Art should be solace. Which is not to say that it should always be comforting, much less comfortable. Rather, that it should always be there to remind us that we are human when we doubt. This is a truly extraordinary time, when our need for what artists produce has become acute, driven by events that make most of the usual avenues of production and delivery suddenly unavailable.
I have so many friends who don’t know when they will next have an income.
For those who are not Australian it is difficult to describe or explain how much this country hates the Arts. There is an ingrained sense that what artists do should remain a hobby, done in their own time and paid for by a day job. Our politicians long ago figured out that if they mock the very idea that our government should fund artistic companies they will please more people than they will annoy. Now suddenly most venues for generating and performing art have faced an abrupt halt, and it is being seized as an opportunity to let arts workers know that those in power want only for them to disappear. The Government’s rescue package for people who have lost work, being focused as it is on business owners rather than workers, has been set up in a format that could have been specially designed to exclude arts workers, who usually work a series of short-term contracts for different employers over the course of a year. When the Government launched a strategy to help the media industry yesterday the measures involved barely any money that could go to workers in the field, instead they announced that broadcast companies (the companies, note) would no longer be held to quotas for local content production. Help the Broadcasters by telling them they no longer have to hire local workers. Our Federal Government dissolved the Ministry of the Arts a few months ago, and our State Government (NSW) Arts Minister resigned a few days ago, and the Premier announced that he would not be replaced. There is a kind of ostentatious contempt for the sector, as if making a point about how possible it is to do nothing for its people is the goal.
It is wearying repeating endlessly that the Arts employs thousands more people than mining, and brings billions into the economy, not to mention that any money put into small-to-medium arts companies gets ploughed straight back into the local economy, but it’s not actually about statistics or facts at all, it’s a deeply visceral resentment of any work that is not immediately comprehensible to anyone who hasn’t experienced close contact with it as work (you can see similar attitudes leaking into areas like academia and even science).
So many people have, astonishingly, almost instantly begun to find ways to make and build and do under these new conditions. I admire, but have not found myself able to emulate. There are many ways my skill set could be adapted to produce useful resources, but I also have a few gaps, and so I find myself floating in a vat of preliminary notes and good intentions, unable to anchor my brain to one buoy of a project long enough to learn any technique or complete any task. So, to illustrate the full extent of my ability to use this time to acquire new skills, here is a picture of Katherine of Valois I drew, in preparation for making a video on how to study Henry V.
But you probably don’t need to hear a bitter rant just at the moment. It would be much better to give over this space to those who are being positive. Because there are people out there who are still managing to create, and other people are finding that giving attention to creative things is working for them. So in recognition of the value of productive people here is something to make and something to watch –
To make: a project from Illinois State University (editors are credited on each example) allowing you to download, print out and make up quarto playtexts to see how Early Modern books were made: Shakespeare in Sheets
To watch: a site set up by Thea Buckley: Shakespeare & Early Modern Streams, with a round-up of companies streaming Shakespeare performances.