Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Culture Grief

I remember when the news reached me, as news does these days, in an email, an email-bomb shocked-absorbed by my unsuspecting body - pow. 

Lovely Noëlle recently emailed us about unlovely plans to restructure the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. In the slicing and dicing, some small departments are under threat - including Theatre & Performance Studies. 

I felt sick. Another full frontal kick in the cultural guts. This is not an isolated bit of butchery. This is a diabolical coincidence. In this last year: 

  • The theatre major at the University of Newcastle has been suspended. 
  • Monash University plans to close its Centre for Theatre and Performance and no longer offer theatre and performance majors.
  • Flinders Drama Centre, 50 years old this year, looks set to be restructured out of existence. 

Some nations, no matter how poor or divided, would never amputate art from life, or punish their universities. But across Australia, on the back of stagnant arts funding, and too little too late pandemic bail outs for most of the sector, universities bearing immense COVID-related budget pressures are now accomplices in the effort to demolish homegrown arts practice, decades of distinct and distinguished scholarship and training programs, and dismiss our collective critical and creative labour which strives to enrich our hearts, minds and repertoires with potent works steeped in the lived experiences and languages of this land.

In the weeks after Noelle’s email, I walk through Parramatta. Parramatta is a construction site. Parramatta is a metaphor. Demolition is everywhere. Crews in high viz vests take snaps of gaping shopfronts and upper rooms and inner fragilities - bricks, tiles, beams, lino - that don’t know what hit them. The cafe where my first serious boyfriend took me for coffee after work is gone. Not that I care particularly about that cafe - it was just a room above a shop - but I care about good process, and I don’t think that is what is going on right now. That day in Parramatta I feel naked. I feel the dust from the bulldozers on my skin. 

I am experiencing - on top of climate grief - culture grief ... for ... the loss of cultural infrastructure, wisdom and community ... the loss of skills and practices attuned to reconciliation and truth-telling, hearing and sensing, sharing and expressing, and entering into experiences beyond our own ... the squandering of generations of insight, labour and love ... all that heritage and living legacy, lost or under immediate threat.

Please support the effort to save the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney if you can, and rally on Wednesday the 2nd of June. You can follow the crisis at Save USyd Arts


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