The New Normal?

The New Normal?

The beginning of the year should be a time for energy and enthusiasm for what lays ahead. It’s usually an opportunity for the Arts Northern Rivers team to launch into our creative plan for the year – a pathway sign posted with exciting partnerships, engaging projects and the goal of supporting broad participation in the arts and creative industries throughout our region.

This year was different. This year we didn’t burst out of the 2020 starting blocks but rather stumbled and choked our way through a smoke filled and scorched landscape. The usual new year excitement gave way to uncertainty and fear – and a horror realisation that all those climate change predictions were coming home to roost – they had become a lived experience for far too many. And although the fire and smoke has recently been replaced by rain and floods, the idea that these extremes are the ‘new normal’ seems to have become a grim reality.

To help us get a picture of how this catastrophic event has impacted on artists and creative businesses we have recently distributed a survey that aims to put a figure on the negative economic impact these fires have had. Already the responses are providing some disturbing insights with many respondents, particularly those in the Clarence and Kyogle local government areas, describing significant losses to equipment and infrastructure. Of particular concern is an indication from some respondents that leaving the region is now a distinct possibility. The new normal? Let’s hope not.

Sadly, the horrific consequences of climate change are not the only ‘new normal’ the arts sector is facing. On February 1 this year the Federal Government’s new mega department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications came into effect – disappearing the word ‘Arts’ and effectively dismissing a sector that employs over 590,000 people* (more than the mining industry at 251,000**) and contributes over $11billion in the Australian economy annually.

On December 16 last year, through the smoky haze that had descended on Lismore, a large gathering of artists and arts workers convened a meeting at Lismore City Hall to vent their outrage and deep disappointment in the Federal Government’s decision to jettison the word ‘Arts’ from the new mega Ministry. The prevailing mood of the gathering was one of anger that had reached a tipping point after years of disruption and disregard for the arts by our Federal Government.

The new normal? Even by the standards of a Government that brings lumps of coal into parliament as a cheap prop, and extracts millions from our national arts funding agency to provide some ‘mad money’ for its Arts Minister, the decision to expunge the word ‘Arts’ is not normal. In fact, it’s quite abnormal, small minded and a reflection of a short sighted and unimaginative government that has always struggled to understand and champion the value of the arts.

Maya Angelou warned us  -‘If someone shows you who they are – believe them the first time’ – the same applies to governments. The Federal Government has shown us who they are when it comes to the arts, let’s believe them – and let’s not forget.


* The Creative Economy in Australia. Queensland University of Technology 2016
** Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018

By Peter Wood © 2020

Image: Peter Wood launching ‘Our Way Stories’ | Photograph by Kate Holmes