STATISTICS, DAMN STATISTICS! PROVING ARTISTS ARE POOR!
If an Arts Body does not have a clientele it loses is reason for being. Let's sum up the status quo of the relationship between, say, the Australian Council and its clients. On its own admission the Australia Council can only fund between 20% to 30% of its clientele. This is because there is not enough money to go round. Naturally a certain percentage of the budget of the Australia Council is spent on maintaining its infrastructure.
The first time I went fishing for statistics, in around 1999, the costs of keeping the Australia Council in place for the previous year was (in round figures) about $9.6 million dollars, of which $6.5 million was paid in salaries to Council staff. A current figure cannot be obtained. You have to wait until the publication of the previous year's accounts. In 2003 the (round) figures are just over 13.5 million to keep the council in existence of which 8.3 million goes to staff salaries. Consistently the upkeep cost represents roughly 10% of the Council's total budget. These figures are no secret. Anyone who is interested can dig out the facts from the Australia council's own library. Any self-respecting journalist who wishes to write about this issue has not far to go to dig deep. Any reader who wishes further cogitation on these figures can jump ahead to "NO REASONS FOR SAYING NO".
However, that is not the whole story. The Australia Council does not just budget for the salaries of it employees. It also budgets, on an ongoing basis, for what amount to publicity exercises. There have been several of these, and I don't know to what area of the buget they are charged. They seem to recur at 2 or 3 yearly intervals. These are surveys of public attitudes towards the arts and artists, linked to research on the incomes which artists earn. I don't know how much these cost, but one of these was achieved with the assistance of a professional advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi. Not cheap. These surveys ARE PR EXERCISES paid for by the Australia Council, for the benefit of the Australia Council. Several less expensive exercises have been conducted through Macquarie University, endowing the results with academic imprimatur, but with same intention, of bearing witness to deep concern felt by the Australia Council about the impecunious economic plight of artists.
The problem with these exercises, for me, is that the mountain of statistics they accumulate does little more than provide proof of what everyone knows - that dedicated artists are very poor, and that most of them live on or near the poverty line, or would, if they didn't also have a day job. It's hard not to see these surveys as self-promoting exercises by the Australia Council to prove how much they are needed. These surveys scream out:-
"We are here to promote the best in Australian art. Artists need us. We are here to speak on behalf of artists. We are the interface between artists and the community. Look at how well we do our job. Our job is essential. The arts cannot do without us. Governments cannot do without us. The money you pay us is not wasted. Maintain our organisation. Maintain our salaries."
You can taste the irony. The Australia Council cannot fund 60 to 70% of its clientele because of insufficient funding. To prove how needy artists are, they expend vast sums on expensive flag-waving operations to prove how needy artists are.
After the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War 2, they sent over medical experts not to treat victims but to study the effects of radiation. The experts were well paid. Without victims, they would have no job. Or not that job.
But the main focus in tonight's forensic exercise is to examine the assessment procedures which the Australia Council follows in reaching its DECISIONS. Statutory bodies are required by law to give reason for their decisions, within a month of receiving a request for reasons. We'll see that the Australia Council has systemic difficulties in complying with this legal obligation.
But not just yet! Thank you for your patience. I did say it's important to be thorough! First, there are a couple of loose ends to tie up.