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A Proposal for Consideration

Written by Derek Strahan


November 1994

PREFACE 1, JANUARY 1998, revised JUNE 2001: This proposal was submitted to the Federal Government on behalf of the fellowship of Australian Composers in 1994 in a document titled "Registrar of Primary Creators". For reasons indicated below, the alternative title (above) is now suggested. A reply indicated that the main problem implementing any proposal which involves direct funding of individual artists stems from the resistance to "direct funding" of individuals on the basis of offering a tax benefit. As this proposal was expressly designed to address that consideration, I take the liberty of posting ithe proposal here to encourage discussion of some of the wider issues involved in the support of the individual "primary creator". My proposal is, of course, only a working document intended as a contribution to such discussion.

The fact that the proposal is prefaced by quotations from the arts policy of a previous Government ,the Australian Labor Party (ALP) under Prime Minister Paul Keating, does not render its content irrelevant. Those quotations are sufficiently general in nature that few governments would repudiate the aims expressed in them, particularly as they recommend a widening of the support base of artists to include the private sector, an agenda also supported, in a general sense, by the Liberal Government under prime Minister John Howard. The present Government has also retained the Registrar of Cultural Organizations, an initiative of the ALP designed to modernize the system of tax deductible arts donations previously managed by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust but now replaced by a more flexible one in which individual Arts organizations have more administrative autonomy in fund-raising.

Primary creators, aka, individual creative artists, have, as yet, no autonomy in seeking direct funding for their projects (except in the Australian film industry) but must still submit their projects for approval by the bureaucracy of a government funding body or of a registered cultural organization. The purpose of the following proposal is to suggest reasons for and a possible way of correcting this anomaly. Feedback by individuals and representatives of arts organizations is invited.

Please email Derek Strahan


Unsurprisingly, no one has responded to my invitation to conduct a dialogue about this proposal, although some people must have read it, since my website gets over 10,000 hits a month. Allowing that a number of those hits are from search engines and their spiders, that still leaves quite a few people who have recoiled from discussing the issues raised, for whatever personal or political reasons.

It is curious how quickly the term "primary creator" was dropped from all dialogue pertaining to the arts, probably within six months of it being put into circulation at the time of the Keating "Creative Nation" conference. Nevertheless, despite its unpopularity, I recommend retaining it, since the term accurately describes the role of the individual creative artist in the art production process. The term was clearly borrowed from agriculture, where "primary produce" refers to comestible product in its basic form as produced by farmers. The use of the term "primary" in this context causes no problems. No threat is felt by "food processors", acting in a "secondary stage" of marketing, turning pork into bacon, tomato into pasta sauce, and grain into bread. However, it is quite clear that no one in the arts working in any "secondary stage" of art production, likes being, by inference, thought of as a "secondary creator".

The use of this term must have been particularly galling for arts bureaucrats whose job description them an absolutely essential and indispensable role in the process whereby "primary art produce" is turned into a marketable product. Whereas anyone who buys land is, in this country, free to farm it, and can apply for appropriate forms of government assistance to do so in the national interest, this is not the case in the arts. Under the present system of funding, it is arts bureaucrats who alone decide which arts product it is in the national interest to produce. You might say that, in music and drama, the performance organizations have a say in selecting which product will be encouraged; but, in practice, this is not so. Performance organizations do not apply the funding which they receive to product development. They need every cent they get in funding and donations simply to stay afloat.They rely on government funding bodies to supply funding for product development, and, like every other "client", they seek such funding by application. This means that, for the entire nation, less than twenty people decide what gets written and what doesn't! And they are, by admission, only able to fund about 10% of the applications they receive.

For an overview of the assessment procedures of the Australia Council, click here to read "NO REASONS FOR SAYING NO", which explores how the Federal Government's Arts Advisory Body avoids giving "artistic assessments" to its clients, even when asking to "give reasons" for its decision. Statutory bodies have a legal obligation to provide a Statement of reasons" for their decisions, when this is requested.

The final section in the document below is headed PRODUCTION/PRESENTATION. I felt, when drafting it, how ludicrous that it was that I should feel it necessary to spell out the processes referred to in this paragraph, at least in so far as these processes apply to music and drama.

The single industrial process by which music and/or vision are today replicated and turned into a marketable product is well known and is the basis of the recording and film industries. Previously different industrial processes were used for each medium, but now the phenomenon of "convergence" has rendered distinctions between the visual arts, literature, theatre, music theatre, film, recording and concert music performance for broadcasting and recording totally irrelevant. Due to the impact of new technology all of the above are now just DIGITAL INFORMATION, and, increasingly, the same form of replication ( CDroms, DVD, and constantly evolving)) is used to "produce and present" all replicated art works on the market.

It is absolutely essential that this is recognized and that the identical funding procedures for government and the private sector are adopted for all ARTS DIGITAL INFORMATION.At present this is not the case, and the fault lies not so much with government, which follows the advice of experts, as with those within the power structures of each of the formerly separate disciplines, who wish to preserve their fiefdoms and the control prerogatives which go with them. This behaviour should not surprise, as it is the instinctive behaviour of the territorial mammal: to defend territory. The result, however, is fatal to the future development of "the arts", that result being, at present, that each "art form" lobbies separately and seeks to achieve different and preferential treatment. The way to abolish the separate fiefdoms is not to attack them, or those who rule over them, but to render them obsolete by amalgamation of their territories in larger territories created without their permission. What has been created by the mind can be uncreated by the mind. This is the advantage which mental territory has over landed territory. It can be taken by thought, whereas land must be conquered by force of arms. But the conflict is, by any definition, war, none the less.

For a comparison between funding arrangements for the film industry and for the arts see "CREAKY MACHINERY"

DEREK STRAHAN, November 1994, updated 1998 and 2001



AIM: To enable primary creators to fulfill the aims of the Federal Government as expressed in the policy statement contained in "Creative Nation", and not subsequently repudiated by governments following:

"The Commonwealth recognizes the need to ... create a trend towards the pattern of private benefaction which so richly endows cultural activity in some other countries, notably the United States."

"... not the least among those who must work to develop self- reliance and self-sufficiency are the artists and their agencies and audiences ..."

"... the Commonwealth Government is determined that our cultural development will be driven as far as possible by the creative energy of individuals, groups and communities and that, wherever possible, government will not be the sole means of support for their efforts." (Page 12)

(The Government) ..."will also stimulate private sector sponsorship for projects and for individual scholars and artists, and encourage partnerships between the corporate and public spheres." (Page 18)

APPLICATION: The following observations are offered from the perspective of the composer, but would no doubt apply equally to all primary creators.

It is appreciated that, for the purpose of direct government funding of composers it has been necessary to apply the principle of "arm's length funding" and to achieve this by the adoption of a system of "peer group assessment".

While admirable in theory, in practice this method of funding is deeply flawed, will always provoke controversy, and is incapable, on its own, of achieving the aims of Government as outlined in the passages quoted above. It is flawed because:

1) Historically, it can be demonstrated that funding of creative artists cannot be objective. It must, by nature, be subjective, and therefore, it must be profoundly biased in favour of the artist who receives the funding. The psychology of art support operates on a basis of enthusiasm (bias) in favour of a particular artist (primary creator) by a particular supporter/sponsor/patron. To repress bias in favour of "objectivity" is to repress the basis of enthusiasm which art itself arouses. All attempts to set up a "system" of objective assessment will be defeated by human nature. Such a system will be subverted, over a period of time, by the "bias" or "prejudice" of a particular school, clique or group of art practitioners and their supporters. Where the basis of funding acknowledges the inevitability of such bias, it is healthy. Where an ostensibly "objective" assessment process is hijacked by a particular clique, the result is outrage, scandal and, at worst, corruption by insider influence on the process.

2) Since direct government funding of the primary creator must be limited by budgetary restraints, total reliance on such funding and therefore, on bodies which apply such funding, can never fulfill the objectives outlined in "Creative Nation" (update 1998: or in any program by any government which endeavours to institutionalize "objectivity" in the arts!)

If "the creative energy of individuals" is to be released, if "private sector sponsorships for projects, for individual scholars and artists" is to occur, then it is essential that the individual primary creator be given some AUTONOMY in seeking out support from the private and corporate sectors. If there is no AUTONOMY THERE CAN BE NO SELF-RELIANCE! The advantages, for (any) Government, in giving autonomy to primary creators are:



These two outcomes are essential for any government which wishes to promote healthy product development in the arts - and this applies as much to a government which wishes to apply the principles of economic rationalism to the arts as to one which regards "art" as a "vocational industry" (akin to teaching, or nursing). In either case, the end product of artistic activity is to create marketable product.

(Any) Federal Government can make history by acknowledging the role and the importance of the primary creator in cultural industries. The term "primary creator" has been coined by a Federal Government in Australia to apply to the individual artist. As the term accurately describes the role of the individual artist its use should be enthusiastically adopted. (update 1998/2001 as above: in fact, the use of the term has been discontinued by the arts bureaucracy. One is entitled to wonder why.)

The purpose of this proposal is to contribute to the formation of policies which will enable the primary creator to play an appropriate role in the industrial process of the cultural industries. As a basis for discussion I suggest consideration of a REGISTRAR OF PRIMARY CREATORS, to create social equity in respect of the existing REGISTRAR OF CULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS.

At every turn the individual creative artist (primary creator) is confronted by bureaucratic restraints, impediments to direct funding, committees of judgment, by "peer group" or "performance organization". Except in the film industry (for writers) there is little opportunity or incentive for the primary creator to DEVELOP NEW PRODUCT, with any hope of funding or development.

A REGISTRAR OF PRIMARY CREATORS could serve a number of objectives, and would need to fulfill a number of conditions:

1) Appropriate selection criteria for admission to the registrar would have to be established. A possible model for this is the method devised by the Australian Music Centre for registering a composer as a Fully Represented Composer, which entitles the composer to publicity and marketing services for music scores and recordings of works. Selection is by a process of peer group assessment. However, once accepted, all future scores by the composer are cataloged. The significance of this is that, once accepted, the composer is accepted as a bona fide practitioner, and does not have to keep on forever proving his/her credentials and forever submitting to an endless succession of assessments by this or that committee or "peer group".

The professional parallel is, of course, with lawyers and doctors whose bona fides are accepted once they are registered.

2) A "registered primary creator" would, like a "registered cultural organization", have the legal right to offer a tax benefit in return for support of an ongoing program of work. The effect of this would be to fulfill the objective : "to stimulate private sector sponsorship for individual artists". It is hoped that all governments would endorse this objective. In practice, the obstacle achieving this objective, as regards primary creators, is in the prohibition by the Australian Tax office of "directed donations". The fact that these are not "allowed" means that no individual creative artist can, with any realistic prospect of success, seek out private patrons in the manner of Beethoven, Wagner, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky. To have a realistic prospect of success, the artist must be able to offer a "tax write-off" as cultural organizations can.

In fact, though, a system of 'de facto' directed donation already operates for cultural organizations. A committee can, for example, nominate a "chair" in an orchestra as is thereby empowered to receive directed donations to support that "chair". The means by which such donations are solicited does not reflect the subtlety of the legal device by which they are made possible. A member of the public, having been advised in brochures of the existence of "chairs", can make a phone call offering to support an individual performer named as the occupant of the "chair", and, to the intending donor, what is being solicited is in every respect a "directed donation". No effort is made, during such a phone conversation, to disguise the fact that what is being proposed is a "directed donation".

The music community has thus created an infrastructure which allows "directed donations" for performers, but no such infrastructure has been created allowing this same form of financial support for individual creative artists, such as the composer, who supplies the works which performers play. In fairness, such infrastructure should be created. It should not beyond the power of human ingenuity to devise such an infrastructure, especially as there is no a precedent for it. If the infrastructure is not created, it must be because there is no desire or will in the artistic community to create it. Individual creative artists in all disciplines could benefit, if a culture of support for them were to evolve, and the overall result would be an increase in the flow of new intellectual product being created.

A performance organization could perhaps expand its program of beneficial support for artists by creating the legal equivalent of a"chair" for a "project", in the case of an orchestra, the project being a specific "work" to be written by a specific composer. It would be interesting to hear exactly what arguments might be put forward against the creation of such a scheme.

3) Naturally, Government will be concerned to set up a proper monitoring process to ensure that the above provision is not abused. Certain conditions could apply:

i) A primary creator must register a future "program of work" covering a specific number of years, for which he/she seeks support.

ii) Government might wish to set a "ceiling" on the amount of dollar support per annum which a primary creator is entitled to seek and which would attract a tax benefit to the sponsor. (a financial "ceiling" is currently set for the value of Composer Fellowships funded through the Australia Council).

iii) The support given would be registered (as support to the film industry under "1OBA" is registered), and the artist would be committed by contract to undertake and complete specific projects, as registered.

iv) If the artist failed to deliver a work in accordance with contractual conditions, his/her right to seek support would be suspended.

v) The definition of "support" could include both funds to allow development of product and production/presentation of product. The details of this would vary according to the artform.


In the case of the composer, production/presentation could include payment of first performance fees and cost of recording of performance. (This very often occurs soon after first performance, to maximize the work of preparation done by the performers). It could also include manufacture of an initial CD run, thus ensuring that the sponsorship results in the arrival on the art market of a new product.

This Proposal offers the view that it is vital to accord the primary creator the same right to seek out sponsorship as is already accorded to cultural organizations. Briefly, this means that the primary creator must have the same right to offer a tax benefit in return for support that organizations already have. Unless the primary creator is able to act on a basis of parity, he/she simply cannot compete for private sector support. No one is going to write a cheque to pay for a composer to write a new opera when that person can get a tax benefit by writing a cheque payable to the Australian Opera, but can get no such benefit by supporting a composer, however interesting the composer's proposal might be. The Australian Opera has a workshop program to "try out" new operas and often workshops works that it has not directly commissioned.

If Australia is to have a vital flow of, for example, new works of music theatre, composers must be free to seek out and to enthuse potential sponsors to support new projects. Performance organizations cannot be expected to give priority to such support. Their managements have a prior responsibility to maintain their own financial viability. But if they are "allowed" to create "chairs" for such projects, then by publicisation of intent, it will become much easier to attract interest and support.

Federal and State Governments in Australia are invited to give favourable consideration to a scheme, such as outlined above, which will, in a history-making move, allow primary creators to act with initiative, autonomy, and thus "develop self-reliance" in the practice of their art.

In the context of the Internet, all Governments are invited to consider this proposal, and all artists are invited to draw attention to it, for the purpose of discussion and, if thought useful, promotion of its purposes.


DEREK STRAHAN, November 1994, updated 1998.

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