Since its announcement yesterday, the news of the Australian government’s merging of the Department of Communications and the Arts into the newly created Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications have spread in no time, and gathered immediate outcry from a wide array of artists and cultural workers. The disappearance of the word Arts from the map is far from merely symbolic, and deeply unsettling.
I don’t know what the direct consequences of this sudden move will be in the short term, and my guess is that no one really does. Fears as extreme as the arts being utterly erased from federal support wouldn’t be completely unfounded, and much more moderate possible outcomes could still have a devastating effect on the arts in this country.
If we want to be yet more cynical, the Medevac repeal making news just the day before the announcement of these massive changes in the administration raises legitimate suspicions of their timing. After all, we’re getting used to seeing cruelty against asylum seekers used as a political strategy to divert attention.
For nearly five years I have been participating as a professional in Australia’s richly diverse arts communities from a position of marginality, due mainly to my initial ineligibility to apply for public funding based on my migration status, and an ongoing lack of solid institutional affiliation. It is from this perspective that I invite fellow Australian artists to join me in a position of cultural resistance, to organise, to keep making art that is critically meaningful, to uphold the intrinsic value of what we do in the society, to think new ways forward, to resist the stale corporatism that pervades the field, to reject being reduced to a mere ‘sector’ of the economy that plays by the market’s savage rules. This government’s recent move is a political attack on the arts, and artists can no longer afford to remain ‘apolitical’.
The same government has also announced other substantial cuts to institutions of key value to society, such as TAFE, and the peak body representing Indigenous survivors of domestic violence; all this on top of the aforementioned cruelty on asylum seekers, ongoing crass inaction on the Climate Crisis (there’s no arts in a dead planet!), and sustained hardship inflicted on society’s most vulnerable people. As artists, it would be extremely narrow-minded and selfish to resist this attack on our own interests without at least demonstrating solidarity with other affected sectors of society.