Western Sydney arts advocacy packs a growing political and economic punch

SMH funding imbalance

Ian Milliss‘s Facebook posts this morning say it all. He is responding to the figures above as published in the Sydney Morning Herald, February 26, 2015, and an item today Western Sydney Arts Funding an ‘insult’– a quote from Andrew Taylor’s CAC future plansinterview with Christopher Brown, chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue. Christopher was speaking in support of Campbelltown Arts Centre’s $30 million proposal for redevelopment – see artist’s impression, right.

“There is a revolt brewing for sure, this is not just rhetoric,” says Ian. “I’ve been at meetings with local councils and politicians where growing anger is palpable. Some areas like the Blue Mountains which now has one of the largest concentrations of artists in Ian MllissNSW receive close to zero funding. Basically the AGNSW Bloat has to be cancelled and the money put into something between Parramatta and Penrith, an enormous area in itself. Remember, it is the people living out west who are paying for this but can’t get to it. I recommend Billy Gruner’s idea of buying up the Marcel Breuer factory at Penrith and all surrounding buildings and using it as a centrepiece for a complex called AGNSW West.”

Ian, left, says “The Deloitte’s report that spells out the extraordinary disparity in arts funding is shocking. Basically a majority of the Sydney population is funding a concentration of arts facilities in the city centre for tourists and the eastern suburbs’ wealthy. This is not a sustainable situation and the AGNSW Bloat project plus the cancellation of the Parramatta Kings School arts precinct are really bringing it to a head. This is not a storm in a teacup and it is not going away, it is barely beginning.”

More than 2000 submissions have been made to the Senate enquiry into arts funding, including many of high calibre from western Sydney – see Carl Sciberras, July 14. The enquiry was called by the Senate as a result of the dramatic changes to funding in the last federal budget, which took $27 million a year for four years from theĀ Australia Council budget for allocation by the Ministry for the Arts to a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). The impact in western Sydney will be disproportionately severe.

1-IMG_4031An example of successful arts advocacy at work is the now annual Funpark celebrations at Bidwill, near Mt Druitt. Held for the second time only last weekend, the achievements of the first Funpark, held as part of Sydney Festival 2014, were clear for everyone to see, right. The whole carpark had been resurfaced, the kebab shop was upgraded and a new FoodWorks supermarket had been operating for six months. This was the result after Funpark 2014, highlighted the lack of adequate shopping facilities for locals, poor public transport to access other shops, and limited recreational outlets for young people. Blacktown Council has been a great supporter of these initiatives and plans a new basketball court for Bidwill.

But the improvements are fragile. FoodWorks has been very cooperative, but to survive economically, it needs other businesses to join them to attract sufficient custom. It has trained about 20 local people to work there, but can currently employ only two. Therese Wilson, the local resident who willingly opened her home in Cuppa Tea with Therese, as part of Funpark, see below, offered insights and answered questions about life in Bidwill. She spoke of many people in public housing surviving on little more than $500 per fortnight, from which the Department of Housing takes 25% in rent.

1-1-IMG_4030-001“The half hour walk to other shops is alright, but the $20 taxi fare back home with a load of groceries is out of the question,” she said. “Careful budgeting is very important. You have to save for weeks if you need a new pair of shoes.” Therese, who is a deeply committed community volunteer, describes doing her own survey among local teenagers and finding many of them want theatre, music and dance opportunities. When offered an opportunity for young people to participate in an inner Sydney theatre company, she pointed out that they could afford neither the time nor the fares to get there. An offer from an outreach director of another company might prove more fruitful. Stay tuned.

 

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