Letter to the Sector, Friday 6th May, 2016

Dear All,

Over the last year, the arts sector has demonstrated its extraordinary capacity for unity and resilience in the face of a turning political tide that has seen enormous upheaval to arts funding in Australia. As we face the full legacy of the cuts to the Australia Council in the coming weeks, Theatre Network Australia wants to acknowledge the despair many organisations and individuals will feel in the face of a radically changed arts landscape. This period will be very difficult as people face the real prospect of job losses and company closures, and many are likely to feel grief, anger and fear.

TNA want to support our members to be as strong and resilient as possible, and believes that preparedness and some future thinking and mental preparation may assist. For those who are not waiting on notification next week, being supportive and respectful of those who are is helpful – many people might not be ready to share their news immediately.

If you are waiting on funding outcome notification, we have some suggestions that may help to not be blindsided by immediate decisions to be made (however small or large) and to keep your messaging consistent and positive at a vulnerable time.

Mentally walking yourself through the day of notification processes might be handy and it may go something like this:

  • Phone call from Australia Council to your organisation’s Key Contact Person (ie, AD, GM, EP, CEO) – Wednesday 11 May or Thursday 12 May – what are the mainbits of information you need to know from this conversation? Write them down in advance, for reference during the conversation.
  • Key Contact Person contacts Chair of your organisation’s Board, and staff as appropriate.
  • Notification of other Board members divided up by KCP and Chair, with reminder of next Board meeting / planning session – try to have this meeting scheduled in before notification.
  • KCP contacts representatives of other key government agencies (ie Local council, Creative Victoria – CV will know, but this is may be an opportunity for some valuable messaging with your other vital government stakeholders, regardless of the Australia Council outcome).

Your funding status information will be embargoed until 16 May, but many of your key people will be hungry for inside information – who might that be? Writing a list now could be useful. It may include performers and artists you work with, colleagues from other companies, presenters, agents, education partners, and so on. Keeping in mind the usefulness of the embargo period, there will probably be some key people that you need to contact prior to this being lifted – so they don’t find out your funding status…. via gossip, or the Australia Council’s Facebook page.

Regardless of the funding scenario your organisation faces, the main thing that people are likely to want to know is “what happens next?” – and the embargo period gives you a small margin of time to start working through that. For some people, you can clearly say “hey, can’t chat to you about that until the embargo is lifted or after our Board has met” etc but other people will call wanting help, advice, sympathy and/or a chance to vent. We do need to look after each other, and demonstrate our kindness as a sector!

You may want to consider drafting some versions of a media release / e-news to clarify your funding status – and perhaps to express your organisation’s concern over the vulnerability of federal arts funding for the small to medium sector and independents and delegate a media spokesperson now (Chair? AD?). Brainstorm some key messages, so they’re at the ready for if you are contacted.

Then there may be bigger picture questions to consider – regardless of the scenario your organisation faces, the broader sector will be facing a new set of opportunities and problems. How might your organisation’s role shift now? What’s important to adapt to, what do you need to keep the same?

We would urge you to remember that an unsuccessful outcome to this funding round this is not a personal failure but a situation that has arisen because of political circumstance. Don’t be defined by it, and be angry in a beautiful way. We invite you to add further suggestions for future thinking and preparedness to the TNA Facebook forum so we can develop a collective response, please find the link here: https://www.facebook.com/Theatre-Network-Australia-194963110543720/

We know that some people will receive good news from this announcement and that there are complex emotions with celebrating your success while knowing others are having a tough time. We are a tight-knit and strong community and we are all here to help each other in difficult times. It is super important to remember to be kind and support each other through this period, and that grace and generosity of spirit will go a long way. If you don’t receive the news you want to hear and don’t want to be alone, please call a friend, or Lifeline’s 24 hour crisis support telephone line on 13 11 14.

And, at some point as the fog lifts and the clouds part it may be time to ask yourself, what else is on the horizon?

Prior to the 2016 Victorian Theatre Forum: ‘New Potential & Adaptive Resilience’, being held at Arts House on the 13th July, we have set aside a day on the 12th July for the sector to come together to process the impacts of the funding decisions and plan for the future – individually, organisationally and as a sector, and we hope this will be a starting point for consideration and motivation of new possibilities. Regional Arts Victoria and Footscray Community Arts Centre are also co-hosting an Arts Gathering that is an opportunity to check in on how people are doing, on Thursday 12 May from 530pm-7pm at RAV offices, Level 3, 370 Lt Bourke Street, Melbourne.

Other actions and gatherings are being held around the country – we have been speaking to colleagues in each state and territory and we can give you a contact to talk to one of the other service organisations, or colleagues who have put their hands up to offer advice and/or support.

Don’t deal with this on your own!

With love,
the Board and Staff at Theatre Network Australia