Creative Young Stars

by Alex Masso, 13 March 2013

News broke this week that the federal government is considering an initiative where MPs have $23500 to support young artists in their electorate as part of the National Cultural Policy. We have no detail about this, yet, but the reports in News Ltd suggest that the program might be a version of Local Sporting Champions. That report also suggests they might have a "Community Idol” or some such talent quest, with prize money. They call it "Creative Young Stars".

My friends on Facebook are, almost without exception, ridiculing the idea. “This is the most stupid thing I have come across...politicians adjudicating on the Arts”, “Would they hold a community running race to distribute funds in sport?”, “Just when things couldn't get any worse...”, “What a remarkably stupid idea”, and so on.

Anyone would think the government is proposing that local MPs run talent quests. Oh wait…people think they are. I don’t believe for a second that they would actually use this money to run talent quests, surely this is a bit of failed spin.

Let’s be clear, the talent quest idea is silly. No MP should be organising a talent quest with federally funded prize money. Supporting an existing competition, battle of the bands, art prize or eisteddfod? Fine. Running one? No, thanks. But do we see federal MPs organising sporting competitions with their electorate allowance? Not really, but there is a program to support young sportspeople in whatever activity they are involved in.

Let’s sweep that possibility aside and consider what the scheme could look like. Since it’s too soon to be sure the initiative will be implemented, let’s hypothetically say the Government is planning to run a scheme for young artists along the lines of the sporting equivalent, Local Sporting Champions.

A quick google search shows politicians of the major parties backing the idea. “These grants are a fantastic initiative and help alleviate some of the pressures experienced by Territory families in meeting the ongoing costs associated with participating in sporting competitions” said Solomon MP Natasha Griggs (Country Liberals). Labor MP for La Trobe, Laura Smyth, also supports the program, saying “previous recipients have told me just how much this funding has helped with costs from new sporting equipment to trips for competitions to somewhere as far away as Hawaii or even the other side of Melbourne”.

Of course the member for Bennelong, former tennis champion John Alexander (Liberal), supports young sportspeople: “I am always pleased to award Bennelong Local Sporting Champions Grants to young people from across the region who have shown exceptional promise and dedication to their sport.” Such support is echoed by Stuart Robert (Liberal, Fadden), Gai Brodtmann (Labor, Canberra), Sharman Stone (Liberal, Murray), Martin Ferguson (Labor, Batman), Darren Chester (Nationals, Gippsland), Anthony Byrne (Labor, Holt), Wyatt Roy (Liberal, Longman), Sid Sidebottom (Labor, Braddon) and so on.

If a program to support young sportspeople representing and excelling in their community is so valued, why would we not support young artists as well?

The Local Sporting Champions program, as I understand it, is available to young people aged 12-18 who excel in sport. There are four application rounds per year and the money is distributed in each electorate via the local member. Up to $500 is available for individuals and up to $3000 for groups.

The guidelines say that “At the conclusion of each round, all eligible applications from your local area are sent for assessment by an independent assessment panel for that area”, ie. the local community panel has input. While we can’t expect MPs to be experts on the Arts, and we wouldn’t wish for them to be involved in Australia Council grant decisions, there might be value in having this system for an arts grant program. Simply having a process where local MPs engage with members of their local arts community to decide on grant recipients would strengthen links with the arts community and increase its profile. I doubt you would find a single electorate in Australia that doesn’t have enough suitable people that are willing to be on such a panel.

The program would need to be altered to reflect the nature of the arts, particularly arts activities for young people. For a start, not everything is competition based, nor can everything be assigned to formal categories. A young trombonist might be going to the National Band Championships in another state to compete, this could easily be explained in a grant application and assessed on its merits; it would no doubt be a contender for such funding.

On the other hand, I can imagine my friend’s daughter, a very talented young singer-songwriter, applying for one of these grants. She might be seeking to go to an industry showcase, or perform at a festival which could be a big break, or record an EP. No formal competition is involved. She would be very deserving on anyone’s measure of talent and determination. How would she be assessed? Well, let’s have flexible guidelines to allow for such things. There might also be a scholarship component, for students to do extra study or mentoring rather than attend events.

The program could widen the age criteria from 18 to 25 years of age, since there is often an overlap between those age groups that might not exist with sports. It would need to recognise the difference in organised community sport and organised community arts. We know that there are approximately as many orchestras as there are electorates, so many of these MPs would have a local youth orchestra (or community orchestra with young people in it). But the program might also support groups that aren’t formal community organisations, such as rock bands. Some artforms (dance) have more organised community groups while some (visual art) are more likely to be an individual pursuit, others (music) have a combination of both. All of these things would need to be taken into account, simply through the wording of guidelines.

School groups could be considered eligible, we know for example that many young people participate in school music but not community music ensembles. The school groups could be required to be engaging with their wider community, rather than purchasing equipment for internal use only, which wouldn’t be an onerous requirement and would encourage the school-community links that are so valuable.

Under the sporting program the bulk of funding is for grants of up to $500 for individuals, with some grants of up to $3000 for groups. An arts program could increase the number of grants for groups, which would have immense long term benefits to community groups and school groups (if they are eligible), and could support very large numbers of young people.

Finally, with some centralised reporting of the program and some clever structuring of the applications we might gather useful data on the effectiveness of the program, and the nature of young people’s involvement in the arts across Australia.

So let’s do away with the ‘talent quest’ idea and consider the proposal for MPs to support young artists in their community. When I was at high school I was awarded a scholarship for music. Incidentally, it wasn’t a ‘talent quest’ or competition, simply awarded by the school based on what I was doing with prize money donated by a local business. That $500 scholarship went directly towards drum lessons and other educational expenses which led directly to becoming a professional musician and studying at Sydney Conservatorium. I still remember my first lessons with Gordon Rytmeister and Toby Hall, which I paid for with that scholarship.

This kind of initiative can have lasting benefits. Let’s have more support for young people and more local MPs supporting the young artists in their community.

For more information about Local Sporting Champions see

Read the original reports in and the Herald Sun.

Alex Masso is a professional drummer, music educator, and Manager of the Music in Communities Network.