The Jam, The Mix and The Gig, an almost two-decade-old mental health program helping people make social connections through music, has been put on hold due to a lack of government funding. We speak to the people behind the organisation about why it needs to exist.
The Jam, The Mix, The Gig refuses to go quiet
After 17 years in operation, community music program The Jam, The Mix, The Gig (also known as The JMG) was placed on hiatus this month due to a lack of funding.
The program has spent the better part of the last two decades helping South Australians with chronic mental health issues find community and structure through jamming, recording and performing.
This funding shortfall was foreseen by The JMG’s organising team, who had spent the last 12 months appealing to the South Australian minister for Health and Wellbeing, Stephen Wade, for help.
As part of this appeal, Lynne Newton, a founding member and chairperson of the organisation, and music directors Robert Petchell and Phil McTaggart, asked attendees of the program to write to the minister and explain the benefits they’d experienced while taking part in The JMG.
One letter, penned in blue ink and sent to the minister, says, “Although I have postgraduate university education and other achievements, my confidence had been shattered through a number of life events, including: domestic violence, mental illness, and homelessness.
“Over the years of having somewhere to go and do something I love, this assisted in rebuilding myself and my life.”
Another participant, who has been part of the program since 2015, wrote, “To my mental health, The JMG has provided a stabiliser in my life… and a good reason to get out of bed”.
Yet another attendee submitted a similar sentiment: “I believe I am speaking for all JMG members when I say it gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”
Despite the letter-writing campaign, The Jam, The Mix, The Gig ran out of time.
At the end of June, it announced the program would be “suspended until further funding is secured”.
“After 17 years, The JMG has clearly demonstrated its value in contributing to mental health recovery and management, enabling people to rebuild their lives through involvement in our positive and inclusive music Program,” the post, attributed to Robert, says.
“With an even greater emphasis on mental health due to the effects of the Covid-19 situation, it is crucial for State and Federal Governments not just to increase funding for managing and responding to mental health crisis (as vital as this is), but to properly fund Programs such as The JMG that help prevent crisis or assist in recovery from this.”
The operations of The Jam, The Mix, The Gig haven’t changed since its inception in 2002, and yet Lynne, Robert and Phil tell CityMag it has been more difficult than ever to acquire government funding.
“In 2002, Arts SA (in fact the State Government) had a program called Health Promotions… So we applied to the category of health promotion through the arts and received funding to run a program,” Robert says.
“From 2002, we’ve had funding from Arts SA for many of those years,” Lynne says.
The trio says the organisation lost a substantial amount of government funding in 2015, but due to the media attention this received at the time, a charity called Northern Community Health Foundation came through with $25,000 a year over three years.
This funding did not continue beyond those three years.
SA Health then agreed to fund the program in the 2018-19 financial year.
In a statement, SA Health said they provided the “same level of funding” to The JMG in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 financial years.
A spokesperson for the department says, “correspondence was sent to JMG in March 2021 offering an opportunity to apply for 2021-22 funding at the current level from SA Health.”
“To date, SA Health has not received a formal application for 2021-22 funding.”
This statement is contrary to Robert’s experience communicating with the department.
“This is such bureaucratic stonewalling from SA Health,” he says.
“The JMG for three years has been writing to Stephen Wade, Minister for Health and Wellbeing, making him and his department aware of the JMG funding situation and asking for SA Health to fully fund the JMG’s core annual program.
“As recently as Friday, July 2, I emailed [SA Health] the JMG grant acquittal report for the SA Health 2020-21 grant funding.
“In a cover letter to that acquittal report, I once again made clear The JMG funding situation.
“At no point have we received a request to formally meet with SA Health to discuss our situation or be invited to submit a funding application beyond the current 2020-21 financial year.
“If they truly valued the work of The JMG and what it means to our mental health participants, surely this would have been good way to go as a next step.”
The Jam, The Mix The Gig’s operations were restricted in 2020 due to the coronavirus, but according to Lynne and Robert, SA Health provided $11,594 funding for the 2020-2021 financial year.
— Lynne Newton
This funding lasted until June this year, and the organisation has since attempted to gain funding in order to continue to exist into the future.
Lynne, Robert and Phil estimate they need $55,000 from the State Government to support the entire program, which includes administrative salaries, venue hire and travel fees for live performances.
CityMag asks if the organisation has considered public fundraising or crowdfunding, but this is not something they want to consider.
Instead, they want the government to recognise the program’s benefits.
Lynne says it’s “really, really sad” the government doesn’t seem to see the benefits of the program and therefore won’t fill the funding gap.
“If it’s only for 30 people, people will see that as not a lot,” she says.
“But If we keep 30 people well with that funding, it’s fantastic.”
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JMG caters to a specific type of musician.
The program’s attendees have severe and chronic mental health issues, Lynne says, which may prevent them from being able to form natural and productive partnerships with artists in other ensembles.
“To be honest, a lot of them may not have a clue on how to start a band. They may not know where to start,” Phil says.
Robert explains the JMG “has a lot of fun parts” which allow people to jump in and commit at different levels.
“The Jam is our open-doors session, so you don’t have to have any music skills to attend,” he says.
“And there’s no one at the door saying, ‘Show us what mental health [issues] you’ve got’, but people know it’s a mental health program.
“People come along to that session and there’s a whole range of music played over two hours.
“It’s band-based music, and we meet twice a month for that, and when it was fully-grown The Jam would average around 21 participants.”
Then there’s the Mix, “which is where we work on specific songs,” Robert says.
“It’s quite often songs people have written. But there’s a limit on numbers for that one. It’s capped at 15 people. “
And finally, there is the Gig – an event held every six months.
“We organise an event and it can involve people from The Mix and also The Jam, and we also get booked for public performances,” Robert says.
The band has performed for crowds at the Semaphore Music Festival and Festival Theatre.
As demonstrated through the letters and testimonials submitted to Minister Wade, the opportunities presented within the program “keep participants well,” Lynne says.
“We had one guy who all he used to do was sleep and smoke dope, and then in the end, he was there at the band practice, he stopped smoking so much weed,” Lynne says.
“Those sorts of things. It creates structure.”
“One person who came to us, she had a hell of a lot of anxiety, had already been doing some music,” Robert says.
“She’s now become independent of the JMG program and runs a radio program.
“She goes and plays at open mic nights, and does stuff like that. And I saw her recently and she was very thankful about how that’s enabled her to rebuild her life.”
The group say they will not stop looking for ways to fund the project.
If this story raised issues for you, call LifeLine on 13 11 14.