pledger essay

Call for national artists’ strike

Artists are not players. Our devaluation in the scheme of cultural things is the consequence of circumstances beyond our control. This is true.

But artists have not only had their influence, income and autonomy reduced by these circumstances, they have abnegated responsibility for adjusting to them. One reason we no longer have a place at the table is that we gave it up.

For example, amongst Victorian theatre artists more than ten years ago, an argument played out around the constant request to government for more funding to make our work. The prevailing view was that it was counter-productive to keep asking for more money because we never got it. The point, of course, was not what we were asking for but that we were asking. Our constant requests constituted visibility, presence and agitation.

Since then, as other members of the arts industry have been advocating on our behalf, our visibility and agency in critical areas of policy have decreased. By ceding advocacy for our cultural agency to non-artists, we have played ourselves out of the conversation. We are twice-removed from the power-spot.

If over the last decade, Australians have lost their mojo, this is no less true of Australian artists. We have played a part in our own devaluation by allowing ourselves to be displaced from leadership, advisory and advocacy roles. Too often, articulate speeches in the comfort of the artists’ community are heard nowhere else.

Artists are fearful of speaking up for fear of retribution in the form of unsuccessful grant applications or upsetting the gatekeepers, whose support is essential to getting up projects, and of being categorised as ‘difficult’, ‘opinionated’, ‘outspoken’. Whether true or not, it is an industry perception.

When independent artists step outside the confines of artistic practice and proffer opinions related to the broader issues of artistic and cultural production, they fear they may become easy targets because they have no group, company or organisation to protect them or their precarious livelihood.

The paucity of input sought by media from independent artists on the national cultural policy indicates this process is self-perpetuating. The reality is: we have nothing to lose. We have to put our hand up. Speak up. Refuse to back down for fear of retribution. Ask for more. When we don’t get it, demand it. Prove we are the only essential element in the equation of artistic production. Challenge the industry and government to disprove it. Understand our social, cultural and economic value. Advocate for the arts as a public good.

Don’t get sucked into ‘the market’, ‘the cultural product’, the trade fair mentality. Arm ourselves with facts, figures, passion and rigour. Don’t be dissuaded by small rewards. Persuade others of the benefits of putting artists smack-bang in the centre of every argument, contest, conflict and context in the process of artistic and cultural production. Do not remain silent.

In this spirit, here are a few provocations to assist:


1: Advocacy for a Living Wage This is a call on local, state and federal governments and their respective arts and cultural agencies and arms to commit to the advocacy of social security legislation that provides artists with a living wage in lieu of an unemployment benefit so that they may seek employment solely in their chosen profession and continue to develop their professional practice.

2: Salary Sacrifice This is a call on local, state and federal governments to permit and enable the staff of their respective arts and cultural agencies and arms to commit to a salary sacrifice of 5% per annum to be placed in an Artists’ Commission Pool, the funds of which are to be distributed annually for new work and subject to an assessment process undertaken with staff cooperation and input.

3. Influence This is a call on local, state and federal governments and their respective arts and cultural agencies and arms to commit to 50% representation of professional artists on all assessment, consultative and governance panels (paid representation for those professional artists who identify as independent).

4. Agency This is a call on local, state and federal governments to, in the case of the performing arts:

(a) distribute production funds directly to artists so that they can determine where they wish to present their work. This will enliven the sector by offsetting the institutionalisation of arts programming, increase the autonomy of artists and the flow of arts into the wider community.

(b) impose a five-year moratorium on all infrastructure and infrastructure-related grants. Funds set aside for these purposes are to be provided on five-year fellowships to develop artistic projects to which producers can apply for monies to support. This will ensure producing structures are created in response to artistic creation and not vice-versa.

National Artists’ Strike

This is a call on all artists to undertake a rolling National Strike—a month-long retraction of the labour and goods of all artists including actors, dancers, musicians, choreographers, composers, designers, directo

rs, sculptors, photographers, writers for theatre, film and television, media artists, digital artists, painters, sound artists.

All such artists in workplaces benefiting in any part from government subsidy, be it local, state or federal, are encouraged to cease work one day a week for the duration. Any artist whose work is performed or exhibited during this time is encouraged to withdraw that work for the duration.

We sincerely regret the strike will cause the disruption or cancellation of theatre, dance, music and opera productions across the country as well as exhibitions of the visual arts in which the work of living artists is presented.


This article is an extract from ReValuing the Artist in the New World Order by David Pledger from Currency House’s Platform Papers.  For details or to purchase the full paper contact Currency House. The original post was on ArtsHub Austrailia.  

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