Funding cuts fret young musicians

As the arts industry continues to be hit by budget cuts, local musicians are urging funders to not forget the importance of accessible music education.

In 2011, Sophie Curtis started the Western Australian Young Artists Chamber Music Program.

She wanted to give students affordable classes where they could learn and offer creative input in music making.

But this year the programs grant application was knocked back for the first time.

Students at WAYACHAMP event.
Students showcasing what they have learnt at one of WAYACHAMP’S annual competitions. Photo: Sophie Curtis.

Mrs Curtis says the Australia Council for the Arts questioned the viability of the project despite its successful track record.

“Learning music is not a cheap hobby, you have to pay for the instrument and lessons,” she says.

“So WAYACHAMP is heavily reliant on government funding to bring down the cost for students to be able to participate in the program.”

Executive director of the Chamber of Arts and Culture WA, Kim Jameson, says lack of funding to the arts and culture in WA is historical. She says when times are tough the arts are overlooked, with money often going to other industries.

“In 2021, only seven percent of investment from the Australia Council of the Arts were allocated to programs in WA,” she says.

“One of the challenges is the council didn’t get enough grant applications from WA, so we need to encourage more people to apply for arts funding on a national level to ensure access to those funds.”

Former WAYACHAMP student Aaron Dungey joined the program early in his musical journey and attended events, classes and competitions for three years.

Mr Dungey says the program was vital for his growth as a musician and inaccessibility for future students would create a hole in the opportunities available to young musicians.

“WAYACHAMP has been such a brilliant thing in my musical development, and I know Sophie has been putting in so much work getting it to grow and it makes me really quite happy to know that something like that is out there,” he says.

“If that were not to be happening anymore, I think that would be a real tragedy.”

Aaron Dungey
Listen to more from Aaron Dungey here.

The future of the program lies heavily in the hands of funders.

Mrs Curtis says: “Without grants the enrolment fee would have to double, which would not make it accessible for a lot of students and I don’t want it to be something that only some people can afford.”

“The arts don’t discriminate by postcode and it should be for everyone, ” she says.

WAYACHAMP director Sophie Curtis
Sophie runs WAYACHAMP events at the University of Western Australia’s Conservatorium of Music. Photo: Chloe Maher.

Miss Jameson says: “There’s a bit of a misconception of what the arts is about and what people don’t always grasp is that arts and culture are critical to the broader ecology of our communities.”

“I think it’s time to see change,” she says.

“We need to rethink how we pull together the process for applying for grants, to facilitate those with great ideas, yet don’t always have the language to successfully apply.”