The 2015-16 budget introduces funding changes that will profoundly affect the Australia’s small-to-medium arts sector. Now, it is more important than ever for organisations present a united voice to government in lobbying and effective political advocacy.

Reducing reliance on government funding
Australian arts organisations are certainly not alone. Organisations around the world are finding new ways to earn income and engage supporters in an increasingly challenging environment. Arts advocacy is a key issue for both organisations who struggle to cut through and governments who are awash with demand for public funds.

Overseas models have shown us that it is possible for the arts to flourish without significant government support, but there is much to do in Australia before this becomes a reality.

The first step is for the great storytellers of our generation – the leaders of our organisations – to better tell the story of our own journeys and raise awareness of what we do and why.

Telling our own stories
The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) argues in their Good Practice Guide, that good arts advocacy provides strong, convincing and accessible messages, as well as arguments and facts about the arts and their role and impact.

The results of effective advocacy complete a virtuous circle. Advocacy that increases awareness, engagement and participation in the arts strengthens the case for public support. Public support creates certainty, enables forward planning and strategic investment in audience engagement and audience experience. This mutual reinforcement creates an evolving and embedded arts sector that is central to our national identity and a modern economy.

Does the arts sector need a peak body?
Arts advocacy is not a one-size-fits all approach. There are many avenues and types of campaigns to explore. But any approach needs to be coordinated and planned, and the messages need to be tailored to key audiences.

Back home, many sectors harness significant political clout through well-resourced national peak bodies – health, housing, aged care, and others. While the Australia Council plays something of a role in this area, the arts does not have a national umbrella group representing the entire sector as a peak body. ArtsPeak has stepped into this breach and their role in assembling a collective response to the budget is laudable.

The arts sector however, is usually represented by dozens of artform-specific, geographic or size-related advocacy groups.

This makes for a lot of noise, conflicting messages, and allows no real sense of what political decision will benefit the greatest number of people.

A perfect time to unite
The budget’s impact on the small-to-medium arts sector makes now the time to get on the front foot.

The future success and livelihood of arts organisations depends on embracing advocacy in all its forms. Every organisation needs to look beyond its individual interests and work with others to assemble a coalition of influential leaders and board members.

We need to work together on distilling clear, simple messages and we must also identify and court key political players and influencers… No small tasks by any means.

Now is also the perfect time to revisit the practical insights provided by former liberal senator for NSW and shadow arts minister, Chris Puplick AM, in his platform paper Getting heard: achieving an effective arts advocacy.

As someone on the inside, he has provided a playbook for lifting our game and making sure we’re getting heard.

But having something constructive and actionable to say is another matter. More on that later.

Further reading

Puplick, C. J. (Christopher John) & Currency House Inc (2008). Getting heard: achieving an effective arts advocacy. Currency House, Strawberry Hills, N.S.W

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