Earlier this year I had to move house, and the rents have gone up so much that, sadly, I am unable to live in Brisbane any more. I was lucky to get a place at all. The area I live now is pleasant enough, but I am feeling amputated from my real-world culture.
The rental crisis is widespread, and getting worse. The other day there was a news item re concern over the likelihood of ghettoes forming around Darwin, due to aboriginal people wanting to access the services they need that are not provided out bush. To me the article possibly had racist undertones, along the lines of “quick we’d better get some services out there or they’ll come here”, but it does underscore a point about housing affordability in Australia. Maybe I’ll be off to Darwin to join them when it gets worse here.
However, there is more to affordable rental than having a roof over your head. What you can do under that roof matters. Vanity Fair recently ran an essay by Christopher Hitchens on the necessity of “Bohemia” for the renewal of culture. “In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals.” Well the rental increases are so steep here in Brisbane that even the Chinese Club has had to move out of Chinatown.
Where will high cost of accommodation leave artists, musicians and other cultural practitioners? It will physically scatter us, robbing us of the contact that is so necessary for cross-fertilisation of ideas. And in downsizing our accommodation, artists won’t have room to do things like painting and sculpture. I have just acquired sets of artist’s coloured pencils because this place is so small I have nowhere to paint, and nowhere to store canvases.
Creative people are imaginative and resourceful and will adapt as best they can. We have the internet now – if we can afford it and all the gear to run it. The web is building creative networks as never before. Our work can be produced digitally (software is available at no cost) and exhibited online. But there is no substitute for physical cultural spaces accessible to people outside the mainstream. It is well known that the cost of failure has to be low for innovation to occur. These rents are making the cost of failure prohibitive.
What will become of art in the cities, and where will artists go?