Theatre is a lifelong passion for many of us. It can start when we’re moved by something we see on a stage or when we hear a haunting harmony. Our mind freezes in a moment of complete awe and we’re hooked to the talent, the stories and the thrill of it all.
The next logical step for many young people is to turn to accessible productions. These come through schools, community theatre and youth theatre.
Not any more.
In a continuation of cuts to the Arts, this time highlighted in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), the government took aim at youth arts companies. It comes as we’re taking hit after hit across the creative industries, to the cumulative figure of $170 million since the Coalition took office in 2013.
Mission Australia’s 2015 youth survey revealed over half of the sample of Australia’s young people think there are “barriers which will prevent them reaching their goals when they leave school”. These barriers include financial difficulty, lack of jobs and where they live.
The newest barrier for creative young people interested in theatre is federal government cuts to youth theatre, creating a fear that without urgent action, these companies may cease to exist.
#SaveYouthArts and #FreeTheArts tweets are simply heartbreaking. Last Tuesday’s Bron Batten tweeted the Minister for the Arts: “I started out in youth theatre & 20 years later I’m still working as an artist. These cuts will be devastating”.
Theatre Network Victoria tweeted: “Youth Arts decimated. 10 of 13 youth performing arts companies have lost their funding”.
Most poignantly, Platform Youth Theatre tweeted: “there is ultimately no future without youth”.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Elissa Blake points out that Shopfront faces an uncertain future, even with their alumni including well-known artists like: “Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Andrew Upton, playwright Hilary Bell and performers Paul Capsis and Trevor Ashley”.
In a joint email from a collection of youth arts companies, their key message was: “this is a devastating blow that has left many companies struggling to work out how to keep their doors open”.
“In 2007 there were 21 federally funded youth arts companies across Australia, by 2014 there were 14,” they said.
“In 2016 there will be four.”
The Australian Theatre for Young People’s (ATYP) artistic director Fraser Corfield is concerned for the future of what he considers “the most important training ground for our continued success on the international stage”.
“Unless something is done urgently by the Federal Government we are facing the end of a national youth arts sector in Australia,” he said.
“While the biggest companies might survive, it’s the loss of the many passionate small youth theatre companies nationally that will be devastating for communities and professional artists alike.”
Losing youth theatre cuts an avenue for tomorrow’s leading ladies and men to develop, but what else do we lose?
Coping with stress is a major concern for young people, with 38.4 per cent of youth surveyed by Mission Australia extremely concerned by it. 26.5 per cent of respondents are extremely or very concerned about body image. 18.2 per cent nationally feel their academic ability is a barrier to their success.
Surely there’s enough uncertainty for young people already, without defunding something that starts careers and connects them to a community?
ARTSEDGE’s Cheryl Lock wrote an article to parents about the importance of the Arts. She said that:
Granted, youth issues will still continue even with arts programs, but these five points address key issues that Australian youth are concerned about. Being involved in the Arts can build confidence, create a feeling of inclusion and help develop skills to improve academic ability such as concentration and dedication.
Investing and supporting our arts sector is, at the very least, a part of a tangible solution to helping our creative youth.
Limelight Magazine’s Maxim Boon sums up another consequence of this funding cut: “It seems ironic that the MYEFO funding reductions have been made in an effort to tackle the deficit, when a cultural deficit is precisely what awaits the future of Australia”.
It would seem our government has decided that the bottom line and getting us out of deficit are their highest priorities, irrespective of anything else. Not only are programs being cut, jobs are being lost and livelihoods left in ruins. Creatives make a brave choice to pursue jobs in this sector, and that is being rubbed in their faces.
To add insult to injury, the cuts made in the MYEFO are general and non-specific, meaning it gives the government a way to reduce funds with little accountability. We’re sitting like puppets waiting for our strings to be cut.
The Australia Council revealed earlier in the year a report that proves the funding for smaller arts companies achieves more than that for major arts companies. Put simply, for the 6.87 million attendees to smaller companies, they receive just $3.36 per ticket in subsidy from the government. Major companies have 3.37 million attendees and receive a subsidy of $31.50 per person. Small-to-medium companies reach more people with less money.
These figures show it simply doesn’t make sense to be targeting youth theatre, or these smaller arts companies. Small-to-medium companies deliver a much better bang for the taxpayer’s buck.
In just two years, we’ve gone from a government delivering a comparatively optimistic arts sector, to what may very well become a bloodbath.
So let’s take stock of what we stand to gain through these cuts:
Youth left without creative outlets to express themselves
A cultural deficit
Inefficient arts expenditure (which could very well become grounds for further cuts)
A loss of jobs, businesses and livelihoods
Our creative sector is not the rainy day savings account for the government. We are vibrant, diverse and in need of a government that supports us as much as we support our communities.
Investing in youth arts companies is a way to support the solutions to social issues and make our creative culture the envy of the world.
Minister Fifield, we’re all counting on you. Australia’s young people with dreams of being on stage are counting on you. You’re our voice in the meetings behind closed doors. You said you would consult the arts sector. We’re telling you very loudly; we’re not happy and are deeply concerned with your government’s decisions.
It’s time for our government to act. To stand up, support the Arts, and show that our next generation of performers and our culture are worth investing in.