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Talking to Australia’s Post Art-Start Generation of Artists

We asked a few art students and recent grads about what they're going to do after this current round of funding cuts truly sinks in.
July 24, 2015, 2:45pm

All images courtesy of the artists

If you haven't already heard, people are pretty peeved at the state of Australian arts funding.

In May, Arts Minister George Brandis moved about a third of the Australia Council's budget—about $104.7 million [$76.2 million USD]—to his new ministerial body, the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).

A direct casualty of this was Art Start, a one-off $10,000 [$7,280 USD] Australia Council grant to assist emerging artists transition from university to a fully-fledged practice.

At college, you've got all the tools you need: a studio, equipment, plus critical feedback. Once you're out, that all goes. If you're not somebody who can pay for a year's worth of material, plus studio rent (not to mention your own rent), Art Start was a way to level the field and give you the time to work on your practice.

Now these artists are left scratching their heads about how to bridge the gap. There's a current senate inquiry into the impact of these cuts, but with over 2260 submissions to read through, we'll have to wait until September 15 to see how it pans out.

In the meantime, we spoke to students and recently graduated artists around the country to see how they'll be navigating this post-Art Start world.

Luke Devine (pictured above), Honors in video art, COFA Sydney

VICE: What do you think's going to happen to your practice?
Luke Devine**:** Essentially it means that everything takes longer now. The likelihood is that I'll find myself in a day job and work on my practice outside of that. I want to do my work in Tasmania because my focus is on the state and growing up within its remnants of genocide, and the correlation between that genocide plus other racist atrocities committed across the globe. But it's really hard to get a job there.

Before it was cut, were you looking to get onto Art Start?
Yes. It's a bit of a burden that they've removed it right at this particular point. I don't think artists are eminently entitled to government funding, but to an extent it does need to be.

Why's that?
Cities use art. Artists make work for free, and cities go and market art as a cultural capital which results in travel to these cities. Why shouldn't the government be paying for that?

Hannah Brontë, Artist in soft sculpture, textiles, and video, Brisbane

So you're in Berlin right now on a residency. What kind of impact do you think decreasing opportunities like Art Start will have on younger artists?
Hannah Brontë: First of all, not all young artists even know about grants or will ever interact in the art school scene. But I hope it makes us all the more resourceful and hungry. It does however make it harder to dream within your practice when you're stressing about art materials, space, and if you can even afford to make the work you envision.

Do you think that artists will be less willing to take risks then?
I actually am hoping the opposite. I feel like this is the first time some of my peers within art world have actually engaged with politics and have felt the impact of policies. My family kind of ticks the boxes for most minority groups: I'm Indigenous, my mum's queer, and she raised as us as a single parent, so I have often felt impacts of funding cuts. I hope that the lack of money will make the art better because the people still around want it more.

But it's such a hard industry to get work in already. To cut funding will cut the amount of people making art down dramatically.

Michael Armstrong, Honors in fine art (Painting), RMIT Melbourne

What's your plan for getting the materials college has traditionally provided?
Michael Armstrong: I'm looking to get into a whole lot of competitions and hedge my bets. I haven't really put a lot of time in getting a part time job—even though I have a casual one—because I want to put a lot of effort into my study. And these are pretty much the only options left available. But it looks like it's all just going to get cut apparently. It's pretty bleak.

As someone about to graduate, how does this make you feel?
I feel that I haven't even had the chance to participate yet. I've just lost a thing previous cohorts have had access to. That's quite a running theme in these times.

Jonno Revanche, artist and writer, Adelaide

Now Art Start is out of the picture, what do you think artists like yourself will have to do instead?
I recently did an Indie Go-Go campaign for my zine, Vaein. For people who do crowd-funds, you have to give out rewards, and you have to continually justify to an audience—and essentially beg—to give you funding. This isn't sustainable.

What do you think losing things like Art Start will mean?
It does feel like we're getting more restricted, and more delegitimized by these cuts as they come out. So I think morale will get really low and it'll begin to feel like the things we need to say or the things we need to do that create dialogue are just being taken away.

Theia Connell, Sculptural Artist, Hobart

You've moved to Hobart from Melbourne to work at MONA. Were you going to set yourself up with Art Start to get your practice up and running?
Theia Connell: I just noticed in my diary today that I had this week labelled as "get onto Art Start." Working in sculpture, it's quite hard once you leave uni to make work without having those tools available to you for free. For me it's quite hard because I have a material practice. That's the thing that's blown me the hardest, because I don't have the capital to invest in things that will allow me to work at all.

How will you find this capital now?
One way is to create more of a community-minded workshop where you share space or tools to be more cost-effective. It's probably not a bad thing to start thinking in those terms.

However, Art Start was all about money allowing younger artists to establish themselves, and commit to your practice in a studio setting wherever you are. Because that isn't an option, now I'm looking at moving out of the country, or going to residencies that have dedicated studios. Maybe the best option really is to get out of the country.

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