News, sport, weather and… arts?

Feature

Imagine if all television channels in Australia added a permanent and daily arts and culture news update to the end of all news broadcasts, disrupting the business model of crisis and conflict.

A new petition calling for arts updates as a fixture of broadcast news has quickly attracted thousands of signatures of support. It comes at a time when pandemic lockdowns have left art and artists struggling for outlets, as well as general audiences looking for relief from the groundhog-day cycles of Covid-19 updates.

Artists Tai Snaith, Nina Sanadze and Mia Salsjö have watched their petition go viral, attracting supporters such as singer-songwriter Missy Higgins and Archibald Prize winner Yvette Coppersmith. They are calling for specialist arts journalists to be appointed to present such segments, just like specialists present sport.

Sanadze said the petition has hit at the right time with the pandemic, tapping a hunger for the arts. She says news services in many European countries present the arts as part of the news, including those in Germany, France and Italy. “It’s well overdue, but now it feels particularly urgent,” she says.

Nina Sanadze.

The trio started the petition after Salsjö shared on Facebook a letter by artist Monique Germon published several years ago in a Tasmanian newspaper, which read in part: “I wonder what kind of country it would be if we had a consistent five minutes at the end of every news half-hour dedicated to what occurred in the arts instead of what happened in sport.”

Snaith says: “Generally, the standing of arts, even though we contribute so much to the economy and the well-being of the country, we just get forgotten. It’s just Australian culture: sport is held up as this icon of leisure and unity, whereas everyone in the arts knows that that’s exactly what we do as well.”

Snaith says presenting the arts as part of the news would help the public understand what art is about: “We’re actually for proper art news, not just fluff pieces.” The trio advocate that the segments should include the literary, performing and visual arts, with architecture, fashion, craft and design occasionally included.

Tai Snaith.

The trio published a statement putting the case that the creative arts directly employs 194,000 Australians and contributes $14.7 billion to gross domestic product, quoting Australia Institute research.

But is the economic and consumerist argument the one to make, or is the strongest argument the inherent, non-monetary value of the arts?

“While we roll all these points together, and it feels like we need to be convincing from an economic point of view because that’s the language, for me this is not what’s important about the arts news,” says Sanadze, who quotes US author Sarah Sentilles’s argument that the creation of art is urgent in the face of destruction.

Sentilles writes in her book Draw Your Weapons of the revolutionary and reparative power of the arts: “Art gives me hope, and this hope is not naïve. It’s not romantic or small or abstract. It’s concrete: glue and paint, scissors and tape, words and drawings, book pages and ink and gouache and oil and canvas and sentence after sentence after sentence. It’s the certain knowledge that it’s possible to make something new.”

Mia Salsjö.

Salsjö says there are “so many wonderful arts events going on all throughout the country. There’s an incredible arts centre out in the [West Australian] Pilbara, for instance, that could be documented. There’s an abundance of creativity that could be reported on.”

Angelina Hurley, a PhD candidate at Griffith University, wrote recently that Covid has made maintaining support for the arts harder, particularly with heavy restrictions applied to arts and culture events and the cancellation of NAIDOC week celebrations, even while the football is still operating.

“The government and society as a whole need to prioritise support for the arts during these times—as much as they do for sports,” she wrote.

Yvette Coppersmith, who won the Archibald Prize in 2018 for a self-portrait, wrote on the petition: “Art is critical for the well-being of a nation, to support our community in times of crisis. Artists are an essential part of providing hope, through beauty and ideas. It would be win-win to give airtime to the arts.”

Artist Jessie French, who recently had Nine News visit her studio in Melbourne, wrote afterward that the coverage, reach and public reception had been fantastic.

“People are interested to know what is going on in the arts, but unless it is made accessible to them, barriers to getting involved can be too great,” says French.

“The arts have well-established benefits for our mental health, empathy and comprehension of information and complex topics. It is so vital right now in the face of climate crisis, global health emergency, and the continuing economic and political unrest.”

The ARTS are NEWSworthy! petition can be found and signed here.

Steve Dow