Missing in the furore following cuts to arts funding is analysis of its impact on women, writes composer, musician and academic Cat Hope. For women who may already be struggling with inclusion and visibility, says Hope, funding applications are a great way to make art on their own terms.
The representation of women in music has been a hot topic in Australia recently. In my fields of composition and electronic music, the debate has been particularly lively. Social media has allowed more discussions across states and countries, with scores of comments on Facebook and tweets all over the twitter-sphere.
I often wonder if my awareness of the problems facing women in Australia arrived by accident; that it had been going on around me but I wasn’t listening or feeling like it had affected me. As I explained in an ABC FM blog post, it took Julia Gillard’s term as prime minister for me to really see the problems in the representation and opportunities for women in Australia.
There seems to be a lack of statistics around women in music. There are great reports looking at the visual arts and theatre, and some useful statistics from the Australia Council, but serious data about how the number of practicing women composers translates to their representation in concert programs and recording opportunities is lacking.
Dr Sally Macarthur from the University of Western Sydney published an article in Musicology Australia trying to highlight the issue, but was hamstrung by a lack of reliable statistics. Her use of concert programs and websites to inform the article led to criticisms from organisations that believed she’d represented them unfairly. Sally is an expert in feminist studies and has probably developed a thick skin as a result. But reactions to her article, and to many other women’s voices when they speak out about this issue, is enough to make most women stay mute.
Attention to this issue has to come from men. It’s not a women’s problem.
If men hold most of the curatorial roles, they must be inclusive. If men are predominantly featured, it’s up to them to say they want women alongside them. It’s not a benevolent activity: women are a large part of the music-loving market and many are getting tired of:
- Attending concerts dominated by male composers
- Hearing men speak and write about music
- Seeing men play and hearing them on recordings.
Inclusivity is a quality to wear with pride but it’s also good business. I’ve been guilty of programing all male line-ups myself but I now try harder to be inclusive. Sometimes, it just requires a bit more research and broader engagement with the music community.
But I think things are about to worsen. Individuals in Australia have been fortunate to have access to funds to make and promote their art. We are a reasonably wealthy country so this seems fair. The arts are good for the economy - it’s not a charitable fund.
However, George Brandis’s cuts to the Australia Council, served up as both ‘efficiencies’ and by way of moving funds out of Council and into his own office, mean the Australia Council is forced to make cuts to its own programs. While we don’t know the long-term nature of these cuts, we can be pretty sure the impact will continue in Australia Council programs and that state funding and philanthropic funds will be hit with higher demand as a result.
Something that seems to be missing in artists’ angsty reaction to these cuts - a coordinated and focused critique hasn’t yet eventuated from our community - is the impact this will have on women.
Women are already struggling with visibility and inclusion and will now have less funding to access as individual practitioners.
Many women struggle to coordinate their careers with expectations of family life and/or managing with children. It is difficult for them to be at every concert, networking for the possibility of inclusion in the next season of a major arts company. Funding applications are a great option for women to grow their ideas, access funding to pay collaborators and make art on their own terms. It enables them to become significant practitioners and access the majors of the future.
I relate to this through personal experience. As a single mother in the late 1990s, state and federal funds were crucial in enabling me to get my career on track. I applied for state funding to help me put on my first new music concert with my ensemble, Limit of Maps, in Perth’s Blue Room Theatre. Later, I produced a higher profile dance and music collaboration at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts with assistance from the Australia Council.
My travel for a solo tour of the U.S. was enabled through state funding and, later, for an entire new music ensemble around Europe. It took a few failed attempts before I was able to secure Australia Council funding and I did get pretty bitter but a stint as a peer advisor to the music board (as there was back then) made me realise it was as fair as it could be and, eventually, I got through.
Some of my funded activity was solo; some was with groups of collaborators. Even now (with a full time job that would have been impossible to get without these projects behind me) access to arts funding enables me to collaborate with freelance artists.
Without a doubt, access to these funds as an individual saw me develop a career in music that led to my current role in academia and a reasonable profile as a musician and composer. I am concerned these opportunities will not be afforded to other women in earlier stages of their careers now.
The major arts companies - that benefit directly from artists developed through groups and individual funding - have been pressured to not comment. But where are the voices of senior artists highlighting how crucial arts funding has been to their career development?
When ABC Classic FM cut funds for new Australian music (namely the axing of the program ‘New Music Up Late’) where were the senior composers who’d benefitted from that airtime? Nowhere. Are we so self absorbed we can’t find time to lobby to preserve the things we ourselves benefitted from? To support emerging artists and ensure better representation for women and other disadvantaged groups?
It’s likely these changes happened as a result of certain boards lobbying the minister. We need to do the same.
If you’ve ever had a grant, enjoyed work made with a grant, been paid by an organisation or individual who’s received a grant or know someone you think should have a grant, you need to act.
We need to write to our MPs and the minister by letter and email, or call them. We need to present ourselves as equally as important as Bell Shakespeare or Opera Australia - because we are. As women, we are used to trying harder. Now is the time to try for everyone.
Cat Hope is a Western Australian researcher, composer, performer, songwriter and noise artist. She is a flautist and experimental bassist who plays as a soloist and as part of other groups. She is the director of and performer in Decibel: a group focused on Australian repertoire, the nexus of electronic and acoustic instruments and graphic score realisations. In 2011 and 2014 Cat won the APRA|AMC Award for Excellence in Experimental Music, and for 2014 she was resident at the Peggy Glanville Hicks composers house, and has recently completed Civitella Ranieri and Churchill Fellowships. She is a Associate Professor at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.