The art of keeping our heads above water is never-ending

Border Mail Column, Wednesday 5 December 2012

There was the usual hub-bub of conversation in the foyer of HotHouse Theatre this week as we waited to go in and hear about the exciting program the company has in store for this community.

I say for the community and not just theatregoers, because over the years HotHouse has brought to us not just theatre but the opportunity for budding actors, playwrights and theatre technicians to take the first steps into real jobs.

But the risk in seeing theatre as a group of people playing on stage is to understate the importance of what theatre can bring to a community, and too easily theatre and other arts practices and events are the first to bear the brunt of government spending cuts.

Sitting in the Butter Factory Theatre, the lights came up and HotHouse Theatre artistic director, Jon Halpin took the stage to announce the 2013 program and we were aware that he could have been presenting a much contracted program.

That he was announcing the full program had come down to a massive social media and email campaign protesting a decision by Arts NSW to defund the company, despite a growth in subscriptions of 270 per cent.

The campaign, with the support of Member for Albury Greg Aplin, resulted in HotHouse receiving funding for 2013 and being able to present a full program, but as Halpin explained, HotHouse and companies like it are a dying breed.

For those outside or with little knowledge of the processes involved in gaining funding developing and writing funding applications is no small task and arts organisations of all shapes and sizes put not only a business case, but also promote how the company works with its community to achieve outcomes

The arts organisations in our community including HotHouse and The Flying Fruit Fly Circus continually have to fight to convince the funding bodies of their value to the community, despite being held up as jewels in the crown not only of our but on the national cultural scene.

In another attack on the arts, cuts to subsidies for visual arts programs at Albury TAFE mean students who cannot fund their studies may not be able to complete the courses they started.

All of these cuts leave me with an unsettled feeling not only for our community but also for the national psyche because the arts help us to understand our place in the world.  Whether we are aware of it or not we access some form of arts practice every day whether it is in the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the theatre we attend or the beautiful handmade products we seek out to give as a gift because we want to move away from the mass-produced.

The arts organisations in our community extend beyond those with higher visibility and include community theatre companies, Murray Conservatorium, community art galleries, dance and music schools, community bands and choirs and writers groups.

Very few of these groups are completely self-funded with some funding coming from other sources including government at various levels and philanthropic funds.

Tens of thousands of people attend the performances, exhibitions and events put on by these groups as well as the shows offered at the Albury Entertainment Centre and newly opened venue, The Cube in Wodonga.

When the formal part of the launch of HotHouse’s program was finished, I thought how fortunate we are to have such richness in our lives in this community, and tried to contemplate what type of community we would have without them.

Without them it would be a big, empty and echoing space.

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About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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