Submission by Dr Jocelyn Wolfe, President, Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival Inc., to the
Parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s Creative and Cultural Industries and Institutions, 2020
This submission responds to the call by the Minister for Communication, Hon Paul Fletcher MP, for an inquiry into and report on Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions. This submission responds to the following term of reference:
– The non-economic benefits that enhance community, social wellbeing and promoting Australia’s national identity, and how to recognise, measure and grow them.
This submission is authored by the President of Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival Inc. (SCMF), Dr Jocelyn Wolfe. The submission draws on a broader study of musicians’ livelihoods conducted by the author and a research team from Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University in March 2020. Reporting on this study (seen as relevant to this inquiry) has been given the appropriate ethical clearance and is approved by the SCMF management committee.
The submission presents:
- a summary of the relevant aspects of the study titled “Determining public perception of classical musicians’ livelihoods: A survey of concert-going audiences in South East Queensland, Australia”
- a discussion relevant to the term of reference, and
- a conclusion addressing the nominated term of reference.
The study assessed public opinion regarding, specifically, classical musicians’ livelihoods, with the intention of gaining some insight into how the public regards classical music as a career and what classical musicians contribute to society. For the purposes of the submission, “classical music” is considered one of Australia’s cultural institutions, and the submission focuses on non-economic ways the classical music sector is valued in society. The rationale for the study is important to this point.
The study was framed as a response to research suggesting that musicians face low public perception of their contribution to the economy and to society. Amongst musicians, Tolmie (2017) has identified an evident level of professional self-respect, but also a lack of respect when it comes to societal value as musicians feel largely misunderstood by the Australian non-musician public as a result of a general lack of understanding of the work, skills and lifestyle required to sustain a professional music career. Research also reports that musicians face less job stability and lower incomes than those of other professionals in a highly competitive workplace (Bartleet et al., 2020; Tolmie, 2017; Throsby & Zednick, 2010). As a profession, music is often romanticised, viewed as an indulgence, or belittled due to its poor financial rewards (Gross & Musgrave, 2017; Parker, 2015). This is underpinned by the quantitative capitalist approach of defining “value” as monetary worth (Meyrick, Phiddian & Barnett, 2018; O’Connor, 2017).
This quantitative understanding of “value” explains a dearth of research into how classical musicians and the classical music sector are regarded in the public view. In addressing this gap in the literature, the research team undertook a survey of classical music organisation audiences: Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival subscribers, and Musica Viva Australia (South East Queensland) subscribers.
What we discovered
Study respondents comprised highly educated seniors (40% have undergraduate degrees; 48% have postgraduate degrees), the great majority of whom had also received formal music lessons at some stage in their life. Respondents strongly identified with classical musicians, possibly due to their own individual musical backgrounds. Of most relevance to the term of reference this submission addresses, respondents considered classical musicians the “soul” of society, valuing, for example, their capacity to express, through music, the complexities of what it is to be human. Their views of classical musicians’ non-economic benefits to society were expressed in terms of resounding themes of beauty, joy, pleasure, culture, spiritual enrichment, health and well-being, entertainment, emotional expression, and connection to humanity. An overarching theme was that a classical musician’s contribution is vital for acknowledging heritage and tradition, enriching lives and culture, and bringing people joy and happiness. (See Table 1.)
TABLE 1: PERSPECTIVES ON CLASSICAL MUSICIANS’ NON-ECONOMIC BENEFITS TO AUSTRALIAN COMMUNITIES
Continuing a rich international musical/cultural tradition and heritage
– Enriches culture
– Culture, entertainment
– Culture, civilisation, education
– Ability to communicate thought and feeling through music of many historical periods
– Extending the recognised benefits of classical music to audiences
– Educate audiences
– Link the world
– Introduce some to “new territory”
– Giving pleasure in performance and passing on skills as teachers to the next generation of music lovers
– Health and wellbeing, pleasure
– Music is an important part of maintaining societal values and the finer things of life
– Part of the cultural life of a country
– Reflection of cultural worth
– The art of classical musical is something that should definitely not be lost; patronage, corporate sponsorship, education and festivals all contribute to keeping it alive
– Provide skilled unique entertainment only available in mature and nurturing societies and invaluable education
– Definitely food for the soul, which is desperately needed
– Enriching lives through their music performance, teaching students appreciation of music
– Give nourishment for the soul
– Gives an outlet for emotional expression and enhances one’s life completely
– Help humans who listen to get in touch with their humanity and the beauty of our world
– Through music, classical musicians allow us to experience our emotions in a way we otherwise wouldn’t
– Music can stir people’s “souls” and “soothe the savage beast”
– Keep the spirit alive and the heart pumping with 2000 years of human endeavour and creativity
– Make life worth living
– Music fills people’s soul. Can lift them up, raise them from a depression, help people dream, takes them on a journey
– Without music life would B flat
– Without them the rest of us will have a cramped soul
– Raise moods, motivate people, bring people together
– Music is healing
– Provide the general populace with a point of contact with the arts; food for the soul; develop the complete individual; a chance to escape from the daily worries; mental health
– They are essential to a civilised society, providing joy, inspiration and spiritual enrichment to countless people – now particularly, amid public dismay and panic as the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its grip
– They feed the soul of all who have ears to listen
– They enrich people’s lives
– Providing an emotional outlet for their audience
– As teachers, helping their students get a sense of achievement and understanding of this large field of artistic endeavour
– They provide us with a connection to the arts, which is extremely important to our wellbeing and our society
Bringing joy, entertainment, pleasure, beauty and happiness
– Classical musicians bring performances for the public to enjoy
– Distributors of happiness
– Give great joy to others
– Music well played gives joy to the masses
– It can bring enjoyment through listening, singing or dancing to it
– Music is such a vital part of life, so being able to perform for people such beautiful works is amazing
– Adding beauty to the world
– Spread message about beauty/wonders of classical music
– They add art and beauty and wonder
– Transport listeners to another space, touching many emotions: joy, sorrow, happiness, grace
DISCUSSION: WHY THIS FINDING IS IMPORTANT TO THIS INQUIRY
While it is not surprising that the concertgoing public values musicians for, among other things, their capacity to express through music complexities about what it is to be human, it is surprising that such views are seemingly not strongly held by the very body that represents them: government.
That musicians conclude from government policies and implementation strategies that their profession is undervalued is unsurprising. Current government policy ensures that the valuing of the performing arts is specifically measured in economic terms. Sector reports responding to policy typically focus on analysis of such metrics as attendance at live performances, music participation and involvement, audience music preferences (program statistics), the economic contribution of live performance, employment in the sector, philanthropy, and revenue from recording and streaming. The current Australian Federal Government’s move to absorb the Arts Department into the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications is seen as an affront to those who work in the arts. Then, a combination of cutting funding to small-to-medium arts organisations (McPherson, 2020) – sending the message that these organisations are dispensable – and increasing supply to major arts organisations has contributed to a major break in the chain: careers do not commence at the top end; they require a staircase of opportunity often provided through smaller organisations. Over several years, Australia has also seen progressive funding cuts to the Australia Council, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body (Eltham, 2020).
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Federal Government’s interventions to inhibit the spread of the virus changed people’s ways of engaging with the arts and crippled the arts sector. While overall compensatory interventions have been widely accepted as necessary, government compensation directed at the performing arts sector has been criticised. For example, amid the crisis, an update from the Federal Government states that the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, released a statement expressing his understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on the arts sector (arts.gov.au/covid-19-update), while at the same time voting against extending the Federal Government’s JobKeeper wage replacement program to the freelance and casual arts and entertainment workforce. Most of these performers and workers have been excluded from the JobKeeper income subsidy despite defining themselves as “sole traders” (as a tradesperson might).
The Federal Government has earmarked $70 billion for JobKeeper but financial support for the arts sector remains comparatively small. After months of lobbying, the sector was finally advised of a $250m support package, at the end of June. This “bailout” comprises $75m in a highly competitive grant program, $90m in loans and $50m to Screen Australia, and the remaining dollars go to Federal Government–funded arts organisations (Fletcher, 25 June 2020). This is at odds with the Australia Institute’s call for a $750 million rescue package for the arts industry (Farr, 2020) in April. It is also unclear how, or whether, any of the funds will trickle down to the individuals who make art, perform the art and live by the art. The final blow has been the government’s decision to almost double the cost of humanities degrees in universities, relegating a career in music as an irrelevant job-choice (Maiden, 2020). This is despite the reported advantages an education based on STEAM provides students, giving them the opportunity to learn creativity skills such as problem solving. Creativity skills were highlighted by Gonski 2.0 and the Australian Curriculum as skills for a future Australian workplace (Wade-Leeuwen, Vovers & Silk, 2018). The perception of undervaluing has never been more pronounced for those working in the arts sector.
The priorities of our Federal and State Governments are transparent through other agencies – for example, the allowances for sporting events as opposed to performing arts events. While contact sports are permitted, with the excitement of a live match, cheering crowd and no social distancing on the field, a small orchestra that is stationary must socially distance and perform to an empty hall. As limited performing arts venues are opening, at the time of writing, small ensembles are given opportunities to perform with strict social distancing and seating according to Covid Safe protocol. Meanwhile, media reports show the breaches of Covid-19 protocol that occur repeatedly amongst players and spectators at sporting events.
Australia has “superfans” amongst its concert-going audiences whose valuing of classical musicians is tantalisingly invisible. Their valuing goes unnoticed by a government tethered to measuring success by primarily quantitative assessment. (See, for example, the Australia Council report, 2014, where questions of attitude are closed-ended.) Numbers do not explain the significance of culture in people’s lives and livelihoods. Classical music is part of an international heritage that is highly valued by performing arts patrons. The invisibility of classical music in government arts management – for example, in its statistical reporting and policy – is a barrier to identification and implementation of appropriate forms of recognition, measurement and growth. Other forms of cultural heritage offer some ways forward.
The Australian Institute of Architects’ (n.d.) policy on what is considered heritage in the built environment states: “A heritage item may be significant for aesthetic, historic, social, spiritual or technical reasons.” Here, policy guidance for establishing what is significant and important to culture in the built environment includes non-economic (qualitative) principles of conservation alongside economic ones:
- Researching significance of places of cultural heritage
- Conservation of significant places of cultural heritage
- Ensuring other architectural work does not affect those places of cultural heritage
- Providing funding incentives for the ongoing maintenance, sustainability, both public and private
- Providing adequate training for architects for heritage conservation training.
The application of such measures to classical music and its performance is possible, even with little modification:
- Researching the significance of classical music
- Conservation of significant works of classical music
- Ensuring other musical works do not affect (compete with) those classical musical works
- Providing funding incentives for their ongoing performance, both public and private
- Providing adequate training for musicians in the performance of classical music.
From another angle, classical music, in its heritage sense, can be considered endangered. From this perspective, there are other frameworks for determining its “vitality”. For example, Language Vitality and Endangerment, as explained by Grant (2014), presents nine factors contributing to vitality, with each measured qualitatively.
To conclude this submission, brief suggestions on how to recognise, measure and grow this area of cultural significance are proposed. These highlight issues germane to rethinking the framework necessary for valuing a cultural institution such as classical music and its musicians:
- Reinstating, at Federal Government level, the Arts as a department in its own right, in recognition of its centrality to our lives
- Using qualitative measures of “valuing” to ensure that the non-economic benefits of art forms are understood not only on their own terms but also in terms of their overall importance to Australian lives and livelihoods
- Undertaking research and reporting on individual art forms without continuing bias towards popularity
- Using different frameworks – borrowed from, for example, the humanities – for researching, evaluating and reporting on the area.
This submission has offered a response to the question of non-economic benefits of the classical music sector, one of Australia’s cultural institutions that enhances community and social wellbeing, based on the findings of a recent study conducted by researchers at Griffith University. It highlights the disconnect between community perceptions of the benefits of classical music and government perceptions as revealed through current arrangements for management of the arts at Federal Government level.
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Australian Institute of Architects (n.d.). Heritage policy. Retrieved from https://www.architecture.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Heritage-Policy.pdf
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