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Dear Minister… It’s Time to Act

Theatre Network (Vic) has written to Victorian Creative Industries Minister, Martin Foley, on behalf of the Board, staff and members, to congratulate him on his first 100 days in office, to give him a snapshot of the diversity and vitality of the performing arts sector in Victoria, and to call for actions to address challenges that the sector is facing in Victoria.

Firstly, our letter noted the Minister’s first 100 days of broad consultation – he fulfilled his goal to get out and about, and meet with as many artists and arts companies as possible. We noted that the industry was appreciative of the opportunity to hear his plans and to tell him about our visions and concerns. In particular, the industry is interested in his ‘cultural solutions to civic problems’ idea.

Our letter outlined TNV’s role as the service organisation representing professional theatre – the companies and the individual artists making and presenting great work, here in Victoria and also across Australia. We noted that while we work with the whole ecology, from major companies to individual artists, we focus on the small to medium companies and the independent artists and producers, where we know there is currently a greater need for support.

We prepared a précis of the state of the small to medium performing arts sector in Victoria, showing its centrality to a strong Victorian arts industry, and celebrating the sector’s creation of deeply innovative, richly diverse work that is headlining major festivals and is touring internationally. We also noted this sector’s continued vulnerability. We reflected that not much had changed since the Deloitte report commissioned by Arts Victoria in 2007, which showed that while the small to medium sector was the source of much of the new and innovative work in Victoria, it was suffering from a lack of strategic support, which would adversely affect the entire arts ecology, result in a downturn in audiences and ultimately adversely affect Victoria’s reputation as the State of the Arts.

We identified the results of TNV’s own biennial Salary Survey (2013) as an example of the poor conditions in the arts, which show that CEO salaries in the arts are still significantly lower than those of their counterparts in other Not For Profit areas. In 2013, the average salary for a General Manager/Executive Producer in the small to medium sector was $71,950 and for Artistic Directors $70,418. The average CEO salary for the NFP Sector as a whole was $102,475, according to Pro Bono Australia (2013). We also conveyed feedback from our members that the income of independent artists is even lower, and the outlook for them is bleak in the current fiscally tight climate.

On behalf of TNV’s membership and the wider performing arts sector, we outlined four calls for action as follows:

– A comprehensive, whole of government Cultural Policy for Victoria.

This call is in line with the Victorian Government’s plan to develop a comprehensive Cultural Policy for Victoria. We support this intention and we only urge that the government consults deeply with artists, companies and communities and ensures that diversity is a key driver of the Policy, not an add-on. We also urge that artists and their needs are put at the centre of the Policy.

– A review of, and increased investment in the Organisations Investment Program and Vic Arts Grants programs at Creative Victoria.

The second call is to review the funding programs at Creative Victoria: the Organisations Investment Program (OIP) and the Vic Arts Grants. In particular, we implore Creative Victoria to urgently remove the criterion that a grant must be complete and acquitted before another grant is applied for – this is stifling many extraordinary artists’ careers and would be easily revoked.

As a part of this call for action, TNV prepared an analysis of the current OIP program. This shows that to maintain some ‘renewal’ of organisations (a key reason OIP was established) and to defund only 10 organisations, there needs to be an increase of around $3million per year for the next triennium (2017-2019). To defund no organisations, there would need to be a $5million increase per year.

The third and fourth calls for action are more modest but nevertheless important.

– A Small to Medium Capacity Building Fund.

The small to medium arts sector would be strengthened through a formal Capacity Building Fund, replacing Expert Arts (which is a much needed initiative, but not really government’s core role), and allowing artists, companies and service organisations to develop their own professional development plans and seek dedicated funding to resource them, whether it is an international residency, a course offered by an external provider, or a program run by a service organisation. A flexible and well-resourced capacity building fund, that sits as a costed strategy under a new Victorian Cultural Policy, would enable artists, producing organisations and service organisations to plan for and access the skill development, tools and programs that we need to be ready to develop and implement ‘cultural solutions for civic problems’.

– Access to our checklist data.

Finally, we are asking if Creative Victoria can use their excellent research capacity to develop sub-sector specific data sets to send back to the sector, after we have submitted our statistics through the Victorian Checklist. The aggregation would need to be with similar sized and similar type organisations – the current aggregate data provided (Arts Funding Data) on the Creative Victoria website is too high level for useful comparison. This would help us advocate for ourselves, seek other sources of income, and ultimately become more sustainable.

To close the letter, we noted that TNV is looking forward to working with the Minister and the leadership at Creative Victoria in the next few months as the plans and policy consultation/development process rolls out.

Deborah Stone for Arts Hub wrote about our letter: ‘Theatre Network Victoria has used the 100-day anniversary of the Victorian Government to put a polite bomb under the Minister.’

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