By conserving the unity of one of the last remaining Church Squares in Victoria as a living artefact that amplifies the social resonance of its heritage significance, Artefact Church Square’s alternative redevelopment of the Bishop’s Residence will not only save the green space behind the church but will, at its heart, redress the financial inequity experienced by artists.
The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that cultural visitors to Victoria in 2017 injected almost $2 billion into our economy, an 88 per cent increase since 2013. Yet, from 2008 to 2015, the income of art practitioners across all art forms decreased by 4.2 per cent. After six years of study for basic qualifications, 60 per cent of professional artists earn less than $10,000 per year from creative work and 42 per cent commit to four more years for higher qualifications and earn the same. With supplemented income, professional artists across all art forms earn a median of $42,200. Comparable qualifications see managers earn $69,500, and accountants, lawyers and teachers earn $73,400. After working a 45-hour week, visual artists end up $2,000 below the poverty line before living costs, such as rent. We applaud the $2 billion injection into our economy by cultural visitors, but cannot ignore the gross inequity. Creative arts are the foundation of this cultural wealth, yet artists live on the poverty line.
The historic green space behind Christ Church, St Kilda, is under threat of becoming a carpark. We believe this space would be better suited for the development of an arts library, with a focus on Australian arts and architecture, an art therapy centre run by artists for sexually abused children and an independent office of research dedicated to addressing policy deficiencies and improving income and employment for artists and art historians.
The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government to pledge a financial commitment to the not-for-profit redevelopment project by Artefact Church Square to save the green space behind Christ Church, St Kilda and invest in infrastructure for this space that includes an arts library, art therapy centre and independent office of research for improving income and employment outcomes for artists in compliance with departmental determinations of creative excellence.
A progressive St Kilda mayor noted in 1989 that ‘It was a suitable omen that the son of St. Kilda’s first mayor should be Rupert Bunny — one of the greatest painters this country has produced. Since then, St Kilda has featured as a backdrop in some of Australia’s most interesting history, and in fact, it is arguable that Australia’s more identifiable art was conceived within this municipality’. Best intentions aside, it cannot be ignored that St Kilda prides itself on an artistic heritage that attracts developers and gentrifies the neighbourhood while driving artists unable to pay increased rents out of its streets, to make those promoting St Kilda sound if not hypocritical, at least a little fake.
St Kilda Councillors, 1861-62, showing Cr. Brice Frederick Bunny (seated, left) Mayor when St Kilda became a municipality in 1862; Rupert Bunny, The Forerunners, circa 1894; Sidney Nolan, Under the pier, 1945, from his well known St Kilda series that he began in 1941; Joy Hester, only woman artist in the ‘Angry Penguins’ group, holding her son Sweeney on balcony at home in Robe St, St Kilda, photo by Albert Tucker, 1945-46. Sweeney, later adopted by the Reeds at Heide, also became a wonderful artist; ‘[B]y 1963 [Ian] Burn lived in the seedy beachside suburb of St Kilda [and] shared an enthusiasm for the recently recovered early work of (Sir) Sidney Nolan, who had painted St Kilda scenes in the 1940s’; Book cover, Dialogue: Writing in art history by Ian Burn, 1991, with Sidney Nolan, Railway Guard, Dimboola, 1943, on cover; Ian Burn, Roger Cutforth and Mel Ramsden in 1969, now in New York but unable to afford a flight to Melbourne to attend their ground breaking exhibition at the Pinacotheca Gallery, an ‘anti-establishment gallery’ in St Kilda.
In 1988, Paul Taylor wrote in the New York Times:
Of any neighbourhood in Australia, St. Kilda, situated on one of Melbourne’s sunny downtown beaches, is the one with the greatest number of artistic associations, embodying all the contradictions of Australian urban life. The district, the closest thing to an Australian bohemia, is noted for its mix of punk-rockers and tourists, prostitutes and drug abusers, as well as Australia’s largest Jewish population. From the “Angry Penguins” art movement of the late 1930’s and 40’s to the New Wave art scene of the early 80’s, it has also supported a variety of artistic factions. In the words of the painter Jenny Watson, “this is our East Village.” But the sense of real conflict, as well as the infusions of big money that characterised New York’s East Village art scene until very recently, is missing here. Like the Australian art world as a whole, St. Kilda’s artists have a sense of identity and pride, but little idea of where to go with it.
How would and arts and architecture library help?
When studying visual art at tertiary level in Australia, we are taught what is called ‘first class’ or ‘A class’ contemporary art history — the art history of Europe and North America. Students are expected to trip over second class art history — our own — in the street. This approach falls short if one imagines art students in France or North America being taught Australian art, instead of their own. While this pertains to visual art it nonetheless typifies the extent to which we, across all art forms, do not know ourselves, which makes the independence of our artists a financial struggle. To make our own art more accessible outside university campuses, is to improve artists’ income while socially benefitting the surrounding neighbourhood. Empowerment through inter-personal connections — sitting in a library, absorbed in a book, surrounded by others or spying a parents’ play group close-by, while discovering in an exhibition catalogue the connection between Rupert Bunny and St Kilda’s first Mayor — is both wondrous and vital, especially in a suburb densely populated by one bedroom flats. History is connectedness, it is a shared time and place.
Direct action for artists?
In conjunction with an arts and architecture library, Artefact’s alternative redevelopment includes direct action to raise artists’ creative income through an office for sustainable art and art history practice. An independent office of research experts who will champion the social and public benefits of intellectual and creative practice to support creative independence and thought. We will:
- Mine statistical data within creative exchanges never before collected, to analyse realtime patterns and deficiencies;
- Render evidence necessary to demonstrate errant public policy tendencies that require redress at all levels of government;
- Develop governance models that advance cultural wealth while recognising, not avoiding, the acknowledgement of artists through renumeration;
- Improve creative income and employment outcomes while safeguarding independent practice and thought.
Of any neighbourhood, St Kilda is the best placed to turn the tide for artists. In a befitting twist of fate, redressing the financial inequity experienced by artists will, at the same time, conserve the last remaining Church Square in Victoria as a living artefact that amplifies the social resonance of its heritage significance.
Statistics worksheet for the petition
Making Art Work by David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya Department of Economics, Macquarie University
Press Release: Tourism Booming in the Creative State
Sexually abused children art therapy program – Letting the Future In