Thursday, June 5, 2014

After the Budget: Things could be worse

Prime Minister Abbott claimed that the cuts to arts and culture funding would have been greater if not for Arts Minister Brandis. I'm sure that's true. Would the cuts to Indigenous programs have been greater without the interest of the Prime Minister in this area? In this budget we have the ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous Australia’ presiding over large cuts to such a productive and valuable area as support for Indigenous languages. This is an area of activity which has been crucial to building resilience and a life-changing sense of purpose and identity in communities across Australia.

The problem is not just the level of the cuts, which may well be lower than in many other areas. It’s the nature of the cuts. Arts and culture have been cut because the Government doesn’t see a significant and broad role for national government, possibly government at all, in this area. This is particularly the case with support for small scale arts and cultural activity.

The exhibition of Cecil Beaton royal photographs at Ballarat Art Gallery, March 2012 - all the disparate elements the Budget struggles with: regional cultural life, the role of cultural institutions, the link between tradition and innovation.

Hence the focus on expanded corporate and philanthropic support, something both major parties agree on, will expand markedly. The renewed support in the Budget for Creative Partnerships Australia, the amalgam of ArtSupport Australia and the Australia Business Arts Foundation, is a sign of this.

Unfortunately the way philanthropic support works in practice is that often small organisations use their government support to leverage far higher levels of support from philanthropic donors. Without the government support, the philanthropic support may no longer occur.

I suppose you can always say things could be worse. They could also be better. It’s all about what you think is important and effective and most importantly of all, whether you think government has a role in helping support a broad-based, locally strong Australian culture which engages people as more than passive audiences.

When he became Arts Minister, I was prepared to give Brandis the benefit of the doubt. I even commented that he might turn out to be the best thing the arts had going for it in this twisted fiscal environment. Admittedly his leaning in the arts was to the large, institutional and conservative and he had a narrow view of what ‘the arts’ encompassed. Despite this he had expressed support for regional arts and indicated he would like to see more funding for it, so the picture was more complex than it might appear. I thought that if anyone could get extra funding for regional arts it might be him. 


Big end of town rather than small end of country

Now I’m no longer sure. It seems the only extra funding he managed to obtain was for the Australian Ballet School. Perhaps the money will be well used but it does seem to be such a cliché that the only extra funding is for a mainstream, traditional, well-established institution. It’s all the big end of town rather than the small end of country.

The same approach is evident with the main arts and culture funding bodies, such as the Australia Council and Screen Australia. According to the ABC, the Australia Council will lose more than $10 million out of its $222 million annual budget this year and $6.4 million for the following three years, resulting in a cut of almost $30 million.

According to the Council's CEO, this will mean ‘fewer and smaller’ grants to individual artists and cuts to small arts organisations. To balance this he was relieved that funding for the major performing arts companies, a group of 28 of the country's top theatrical, music and dance organisations, would be maintained.

These organisations are important but they are only part of the sector and arguably not the part where the most interesting and exciting work is coming from, nor the part with the broadest connection with the many different parts of the Australian ‘public’.

Brandis made the point at Senate Estimates that as well as quarantining the major performing arts companies from funding reductions he had also quarantined funding for regional arts. He only spoke about the regional arts funding managed by the Australia Council. It’s not clear if the Regional Arts Fund, managed by the Ministry for the Arts and distributed on its behalf by various organisations in each state and territory was also quarantined.

Understanding what will happen with Australia Council funding will depend on which areas have been ‘quarantined’. Many of the Australia Council regional programs, such as the touring programs transferred from the Ministry for the Arts as part of the National Cultural Policy, have a focus on support for touring performances and exhibitions to regional areas. As such they align more with the philosophy of sending ‘excellent’ city-based art to regional audiences and, along with the support for the major performing arts companies, they fit with a view of culture that is about great art educating and improving the public. At Estimates Brandis talked about the importance of audiences and he seems to see the way to service these audiences is to support the major performing arts organisations and the touring programs.

In contrast there doesn’t seem to be much focus on the notion that regional artists and arts organisations might be supported to create local cultural work and build a thriving creative practice in their own area. A wide range of regional arts and cultural activity occurring in regional areas has been supported over many years by all sorts of programs, such as the Indigenous Culture Support Program, which among many other things contributes to a network of development officers working with local communities in regional NSW to support their own activity. Has this been quarantined as well?

What about small community or local arts and culture organisations in the outer suburbs or in inner city neighbourhoods? Will they have to rely on funding only from the reduced pool available through the Australia Council? With large chunks of that pool quarantined, the remaining areas will bear the whole burden of the cuts.

See the other articles about the impact of the Budget on arts and culture

Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding 
‘The transfer of substantial program funds from the Australian Government’s main arts funding agency, the Australia Council, to the Ministry for the Arts has had the effect of masking serious cuts to crucial programs run by the Ministry, including its Indigenous cultural programs. There have been cuts to overall Ministry program funds stretching long into the future almost every year since the 2014-15 budget, with the long-term trend clearly heading downwards’, Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding.

Support for small scale arts and culture
'Budget cuts only to uncommitted funding sound benign but will end programs by letting them peter out over several years.' After the Budget: Government support for small scale arts and culture – here today, gone tomorrow

Long term effect of broader Budget cuts far more damaging
'Wider budget cuts combined over years will have a compounding effect on arts and culture far more damaging than anything immediate.' After the Budget: the future landscape for Australian arts and culture

Selective drive-by shooting
‘The Budget was a selective drive-by shooting with easy targets including small arts. Entitlement continues for others.’ After the Budget: a selective drive-by shooting

See also

Indigenous jobs
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world

No comments:

Post a Comment