Don’t get bitter, get better

“The future of the arts rests on its ability to embrace creativity, social inclusion and entrepreneurship.” A piece commissioned by Arts Queensland for the AQ Blog.

Crowd-funding, micro-finance, social enterprise, commercial services, corporate training, diverse revenue models, community outcomes, innovation and investment strategies… can’t a person just make some art!?

What happened to the good ol’ days of subsistence arts funding and traditional arts company models? Well, a good ol’ dose of reality is what happened to them.

Those days, if they were ever here, now exist for a decreasing few. The pool of arts funding is shrinking and national policy and funding models are struggling to maintain pace with global and societal change. Governments are concerned about security, perception, (re)election and political expediency. They have to deal with extreme weather patterns, natural disasters, unfettered capitalism, global financial crises, the occasional boatload of desperate people and civil unrest.

And let’s face it, the arts are often controversial, challenging and irreverent. Who really needs the hassle?

A good friend of mine often says, “Don’t get bitter, get better”. Generally when he says that, I want to punch him. But the heart of what he’s saying rings true. It’s time to lose the sense of entitlement. It’s time to stop complaining. It’s time to innovate or die.

I work at the intersection between social justice, technology, business and the arts. I do so because that is where I find that the exciting work happens and that lives are profoundly and positively changed. It is a constant process of balancing and negotiating the needs of people and communities, the integrity of the art or process, and financial imperatives. But there is little that is more rewarding.

If we haven’t noticed, the world needs us. Because in addition to sometimes confusing and angering people – artists, cultural workers and creative entrepreneurs consider tough problems, generate new ideas, and communicate hope. We can bring perspectives, values, skill-sets and heart that are often missing from traditional government, NGO or corporate responses.

This perspective and thinking also needs to be applied to the organisational and operational models we work within. We need to be bolder. We need to be braver. We need to understand the true value of who we are and what we do and share the stories about that. And if in the process of being and doing all that, our business models needs to shift and change too, so be it.

If the majority of our funding consistently comes from a government arts body, it may be time for us to look further afield. We are able offer value and impact in the areas of health, crime reduction, social cohesion, design innovation and the general well-being of people’s lives. Unless we run a theatre restaurant, the time for constantly attempting to bring audiences in to our venues is diminishing. We need to get out a bit more – stream a live performance, work in community, use a public space, offer a service, and challenge people’s thinking about where art ‘resides’.

We may live in uncertain and unsettling times, but this also presents a significant opportunity. It’s time for us as arts and cultural practitioners and institutions to re-imagine how we operate, who we exist for and why we exist at all.

And at the very least… don’t get bitter, get better. (I understand if you want to punch me right about now.)

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