Wrong way on Arts funding

The Government’s $250 million package will breathe some life into the ailing arts sector but $90 million is for loans, not grants and government will decide who gets it, not the Arts Council. Sports rorts tells us this is not a good idea.

David Bell, Democrats Arts campaigner

For 53 years the Australia Council, a statutory body, has made allocations to all sectors of the Arts based on peer reviewed grants applications. There was never enough to support every applicant but every enterprise and every practitioner however humble could submit their needs and vision.

In 2015 senator George Brandis shocked the arts community by cutting Council funding by $26 million per year. 

Following a huge outcry, including 2,719 submissions to a 2015 Senate Enquiry into Arts funding, Senator Brandis left the portfolio and the country and was replaced by Mitch Fifield who managed to restore $8 million per year to the Council.

The damage was done. Many companies folded, including the KAVE dance company in Sydney. Six full time workers and 50 casual performers lost their jobs as a result.

Further damage was done when the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham decided to cut funding for students who wished to undertake creative arts training. 57 creative arts courses lost their funding.

We spent the last month contacting some of those who made submissions to the senate enquiry. Of the many comments received, perhaps the comment by Amber Stuart, former general manager of the Big West Festival, speaks for most.

Australian artists who could be extraordinary will struggle to sustain artistic practice and over time even the protected major organisations will be impacted with a lack of talent and skills as the ranks are depleted.

The Big West Festival ceased in 2017.

We want to see funding, and more, restored to the Australia Council and decisions as to who gets it made by the Council.

Of the 13 recommendations made by the Senate Committee, we suggest the Government starts with these:

1. The committee recommends that the government develop and articulate, in consultation with the arts sector, a coherent and clear arts policy, including priorities for arts funding supported by evidence-based analysis, and greater clarity about the respective roles of the Ministry for the Arts and the Australia Council, as well as the other statutory arts bodies.

2. The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government restore to the Australia Council the full amount of funds diverted from it in the 2014 MYEFO and 2015 Budget, ensuring it has the level of resourcing identified as necessary to implement in full its 2014 strategic plan over the current financial year and the four-year forward estimates.

If you are an arts practitioner, tell us how you are surviving the pandemic here.

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