Dec 27, 2016

Greater support for the arts will boost tourism jobs – Opinion – The Guardian

Australians love sport.

Each year, 43 per cent of us attend at least one sporting event, like a football match.

But what is surprising is that each year, twice as many Australians – 86 per cent – visit a cultural event or facility.

While we might see ourselves as sporting nuts, these Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicate we spend more time in movie theatres, museums, and other places of culture than we do cheering in grandstands.

In 2016, as we think about ways to create the jobs of the future, there are real opportunities for communities across the nation to embrace the arts as a way to attract tourists.

Just as Australians are happy to travel interstate to watch their favourite sporting teams in action, people will also travel to see their favourite band or exhibition.

They’ll drive for hours to see a major music or literary festival.

With domestic air fares now very afffordable, that creates opportunities for communities big and small.

Canberra provides a great example.

With its broad range of national institutions, including the National Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Library, tourism generates $2 billion worth of business a year and provides 16,400 jobs in the national capital.

Local tourism promotion aims to attract visitors for big art related events, such as the National Gallery’s upcoming  Versailles: Treasures from the Palace exhibition and then entice them to stick around to enjoy the city’s other touriism offerings.

While Canberra has a head start because it is the home to so many national institutions, the diversity of the arts means there are opportunities for everyone.

In January more than 20,000 people will converge on the NSW town of Parkes for the annual Elvis Festival, which will go for five days and has become an important part of the regional economy.

Byron Bay’s annual Bluesfest contributes $28.4 million of economic activity to the Byron Shire each year. In the same way, the Woodford Folk Festival contributes $21 million to the Queensland economy.

Recent years have also seen the development of major concerts in vineyards in communities like the Hunter, where people come to hear the music and stock up on local wines on their way home.

Yet despite these success stories, the Coalition Government has cut funding to the arts, reducing the potential for the emergence of new artistic events that can be used to lift local tourism and become international attractions, such as MONA, in Tasmania.

The Australia Council was the main funding body for the arts in Australia, providing a unique approach towards arts funding by working independently from the Government where possible.

The introduction of convoluted alternatives to the Australia Council by the Abbott-Turnbull Government, such as the now defunct National Program for Excellence in the Arts and its successor, the Catalyst program, ripped over $100 million in funding from the Australia Council.

That make no sense.

In 2012-13 the arts employed 200,000 people and contributed $4.2 billion to Australia’s GDP.

If you take into account the revenue generated through the production and distribution of Australian films, the numbers are even higher.

Indeed, 50 per cent of all domestic screen projects that are distributed globally depend on support from Screen Australia, an organisation funded entirely by the Federal Government.

It’s time for the Government to lift support for the arts, rather than viewing it as an easy target for spending cuts.

We need to be more strategic. We need to encourage communities to better align artistic endeavours with tourism promotion.

In addition to providing jobs, a well-funded arts sector is also important for our Australian culture, which is shaped by the artists, actors and musicians that we pay to see perform.

Their works speaks to us about our nation and our culture.

But just as importantly, our artists, musicians, authors and others involved in the arts present Australian stories to the world.

At the grass roots level, the arts, just like sport, strengthen communities by bringing people together.

It’s time for our governments to enhance their support for the arts – not just for the development of Australian culture, but also a means for creating jobs in our tourist sector.