Innovative Councils Can Support Live Music
by Alex Masso
This year the government of Australia’s largest capital city has been preparing a major action plan to support live music. It covers a vast amount of territory with dozens of recommendations and goes where very few music initiatives in Australia have gone before. The full report was released in November and will likely influence music policy in Australia for some time to come. Read more
The willingness of a local council (in this case, a major capital city) to open up the discussion and cover any relevant topic has been inspiring and fascinating. Noise regulations, liquor licensing, building codes and development applications are all hot topics for live music advocates looking to support venues and reduce regulatory barriers and inhibitors to cultural activity. In addition to these, here are three of the other areas where local governments can think strategically and make a real difference to musical life in their communities.
Earlier this year when I told someone I was looking at a local council's draft parking policy they asked me ‘what does parking have to do with music?’ It's a fair question. Many musicians know how hard it can be loading into a gig where there is nowhere to park near the venue, either having to sneakily park where you're not supposed to for 10 minutes while you rush the instrument inside, or parking further away and carrying your instrument. Many music lovers will know the frustration of going to hear some music and having one or two hour parking on the street - why don't they have parking time limits that suit the time of performances?
Ideas for action:
1) Where a performance venue is located in an area with limited parking, such as inner city areas, and musicians require close access to the venue to load in equipment, there should be a mechanism for providing that access at suitable times. Music Victoria and the City of Yarra have the model for this, it’s simple and it works.
2) Where a precinct includes regular cultural activity in the evening or on weekends, parking time limits should reflect venue performance times. Pretty simple.
Access for people with disability is now well established as a priority in parts of the arts sector, with Arts Access Australia and state-based peak bodies across the country, the significant Arts Activated Conference in Sydney, national Creative Partnerships Arts Access Awards, Disability awareness and policies in many arts organisations, and of course the National Arts and Disability Strategy (NADS).
However, the discussions and initiatives around access generally take place in the funded, not for profit arts sector. That isn’t to say that small live music venues aren’t concerned with access, but there is certainly room for the Arts and Disability sector to work more closely with local government and venues to improve access to live music.
Ideas for action:
3) Use the resources of local governments to improve physical access for cultural venues. The National Arts and Disability Strategy already proposes a strategy to ‘investigate opportunities for partnerships with local governments to incorporate best practice in accessibility into cultural planning processes.’[i] The strategy specifically refers to ‘government supported and owned’ cultural facilities but there is no reason why local councils can’t use their expertise and resources to help all cultural venues improve physical access. The approach just needs to be different, with information about physical access, support in creating ‘alternative solutions’, and grants, matched funding or loans to encourage building owners to improve access.
4) Research. There is now a body of evidence around live music venues (eg. APRA/Ernst and Young[ii]) and issues related to Arts and Disability (eg. Arts Access Australia[iii]) but still we can’t really say with certainty what the issues for live music venues are. Research would open up a discussion about what is necessary and where live music venues can easily improve access. The NADS proposes to at least ‘standardise approaches to data collection’ and have national research to support the sector; this is within reach for the live music sector with some coordinated effort.
Diverse music needs diverse rooms and no single venue can be ideal for every musical performance. Fortunately many parts of Australia have a range of options from small bars to larger venues, outdoor spaces, concert halls, community halls, and so on.
Many community groups, small to medium arts organisations and artists have trouble finding affordable concert spaces. This feedback comes from community choirs, jazz and classical music presenting organisations, professional musicians and schools.
Local councils own cultural facilities already. Town halls, community centres, libraries and other spaces are already used for musical performances and in many cases could be better utilised to support the local music community and increase the use of these spaces.
Ideas for action:
5) Our experience is that a little bit of consultation goes a long way to finding the issues. ‘This venue is great but it doesn’t have a piano,’ ‘this venue is very affordable but we can’t do ticketed concerts because it doesn’t have an APRA license,’ ‘this venue has a good subsidy scheme but I can’t access it because I’m not incorporated as a not for profit organisation, even though I’m just putting on a concert for my students which will cost me money.’ These are all real and recent examples of feedback. Consult with the community, they probably have the answers already.
2) Put the resources where people will use them. Pianos are an issue for many small concert presenters, it’s hard to find one and even harder to find one in a good room, let alone an affordable room. Some councils spend millions of dollars on new community centres that could potentially be a music venue, but fail to consider putting in a simple PA that would be useful for musicians.
There are real initiatives that any local council can implement with a bit of effort and innovative thinking.