‘Intermittents du Spectacle’ vs ‘Newstart’

Artist Welfare

by Lochie Bradfield
794px-Australian_banknotes_in_walletimage source: Martin Kingsley, Wiki Commons
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As a follow up to the article, ‘A musician’s Perspective on Art’s Victoria’s report in to the ‘Economic, Social and Cultural Contribution of venue-based live music in Victoria’ I thought I would look at the ‘Intermittents du Spectacle’ – a welfare benefit for artists living and working in France.

The program was established in the 1930s, in order to supplement the income of film industry techs (eg. set designers, lightning technicians and camera operators), who worked intermittently under short-term contracts, so that they could remain available for future projects. These days it extends to performing artists of all kinds – musicians, actors, dancers, circus artists, puppeteers – protecting them from the inevitable downtime between jobs that those working in the entertainment industry perpetually face.

If you can prove that you have worked as a professional performance artist for at least 507 hours over a 10 months period (approximately 12 hours a week) then you are eligible for monthly payments.

As of 2012 there were approximately 100,000 artists receiving the benefit, running at a €1 billion Euro deficit (approx AU$1.3 billion). Every time there are calls to cut the benefit, French artists strike and protest. In 2003 protesters shut down France’s most prestigious theatre festival at Avignon, forced the sacking of the Culture Minister, and threatened to placard the Cannes Film Festival, despite the fact that Festival organisers supported the protesters.

Coming up for review again this year, artists are no doubt getting ready to protest again as government economists struggle to bring the French economy under control in a post-GFC climate.

So would a system such as this work in Australia?

Now, before the taxpayers begin pulling out the ‘dole bludger’ line, first consider the possibility that essentially this welfare system already exists in Australia – under Centrelink’s benefit program, Newstart (‘The Dole’ in oldspeak)

As Simon Castles argues in his article ‘Australian Idle’, unemployment benefits have helped support the careers of many top Australian artists and entertainers, ‘but the days of the dole as a quasi arts grant are gone.’

Since Prime Minister Gough Whitlam the dole has had a series of euphemistic names – the Fortnightly Creative Arts Grant, the Rock ‘n’ Roll, the Whitlam Scholarship and, with the passing years, the Fraser, Hawke, and Keating scholarships. But things changed under the Howard government, and have remained much the same ever since.

To receive the dole today, the unemployed must apply for 10 jobs a fortnight, up from two in the early ’90s. They have to complete a dole diary, and after three months on benefits, they get intensive assistance to find work. After six months they must do a work-for-the-dole project or undertake education or training – normally in areas that are irrelevant to an artist’s practice, or ‘less than ideal’ at best.

According to an Australia Council report, Don’t Give Up Your Day Job, between 1996 and 2001 about one-third of all artists experienced unemployment. The average cumulative time out of work was 17 months – or about three months a year, with 56% of all out-of-work artists applying for Centrelink  benefits.

Now recall the $501 million dollars that live music in Victoria brought to the economy through performances at cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs, as well as the 17,200 full time equivalent jobs it created in 2009/10. This figure does not include festival performances, licensing deals, larger venue performances, royalty cheques or record sales.

France’s population is roughly three times that of Australia (65 million versus 22 million). If France is supporting 100,000 artists on the ‘Intermittents du Spectacle’ – and if Australia had a similar percentage ratio of artists to France – we would be looking at roughly a third of the €1 billion Euro deficit, which equates to AU$430 million – and that’s nationwide!

Consider also the fact that many of the people who would apply to collect benefits under an ‘Intermittents du Spectactle’ type benefit are probably already doing so under the Newstart program – Centrelink simply can’t be too vocal about it.

To switch to an artist welfare arrangement would free up time for Centrelink workers to focus on cases of people earnestly looking for work – instead of wasting time and resources on artists and musicians who are going through the formalities of filling in ‘job seeker diaries’, attending service provider appointments and clogging up Centrelink queues, without any intention of getting a ‘real job’, as Paul Keating so eloquently put it.

The history of an ‘Intermittents du Spectacle’ type benefit is already very much alive and well in this country – it is just buried deep beneath a bureaucratic system that doesn’t officially acknowledge the value art and music bring to our culture, society and country.

Hopefully the analytical evidence presented by Arts Victoria’s report will go some way in building outspoken support and financial assistance to musicians, for the valuable contributions they make to Australia – both culturally and economically.

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