholeheartedly about the importance of the arts to society and the individuals who comprise it, in my opinion this letter fails to address the primary concerns of the original article.

    My main take-away from Mitchell Browne’s piece is that funding for the arts creates a false divide between “artists” and “everybody else”. He points out — correctly — that many, many people with ordinary day jobs are profoundly creative and artistic, but are unable to pursue those passions/interests/talents because the bulk of their time and energy goes to keeping food on the table. Then, compounding that frustration, a portion of their wages are confiscated to help support others who are fortunate enough to make their living doing what they love. Here in the US, at least, taxes have become an egregious burden: many individuals are now working second jobs just to pay the bills; how much time do you suppose that leaves them for their own artistic pursuits?

    I’m not saying I completely agree with Mr. Browne’s position, but I do believe he raises a valid point that taxpayer subsidies contribute to an elitist mentality about the arts. For a select group to set themselves apart as “artists”, and suggest that everyone else should limit their participation to the role of audience members, is highly offensive to the millions of gifted musicians, sculptors, playwrights, dancers, etc. whose circumstances require them to spend 50+ hours a week laying cement or staffing the local daycare centers.

    • Hi Marie,
      Interesting point you raise but what I get from your comment is a misconception about what arts funding entails.

      Here in Australia there are a tiny handful of grants (very, very hard fought for and incredibly well deserved by those who get them) that will fund an individual in their work. When I say ‘handful’, I know of one person who has received such a grant. She was one of three artists across all artistic disciplines to receive such a grant. It is given out every couple of years. The vast majority of funding goes to individual projects that, as Dave’s letter points out, must establish why they need funding to happen at all and how they will contribute to the artistic landscape and the Australian community.

      For example, I just got back from working on a funded project. I was working in regional Queensland, teaching more than 80 fifteen-year-olds how to write plays. With these students as my collaborators, I wrote four plays in eight weeks which the students then performed for their community. Among the kids were students who had incredibly low literacy levels and whose teachers told me they “didn’t even know he could write”, students with behavioural issues including verbal aggression towards teachers and students who were completely disengaged from school. We created an opportunity for them to express themselves creatively and tell their own stories. They guided the process and had never done anything like this in their lives. They were so proud of themselves and the skills they gained through this process mean that they can go on to pursue arts as either a career or a passion outside of their regular work if they choose. I would love to post some of their responses to the project so you can see what arts funding supports but most of them are incredibly personal.

      Being part of a project like this doesn’t mean that I’m not working other jobs. Like almost every other artist I know, I am living below the poverty line and work other jobs. Last year I worked for one of the most established and respected theatre companies in Australia, Bell Shakespeare. I worked with them for the one play for which I was hired and then I cleaned a bakery for $15 an hour cash in hand. That is very, very low by Australian standards (below the minimum wage for teenagers) and is about what I was getting paid thirteen years ago as a fifteen-year-old working in Pizza Hut and living in my parents’ house but I am an established artist and arts commenter with a Masters degree and rent to pay.

      Last year a play of mine (completely unfunded) toured to five cities including an international arts festival. I received $600 for this and was not surprised.

      I don’t think what I am writing will persuade you because it is very similar to what Dave has already written but I just want you to know that the perception of a community of artists comfortably living year in, year out on tax-payer money is very far from the truth. It is individual projects. It is horrible length gaps between commissions – too short for other employers to hire you and too long to live off what little savings you managed to acquire on the last show. It is working during the day and performing at night or (as I am doing right now), being paid to stage manage other people’s (unfunded) work at night and writing my own during the day. It is immensely hard and that balance of paid work and passion does not go away once you make it your main career and focus.

      And we love it. Of course we do. And we feel incredibly fortunate as we write plays with 80 teenagers or have people tearfully clutch our hands at the end of a performance to tell us how they changed something they thought unchangeable in their hearts. We know we are fortunate in this respect. But to call us financially privileged says to me that there is a misconception of what arts funding looks like and what incredibly hard work it is to secure it.

      Thanks for reading and best of luck with your own art,

    • I would also add to what Fleur said that, rather than confirming the apparent separation of ‘artists’ and ‘everyone else’, I hoped that a takeaway from my letter would be that arts funding encourages participation in the arts – both creatively and receptively – for many people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.

      With funding, it is possible for many projects to be created by artists who otherwise wouldn’t be able to justify spending the time and energy on them for the same reasons you quote here – paying rent and bills, providing food for a family. I don’t believe this makes them elitist, or limits anyone else’s participation to only watching – rather it encourages participation from more members of the community who would otherwise be unable to afford a creative pursuit.

      I did write this with the Australian arts industry and funding models in mind, and I know internationally there are different situations with tax rates, wealth distribution and access to the arts.

      But broadly, my thought is that if we were to remove arts funding altogether, we would lose more than we gain. In Australia, each taxpayer would get their $28 back, but we would be deprived of countless works of art providing a different perspective to our lives and communities – these pieces wouldn’t just be restricted to those who could afford them, they literally wouldn’t exist.

      I agree that it’s a shame that everybody can’t pursue their artistic dreams, and it may seem unfair, but I also know trained teachers who can’t find jobs in education and medical students who won’t be employed as doctors. I don’t mean that to sound cruel, but it is a reality that there is competition for every job.

      The artists I know who have been granted funding to create work and further their skills have unanimously worked damn hard to be worthy of the grants, working casual jobs to fund their study and career progression, often sacrificing personal luxuries and other life aspirations that others take for granted, and all they want to do is share their art with other people. Funding allows this.

      I truly hope you don’t find this offensive Marie, that is never my intent. I want to continue questioning my own ability, privilege and responsibility in the arts industry, and I believe a large part of that is open communication with my audience, especially those who have a different view.

      Thank you so much for reading and responding.

    • Hello, thank you so much to both of you for your thoughtful replies; I appreciate that you’ve provided some perspectives I didn’t have before. Dave, I agree that $28 a year is a laughably small amount, and I suspect if Mr. Mitchell was aware of that figure, his letter may never have been written in the first place.

      Given that we don’t live in the proverbial perfect world, perhaps taxpayer subsidies really are the best possible route to arts funding; I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. The scenarios you both describe are very different from my layperson’s assumptions about how the whole thing works, and I sincerely appreciate your willingness to consider my comments with good grace.

      Best to both of you.

  12. Thankyou so very much to all of those who have read and responded, particularly those of you who have shared your arts stories. It’s truly heartening to feel like my words and thoughts have connected with people, and overwhelming to hear that it has helped people reveal more of their artistic journey. Please keep sharing your art and your passion, however you are able.

  13. Great piece. Where I live we have access to Govt funding but the conditions attached rightly ensure access, participation and development… just like the funding for local sport, which no one ever complains about.

  14. Reblogged this on Sustain-Able 余 : ♥ and commented:
    Oh. I think some musicians just need to get real! Lol. My friend did the music review for Sydney Morning Herald…and you would be amazed by what people are willing to do to get written up…oh well….then again, as a professional artist….I have seen some very desperate art fakery disguised as Press releases recently! Well…..times are tough… Fakers are out….normally artists just don’t respond to this. You are giving cultural philistines of that kind too much attention! But it is a very eloquent letter….though wasted on a musician’s pointless PR stunt!

      • Because this type of style of headlines is an often repeated way for certain types of political agendas to come out in the news…..done in a good way…with musicians it gives the world LiveAid….done with right wing regressive agendas it results in arguments exactly like this style! That and having written as freelance for a 1.3 million daily newspaper….

      • Sorry, I meant are you thinking that the original letter from Mitchell is a publicity stunt? We did talk about it, mostly hopefully because we wanted to believe that it wasn’t a true opinion. But we also googled him and there is certainly a brickie with his name working where he says he is. We liked the idea of it being one big piece of performance art.

      • ….performance art …will require that he went beyond mere “opinionated” into….well….something that requires….thoughts, informed decisions and soul searching! Lol….it would require actual journalism! #real 😉

    • Ha! Don’t encourage him. I wanted to block him after he compared taxation to rape at gun point but Dave, ever the encourager of debate and the believer that rational thinking can sway someone, had me let him keep going.

      • I hear you. While I think his comparison is a stretch…and frankly fear-mongering; I think his underlying point of the public having very little input on the usage of our tax money is valid. Not in this context however, I work “in the arts” and I have lobbied on behalf of greater NEA funding here in the US. I’m a proponent of the voice….even when I don’t agree with everything being said!

      • I think exactly him using that kind of deliberately offensive shock tactics bringing in as many “catch phrase” bingo ( e.g rape at gun point?) ….shows that the initial opinion is a PR media hype to sell papers… happens! Media often collude with individuals to create trashy arts hoax to sensationalise a topic! They can’t lose because if it goes bad they just go,”oh we tried to check a secondary source but nothing came up!” And then they get to sell more copies tearing down the arts hoax they encouraged/engineered….its very trashy but it happens….

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  17. trevorcole says:

    Reblogged this on tee cee and commented:
    I love this piece by Dave Lamb. It’s written for Australians, but entirely relevant to the Canadian context. The argument for Government support of the arts has never been said better. We Canadian artists should pay heed to these words, and spread them liberally.

  18. After reading, I felt the need to write a comment of praise for this letter:
    I am not Australian but I am an artist and I am thankful I read this letter in defense of art funding and art itself. You have just made the flicker of creativity I have in me become flames like that of a wildfire. I am inspired thanks to you Mr. Dave Lamd.

  19. Dave,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to my article.

    My “understanding of the potential and importance of the arts to our society” is little different from yours. I am a dedicated supporter of local artists. I personally spend a large percentage of my income supporting Australian artists through purchasing artworks, attending performances, and commissioning new works. Where you and I disagree is on forced taxpayer funding of the arts.

    I find it disturbing that so many artists believe an attack on taxpayer arts funding must be an attack on art itself. This response is symptomatic of the damage government interference causes in the arts community.

    The most important professional relationship an artist can have is with an audience willing to pay for their art. Government is not a facilitator in this relationship. It is an inhibitor. The best way for an artist to find a sustainably profitable outlet for their talents is not by forcing taxpayers to fund projects against their will. An artist producing art no one wants should be no more financially viable than a shop selling goods no one will buy.

    It is insufferably arrogant to tell taxpayers they should not get upset when their money is confiscated to fund art because it is only a small amount and artists can make better use of the money. Of course, arts funding is not the only forced redistribution of taxpayers money with dubious justification, but I can only write one article at a time.

    More offensive than your assumption that I must need an explanation of the term ‘pluralistic society’, is your implication that pluralism is somehow synonymous with taxpayer arts funding. If the two are related at all it is only to the extent that any official government provision or endorsement of art is a potential threat to freedom of expression. The very concept of state-sanctioned art is in fact incompatible with pluralism.

    I can assure you your hopes for my engagement with art are unnecessary, as well as patronising. Engagement with art is an inherently human trait, not the result of tax office wizardry.

    Although I profoundly disagree with your argument, it was great to read an artists passionate defence of his craft.


  20. Pingback: on arts funding, ‘idlers in art’, anger, survival and free tickets for media | School For Birds

  21. Pingback: Reading Material, Vol. II | Cheri Lucas Rowlands

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