… the new reality in Queensland
Yesterday, the new Premier of the Queensland announced the axing of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, the first in what could be many more cuts to the arts as part of the new government’s ‘savings strategy’. But it was not simply the loss of this beneficial initiative – one that has encouraged numerous emerging writers and given vital opportunities to indigenous authors – that left me deflated. It was the comments stretching out below every news article on the subject that contained words like:
“why would we waste money on writing more books?”;
“something that won’t be missed by the majority”
“I think this is a great decision. The government needs to make decisions for the greater good.”
“the wastrels of the Arts community are upset that they can no longer get their snouts into the public trough”
“Taxpayer money spent on the Arts is being wastefull (sic)”
… and more.
Of course I’m not suggesting that we choose Shakespeare over heart surgery (though there may be some who would!). But this first cut is disturbing because of what it means for the future of the arts across Queensland. And across the world, where conservative politicians are beginning to shout so much more loudly than the rest. I know many will argue with me on this one – they’ll call me a leftie or bleeding-heart-liberal – but I don’t believe that life is simply about earning money and then dying. About bolstering the economy and ignoring the soul. Without doubt there are other areas that should receive funding priority. But a government should fund urgent medical facilities, care for the aged and other vital projects AHEAD of awards for fiction writing not INSTEAD.
Because, at the heart of it all, this not about an award for writers. It’s the debate about life vs. quality of life. Should we exist or should we live with colour and texture and substance? Surely, even in these difficult financial times, western countries – and one like Australia that is doing so well in comparison to so many of the others – can still put something towards the things that make life worth living. Yes, we need roads and hospitals and schools but don’t we also need music and stories and art? Now is the time for educated prioritising – so as not to ignore ALL the ESSENTIAL things that make being human a rich and meaningful experience. Cuts have to be made. But made with care. With a thought for the future of the areas of life that aren’t simply industries but artforms, entertainment, diversions, passions. Surely nobody wants to move through life without any enjoyment or reflection or exposure to new and interesting ideas?
How many of us have turned to an aching melody to soothe a shattered heart, opened a book to escape the humdrum of the daily commute, found ourselves lost in an epic tale on film that left us so dazed that we had to find our way gradually back to regular domesticity? That’s what this is about. Not one award for some elite group but what this first move by this new government represents. It’s surely the tip of the iceberg and, though many of us may not have revelled in James Cameron’s epic film, surely no one wants to decimate the aspects of our culture that have entertained generations in titanic proportions. We need filmmakers, we need writers and musicians and artists. We need people to remind us when we feel lost that we’re not so different, that a belly laugh can be a tonic and a delightful memory, that we’re lucky to live the lives we do when so many others have so much less. That’s what books do. What films do. That’s what theatre and paintings do, what music does. They expand our lives beyond the mundane and, without those things, even the most dedicated researchers, the hardest working miners and the lords of the private sector doing the backstroke through their pools of money wouldn’t really want to stick around and do what they do (for us and to us). Those things unite us and make us human. So to get rid of the arts would be to never again see the likes of Shakespeare and Spielberg, Dan Brown and Daniel Day Lewis. No great music from John Lennon, John Cale, Jon Bon Jovi.
No Barnesy or Farnesy,
Kandinsky, da Vinci,
no Gaga, no Dada, no Yoda (no Jar Jar!)
There’d be no heavy metal.
No teenage vampires.
There’d be nothing to talk about over the campfires.
No crushes. No dreams. No alien beings.
Just eat, work and sleep and some dry in-betweens.
So forgive me my lapse into verse and think back
Dr Suess. Mother Goose. They’re both under attack.
Not those two as such, but counterparts not yet heard
So stop and consider the loss of the word
The loss of the melody, performance, oration
The loss of inventive artistic creation.
They all have a beginning and this could be one
The start of the end. And now I am done.