Youth Arts the first casualty of changes to arts funding

M.Rock_ATYPIn 2007 there were 21 federally funded youth arts companies across Australia by 2014 there were 14 In 2016 there will be 4. This alarming decrease in numbers is not due to a sudden lack of interest in the performing arts by young people.

Far from it, company reports reflect interest and participation amongst the youth theatre sector has never been stronger. The demise in support for some of our most established companies, many of whom operate in regional areas, is a direct result of changes to funding by the Ministry for the Arts and the Australia Council for the Arts.

Though these companies receive small amounts of Government support (between $40k and $90k per annum) it is anticipated the withdrawal of funding will cause many to close over coming years. Losing these small businesses is a cause for concern for a number of reasons; not least that it denies young Australians access to the arts organisations most relevant to their lives and experience. In the long term, it will reduce the development and training opportunities for the cultural leaders of the future and reduce vital employment opportunities for professional artists across the country.

In recent years we have seen the closure of the national publication Lowdown Magazine and established companies Southern Youth Theatre Ensemble, Urban Myth Theatre, Youth Arts Queensland and Contact Inc and the defunding of peak body Young People in the Arts Australia.

In 2014 and 2015 the youth arts sector repeatedly raised concerns with both the Federal Arts Minister George Brandis and the Australia Council for the Arts CEO Tony Grybowski regarding the potential implications of changes to arts funding. This situation was exacerbated when former Arts Minister George Brandis removed $104M from the Australia Council.

The impact of this upheaval meant that the pool of funds from the Australia Council became significantly smaller and all the nation’s ‘small-to-medium’ companies faced the fear of losing financial support.  Companies previously supported through the ‘Youth Programs Fund’ were forced to compete with larger, better resourced main stage companies if they wished to secure funding for 2016 and beyond.

The youth sector had argued that it would need strategic support to manage this transition, otherwise it feared it would be significantly disadvantaged in the new funding rounds.

In last week’s announcements of Australia Council project funding, 10 of the remaining 13 youth arts companies that were previously funded through the ‘Youth Program Fund’ have been refused funding beyond 2015. This is a devastating blow that has left many companies struggling to work out how to keep their doors open.

Rose Godde from Platform Youth Theatre in Victoria states, “this decision unravels 4 years of work with Australia Council funds building presenting and producing partnerships and creating sustained opportunities with young people as theatre makers and story tellers. Platform’s priorities are around capacity building, social and economic inclusion and community engagement. This decision does not auger well for these or Platform.”

Fraser Corfield, Artistic Director of Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) and a long time creative in the Youth Arts sector is gravely concerned for the future of, what he considers the most important training ground for our continued success on the international stage.

“Unless something is done urgently by the Federal Government we are facing the end of a national youth arts sector in Australia,” says Corfield. “While the biggest companies might survive, it’s the loss of the many passionate small youth theatre companies nationally that will be devastating for communities and professional artists alike.

“I wouldn’t be at ATYP if it were not for Riverland Youth Theatre and Backbone Youth Arts.  Youth theatres don’t just change lives for young Australians, they offer vital and unique professional development opportunities for professional artists too.  The loss of this sector will have a significant impact on the professional arts in Australia for years to come.”

Enlisting the support of the wider arts community and the media, the sector has launched a campaign: #SaveYouthArts, #freethearts to encourage the federal government and the Australia Council to step in and promise the assistance these 10 small and important companies so desperately need. The health and safety of Australia’s cultural future is at stake and action is needed now.

Image: Australian Theatre for Young People’s production of M.Rock