Arts and Cultural Funding - Ten Year Picture shows decline in recurrent investment

Public expenditure on cultural activity per capita has dropped by 4.9 per cent over the period 2007 to 2018, and cultural expenditure at 0.71 per cent of GDP ranks Australia 26th out of 33 countries, well below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) members's average.

Arts and Cultural Funding - Ten Year Picture shows decline in recurrent investment


A new report released, The Big Picture: Public Expenditure on Artistic, Cultural and Creative Activity in Australia, is a comprehensive snapshot of our federal, state and local governments’ financial commitment to arts and culture since 2007. It sets out several recommendations including;  

  • Build stronger and more strategic leadership and collaboration between the federal, state and territory and local governments,
  • maintain this commitment to the long-term per capita average of the last decade, as a minimum.
  • deliver remedial measures and positive incentives to boost cultural expenditure as a percentage of GDP to the OECD average.

This result has been driven by a downward shift in federal government investment in arts and culture since 2012-13 with a notable upswing in 2017–18 and volatility in state and territory funding during the period. State and territory expenditure per capita rose slightly between 2007–08 and 2011–12, declined from 2011–12 to 2015–16, and has since been increasing.  On the other hand, local government per capita expenditure has increased by 11.0 per cent.

Our population has increased by 17 per cent over the past decade, however, support for Australia’s culture and heritage isn’t keeping pace with this growth.

The report states the 4.9 per cent per capita drop in cultural funding appears to come from declining federal and state and territory government expenditure intersecting with population growth. While the increased commitment by local governments initially countered the reduction in federal and state and territory per capita expenditure, continuing population growth has resulted in overall decline becoming apparent. Increased per capita expenditure by both federal and state and territory governments in 2017–18 has begun to address the decline although the stark 18.9 per cent drop in per capita spend by the Federal government compared with a decade ago remains.

Another trend in state and federal government investment has been a move towards capital investment with a drop in recurrent investment. Capital works include major new arts precincts such as Walsh Bay, Melbourne's Arts Precinct, a new theatre for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and Adelaide Festival Centre's major redevelopment. Recurrent funds support multi-year funded organisations, regional touring, development and presentation of creative works, exchanges and new artists.  

Capital expenditure is typically a minor part of the total cultural budget, significantly outweighed by expenditure on recurrent activities. However, it is increasing as a proportion of the total. Between 2007–08 and 2017–18 capital expenditure per capita increased by 47.6 per cent, while recurrent expenditure per capita decreased by 11.7 per cent. 

Across the entire decade, total recurrent expenditure per capita has been falling. The slight increase in 2017–18 is the only year where recurrent expenditure per capita was not less than the year before. This suggests a drop in investment in creativity at the very time the world is calling on creativity and the skills it fosters to navigate the challenges of the 21st century.

The report also advises it is important to note that different local governments have significantly varied capacities to invest and may have different cultural expenditure priorities to federal and state and territory governments. The rise in local government funding, cannot be simply considered as direct compensation for the decline at other levels of government.

The report also notes: 

Federal, state and territory government expenditure on culture is split fairly evenly between three overarching categories: Film, Radio and Television (32.5 per cent); Museums, Art Museums, Archives, Libraries and Cultural Heritage (37.7 per cent); and Arts (29.7 per cent).

Responsibility for cultural expenditure is split more evenly between the levels of government than it was a decade ago. As a proportion of the total, the federal government now contributes 39.0 per cent, down from 45.7 per cent; state and territory governments contribute 34.8 per cent, up from 31.9 per cent and local governments contribute 26.2 per cent, up from 22.4 per cent. 

A New Approach Program Director, Kate Fielding, ‘Governments have always played a leading role in funding Australia’s arts and culture for the social, cultural, economic and personal benefits they provide. This report shows a shifting and increasingly volatile trend, with more public funding at a grass roots level from local government which is closest to the community.

‘What is very clear from the data is that without a strategic and coordinated effort across all levels of government, Australia risks a deterioration of its cultural fabric and a loss of the significant benefits it provides, Ms Fielding said.

‘The findings of this report provide clear evidence that it is now time for governments to recognise the importance of a strong, vibrant and confident cultural sector, demonstrate a long-term commitment, and work together for the benefit of the many Australians who care about the stories, histories and future creativity of this country,’ Ms Fielding added.

 The full report can be found HERE