On Friday, the Australia Council announced the much anticipated results of its four year operational funding program valued at $28m per annum, just a week on from the Ministry of the Arts soft release of further $12m to Catalyst recipients and three days on from the Australia Council’s latest round of project grants valued at $11.2m.
That’s around $51.2 million invested into the Arts Sector in eight days–announced after a year of instability and funding delays, these decisions should be a welcome relief.
We recognise many esteemed arts organisations are Catalyst recipients and/or have gained Australia Council multi-year funding and we congratulate their individual success. However, the arts sector is highly interconnected and the outcomes for individual organisations will have an impact across the entire sector.
Funding has come at the 11th hour and there is painfully little co-ordinated Government analysis on the impact of decisions on the artistic vibrancy and sustainability for the Arts in Australia as a result. Today’s announcement confirms that respected organisations responsible for significant new works, valued collaborations with major performing arts companies and festivals, providing professional employment opportunities, and developers of creative talent with proven track records here and overseas now face extremely uncertain futures.
The Australia Council, recognising the importance of multi-year operational funding, to their credit, has allocated additional funds in this round. However, given they are operating with an overall lower budget than previous years the next question is – What other initiatives have been reduced to accommodate this?
We are adamant that the Australia Council’s funding should be returned to 2013-2014 levels and that full CPI indexation should apply to all Australia Council funding programs. We have actively lobbied the Federal Government through our budget submissions and our election priorities to adequately fund the Australia Council, recognising that it is a vital contributor to fostering ambitious and accomplished artists and building artistic engagement throughout the sector. It is an arm’s length funder with transparent processes; both critical in building trust within the sector.
The real strength or resilience in the performing arts ecology is the underlying stability of the majors and key arts organisations. Many creatives and arts administrators within the majors today developed their skills within these smaller companies. Key small and medium arts organisations should not just rise and fall as projects allow. We value their capacity to keep their doors open, to experiment and develop new works to nurture artists and to facilitate collaborations over the longer term.
The 2016 Budget outlined the Federal Government’s plan to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurial activities but remained silent on the role of the arts.
Overall, investment in the arts is a small fraction of the Federal government budget; but it is highly valued. The arts sector has always been effective in its capacity to leverage each dollar it receives – investment in the arts is an investment in people, jobs and vibrant communities; it can build innovation, creativity and optimism.
What is really needed are sturdier policy positions from all sides of politics that back a strong Australia Council and its work to support a vibrant and sustainable arts ecology at all levels. Although all arts investment is welcome, the performing arts community needs certainty to maintain the spirit of innovation and excellence that underpins the sector. It is in this context that AMPAG again calls for an increase in the Australia Council funding to pre 2014-15 budget levels and an improved framework to increase transparency in both the selection and announcement of Catalyst recipients, an increase in matched funding to support the growth of philanthropic activity for the arts and a commitment to enabling better arts education access and outcomes, focus on “STEAM” not just “STEM”.