“It’s important to note, especially for parents, that there just isn’t a straight line between what you do at school and what you go on to do. I argue in my new book it’s like being on the ocean. You keep correcting your course according to things that happen to you. And we end up writing a resume, which makes it look like it was a plan. There was a study by a professor at Duke University looking at the degree majors for leaders in 500 companies in Silicon Valley. Forty percent were in math, science, or engineering, but 60% were in the Arts and Humanities
It’s a really important point because the education system is being strangled by this culture’s standardized testing. It’s leading school districts to cut arts and humanities programs. There are lots of kids now who never get to pick up an instrument, never get to perform in a play. There’s a nationwide project called Art on a Cart, where people push these trolleys with crayons and papers because there’s no art in the schools. They go from school to school pushing the cart, do some art with the kids, and then move to the next school. Because there is this perception that somehow these subjects aren’t relevant: We’ve got to get the kids through the tests so that we can get competitive again economically.”
So when I heard that a couple of people were not only ignoring St Russell’s example in refusing to vote but were actually attempting to start the Australian Arts Party. I decided that it might be a good idea to interview them to see why they felt that they needed to do this rather than join the Facebook group supporting Russell’s Revolution. (That group sure looks like it has a lot planned to change the system!)
In order to be informed, I thought I’d brush up on the Liberal Party’s Arts Policy so that I could ask them why they needed to start a whole new party when they have so many points of similarity with the Liberals. So I tried Wikipedia. Nothing relevant there. Of course, I’ll try the Liberal Website.
Mm, I can’t seem to see it. Let me know if I missed it.
Well, perhaps, I should find out what the Arts Minister’s been saying since the election. Who is Minister for The Arts? Oh, that’s right, it’s the Attorney General, George Brandis. Well, that shows how important Abbott regards the Arts – he’s given it to the same person who manages one of the most important portfolios, so that he can also manage Arts in this country. As Attorney General, he should have plenty of spare time. Oh, he’s made some statement about a decision on the royalty re-sale scheme when the review that Labor set up is finished.
Yep, I’m beginning to understand why some people may feel that there needs to be an Arts Party. I began by asking them that very question.
Why do you feel the need for an Arts Party?
“After the last federal election I, and many of my friends, felt incredibly disaffected with the state of Australian politics. It felt like inspirational thinking and positivity had disappeared entirely from this country’s leadership. Instead, unrelenting negativity appears to be the best way to gain power for the big players.
Yet looking closer, there were signs of hope in the system. The fact that our democracy can tolerate many voices is actually a sign of its strength. Small fringe parties were appearing, offering new voices and, sometimes, new ideas. As we’ve seen over the last couple of elections, small parties and independents can also have a completely disproportionate amount of influence in this country’s management.
We’ve got parties for sex, science, animal justice, bullet trains, drugs, mining, smokers, shooters and fishermen… but no voice for Australian art and creativity! So we decided to do something about it. We want to see a co-operative and solutions-based approach to running this country now, and a bright future for our children to inherit.”
Who exactly are you?
“If you’re talking about who I am as one of the founders, well then my name is PJ Collins. I work by day as a multi-platform product manager by day (an interesting mix of creativity and technology). In my spare time I love telling stories through the short films or plays I write or direct. I live in Kingsford, Sydney, under the flight path, with my beautiful wife and two daughters that I love to bits. You can find our more about me or watch some of my films in the links at the bottom.
If you’re talking about the Australian Arts Party, then we’re currently 130+ people who believe we need a fresh positive voice, not only for promoting and encouraging arts and creativity, but also for shaping Australia’s future. Once we find, at least, another 400 people who agree with that aim, we’re going to officially register as a party, and start to actually be the difference we want to see, in how this country is run.”
What’s your response when someone suggests that we can’t afford to give money to the Arts, or that if the Arts can’t pay for itself, why should we subsidise it?
“I don’t actually think that “giving” is the correct word – when the state funds Australians to focus their energy on turning ideas into new intellectual properties, it’s really acting as a venture capitalist in our creativity. I think the main purpose of paying taxes is so the state can invest that money back into our combined development and future as Australians.
These creative investments often also produce spectacular financial returns! There are many many examples of this – too many to list here. The other returns, of a strengthened community, and Australians thinking deeper and more united, is a less tangible outcome, yet even more important (in my humble opinion). Creative expression reinforces the bonds that hold us together, by tapping into our ideas, skills and cultures, to move and inspire us as a people. It acts as a mirror for us to share emotions and to better understand each other and ourselves. I make the odd film and direct the odd play, I spend most of my time in the audience like everyone else. Being in the audience and participating is just as important as being on the stage or the screen.
Finally, as for the ‘big money’, we spent 0.93% of the 2013 budget in supporting community events, culture, creativity the arts and the organisations that administrate them. So that tiny sliver of the cash pie also includes a lot of things other than actually funding Australians to be creative and artistic directly.”
How did the idea come into existence? And also, a lot of people feel the need to do something politically, but never get past the “we should” stage. What motivated/helped you to actually put a plan into action?
“The idea was born over a few beers! Then I canvassed the idea to as many friends as I could to get their feedback. The response was overwhelmingly positive – “That actually sounds like a good idea PJ!”
I think the idea has actually been discussed thousands of times over the years by people across Australia, the only difference is that Nick and I decided to actually get off our arses and do something about it. Why? Well the idea felt good and the time is always right to create. One of my favourite sayings is ‘It’s not a dress rehearsal.’ I like putting that motto into action.”
What do you hope to achieve? Both your general aims and what will make you feel like it’s been a worthwhile exercise.
“Our clear vision is to bring a positive, humane and cooperative agenda back into our federal and state politics. We’re not interested in adding to problems, instead, we’ll work as hard as we can to find solutions that benefit everyone. We want hand ups not hand outs. We want every Australian to have to the tools and opportunity to develop and improve themselves through their entire lives. To be the best we can be in every sense.
In the short term of course, we need to find enough people who agree with this vision to help us become a legitimate voice in this country’s politics.
I ask anyone who’s read this far to please show their support by signing up as a founding member on our Indiegogo campaign page. That support costs as little as $20 for a three year membership. In the meantime we’ve announced creation of our foundation committee who have already started preparing our first policy document. You can also read more about our principles and values on our website of course.
There’s no clear end to the movement we’re trying to create here. We want to be a voice for reason and possibility ongoing in our national political conversation.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“Well only that Australian creativity is truly a primary industry that creates wealth purely a drawn from our imagination and hard work. We’re not digging it out of the ground, we’re using our minds, our greatest natural resource. The future of Australia will be depend on the quality of our ideas and creative thinking far more than the size of our mines. And if you agree with that, then join us!”
If people would like further information, or to contribute to the formation of the party see links below.