Baby, it’s Coaled Outside – An open letter to the Prime Minister

Words by Tamara, 29 NSW

Dear Mr. Morrison, 

2020 will go down in history as the year of “essentials”. Essential workers, essential services, just the essentials at the supermarket. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to reveal what we really need to pull through.

I would like to meet just one person who didn’t need the arts to survive the past six months.

Because, real talk, what makes you feel better at the end of a long day of Zoom meetings and pacing your apartment? A good series? That’s the arts. That nice painting on the wall of your home office? The arts. That comfortable shirt that fits you in all the right places? That one album that helps you unwind after one of those weeks? A work of art.

The arts are effective – because that’s exactly what they do. They have an effect.

Just like antibiotics, acupuncture, or surgery, they change the way you feel and impact your quality of life. But unlike antibiotics or acupuncture, the arts aren’t a claimable benefit. I think you and I both know it’s time that changed. The arts are health insurance. More often than not, they are medicine itself.

If you want Australians to make it through the year from hell, it makes sense to properly fund all the industries that will help us to heal.

Now that we know the arts are indeed essential, it’s time to address any confusion as to whether a pandemic rescue package is really all that necessary. In a recent survey of 1000 MEAA (Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance) members, 68.3% currently had no work because of COVID-19. These are the artists who can actually afford to hold onto their MEAA membership. My Facebook feed paints a much darker portrait of the current situation in our community.

These are the very people who, during the pandemic alone, have made it their business to distract us. They have released TV series early, kept us entertained on Twitter, organised living room festivals, put out albums and performed their shows online for the bored masses, just to get us through. You and I both know we needed to laugh, to let our minds’ travel, to involve ourselves in something other than the situation at hand, even just for half an hour after dinner.

So, Mr. Morrison, what have we done to thank them?

We’ve cut their funding, made most of them ineligible for government benefits and now, left them wondering whether a rescue package might be too good to be true?

Mr. Morrison our country is sick, and the diagnosis isn’t looking great. Australia is facing an economic crisis and mass unemployment alongside the ongoing issues of a pandemic and the world is continuing to warm.

This is something every Australian, regardless of trade or occupation, is dealing with. So, how it is that $700 million under the HomeBuilder schemes seems appropriate to offer middle-income earners with properties to their names, but $250 million is enough to save an entire industry on its knees?

I don’t know a single artist in the industry who has been eligible for JobKeeper and yet, none of the $250 million ‘rescue package’ is going directly to them. Instead, it is to be distributed among arts organisations that might one day employ them. Essentially, you have deployed the rescue helicopter but it’s flying right over the ones who are drowning.

Please, look around you. Really look.

Who can you see down there on the ground, kneeling in the dirt, raising something from nothing? Who are the ones standing while parliament sits?

It’s the woodworkers and artisans, in their studios through the night, making pieces for fire relief auctions leading the charge. It’s the clowns and the musos and the comedians bringing hope to Australia’s bedside through the airwaves. It’s the knitters filling their living rooms with socks for burnt paws and wraps for charred wings.

Our artists have come together to keep our Australian spirit alive through a black summer and an unthinkable health crisis. They sewed, they benefited, they crowd-funded, they pulled strings, they wrote songs, they gave their time and their words and their hands and, above all, their care. 

You are the one who can help us now.

You have forced the Australian arts sector into a hole it can’t crawl out of by cutting funding.

Yes, we owe the greatest of debts to our incredible firefighters, nurses, doctors and supermarket employees. But as a ‘non-essential’ someone who works in film and television, I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with friends and family, fielding questions about when the show I was working on might come back on, how they couldn’t imagine getting through homeschooling without The Wiggles or isolation without all seven seasons of Wentworth.  We know what it feels like to go through bushfires and a pandemic, now imagine going through it all without the arts.

Put us in with health care. Give artists the funding we need to keep making our medicine. If you really can’t have the arts as its own portfolio, let us be recognised as the healers we are and pay us properly to do our work. Australia needs us.

Please, Mr. Morrison, do the right thing.

Your money is for arts organisations. It’s time now to save the actual artists.

Illustration by AileenYou can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc

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