Archive | March, 2016

What are we worth?

22 Mar

Hi folks, Jack here.

Over the past few days there has been much discussion around whether unpaid mentorship models are appropriate in the context of content production for a major ACT event drawcard:

The Dark Side of Enlighten – Canberra Times

Enlighten artists unpaid but ecstatic about mentorship opportunity – The RiotACT

Government defends Enlighten’s unpaid mentoring program – Canberra Times

Alex Sloan chats with Chris Endrey and Adam Stankevicius on 666 afternoons – ABC

 

This has been a complex issue that has led to much discussion and debate, because it’s important. I’d like to try my best to articulate what I hope is a consensus position amongst the Childers Group.

I think the Childers Group’s role in this as impartial advocates – as much as we, a bunch of individuals, can be – is to consider whether there is legitimate room for improvement in how artists are engaged in the ACT. If there is, then let’s take this opportunity to drive some positive change, regardless of how we got here.

Firstly, I want to make it clear that it is the sincere belief of the Childers Group that all those involved in the discussion, heated though it may be at times, are acting in good faith with the best interests of the sector at heart.

It is absolutely vital that arts practitioners speak up for the value of the work that they do. We are important economic drivers for the territory and good art deserves to be paid art. It is a testament to the articulate, passionate and organised arts community that this issue has been brought so prominently into the public domain.

Likewise, artsACT have been consistent in communicating that the number of artists professionally engaged and amounts paid to them are key performance indicators for the health of the ACT arts sector, and a range of non-financial development opportunities such as mentorships are critical in advancing sustainable professional careers.

But while we have the measures, we are lacking a clear set of up-front principles to guide engagement with artists, particularly where there is a differential in the negotiating power between parties.

As a major employer of artists in the ACT, it is reasonable for the community to have expectations that the ACT government (and their contractors) has fair dealings with them.

These issues are not new and the question of whether unpaid internships, even willingly entered, are opportunities or exploitative exists outside the arts sector. While it would be inaccurate to describe the mentorships as voluntary work, the nation-leading team of downright legends at Volunteering ACT has produced an excellent guide for organisations with a simple checklist to determine whether a position or opportunity should be paid.

Questions in their guide include:

  • Is the role critical to the overall successful function of the organisation?
  • Is the role closely aligned to an industrial award?
  • Is it likely that an employment relationship could exist?
  • Is the role more than 16 hours per week?
  • Does the non-effective performance of the role have any negative implications on the work of paid staff?
  • Is this a position for which funding has been obtained, sought, or is available?
  • Has this role ever been filled by a paid worker?
  • Are similar roles filled by paid workers?
  • Is this role normally a paid position in other organisations?
  • Would a person reasonably expect remuneration for this work?

To this we could add:

  • Does the work of the artist produce or materially contribute to financial benefit to others?
  • Are these benefits for commercial or non-profit entities?
  • If the role were not to be filled in an unpaid capacity, would a paid artist be sought to ensure the role was not left unfilled?
  • Would the community expect the role to be paid?

We can say that the arts are different – if unpaid actors in a community production don’t show up the whole show falls over, for instance. But taken as a whole, if there are lots of “Yes” answers, I think a set of considerations like this could help to avoid situations in future where practice falls short of community expectation. I would love to see a resource like this available and used by the ACT Government, its contractors, and others considering engaging artists in the ACT.

In my sole opinion, part of the issue that we have seen this year is that Enlighten is a victim of its own success – it has grown very rapidly, and in the past couple of years been paired with an explosively popular commercial project in the form of the noodle markets. Given the shift in the economics of the event as a whole, it is reasonable to reconsider whether unpaid roles for projection artists, who are a primary attractor for the customers of these markets, remain appropriate. The question should at least be asked, there’s a problem if it’s not.

It’s worth saying also that it would be a real shame if artists in the ACT were denied opportunities to benefit from mentorships and national expertise in future contracts because it became all too difficult. We need to bring these skills in. Hopefully, this discussion will lead to the sector becoming more sustainable, not less.

What we would like to see is an active and continuing assessment of the nature of contracting artists to present at ACT events, and for the ACT Government as a major arts employer to find assurance that best practices are being followed.

Keep making good stuff, folks, and keep talking to each other. Galvanize.

Wrap up from pre-Budget arts forum

14 Mar

… in case you missed the Childers Group’s pre-Budget arts forum!

We’ve had some very positive feedback about our pre-Budget arts forum on Wednesday 24 February, with calls for a follow-up pre-election forum later in the year. As one participant put it: ‘It was a terrific night, one of the Childers Group’s best’.

With expert facilitation by ABC 666 presenter Genevieve Jacobs, we invited three key MLAs to give the packed audience their vision for the arts in an ACT Budget context, i.e. show us your Budget policies and let’s discuss them. Dr Chris Bourke (Labor), Shane Rattenbury (Greens) and Brendan Smyth (Liberal) all presented their ideas for a vibrant, culturally diverse and progressive city with genuine interest and passion.

Their ideas were stimulating and in some cases unexpectedly imaginative, although this wasn’t an audience that needed to be convinced of the value of the arts, a point not lost on the facilitator, who skillfully steered the conversation to more clarity.

The terrific panelists were artist Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, journalist Paul Daley, academic Helen Ennis, and musician and comedian Chris Endrey. They raised issues such as greater strategic support for Indigenous arts development, artists’ spaces, a ‘living wage’ for artists, better coordination with national cultural institutions, and, of course, increased funding for artsACT.

None of the MLAs committed to increasing the Arts fund, leaving some in the audience wondering about the true state of the ACT Budget. And questions remain, such as – how can the arts be grown, not only by increased funding but by changing legislation? How can we seek and develop commercial opportunities? How can we use existing resources better, and harness local expertise? How do we increase awareness of arts/cultural benefits across portfolios for the benefit of all (artists & community alike)? Several MLAs also mentioned music as ‘arts education’, although there are five arts subjects in the new Australian Curriculum: The Arts.

We’ll keep asking these and other questions in the coming months.

We hear this was the first political forum in this ACT election year, showing the arts sector can be an organised and powerful force. As an ideas and vision forum, a particularly important outcome was the networking, with more people connected and doors opened to MLAs’ offices (and ears!) – all ongoing aims of the Childers Group.

Finally, here are a few ideas we’ll be pursuing:

A lively city comes from a lively music scene, and a lively music scene comes from a range of accessible venues.

Support for more arts opportunities in ACT schools.

Canberra arts are a part of the region and the region is a part of Canberra arts.

Supporting the arts is not a luxury, it’s essential to a modern city like Canberra.

The main way the ACT Government supports the arts is through the ACT Arts Fund. The last time the Arts Fund received a significant boost was in 2005. It’s time for a top-up, don’t you think?

The arts are key to an innovative and adaptive society and economy – creative jobs are the future.

Canberra’s tourism and developing image as the ‘cool little Capital’ can only exist with strong policies and investment in the arts.

Thanks to all who supported this important forum: MLAs, guest panelists, Ainslie + Gorman Arts Centres, New Best Friend.

Read:
Childers Group forum details vision for ACT’s arts future and funds
Clare Colley, The Canberra Times, 25 February 2016

Stephen Cassidy’s blog: The indefinite article, 25 February 2016

How do you put a value on art, and the people creating it? Toni Hassan, The Canberra Times, 10 March 2016