Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts

Figures about national arts cuts quoted in the most recent Senate Estimates hearings seriously understate the cumulative long-term magnitude and effect of arts cuts and underestimate, just as with the national cultural institutions, the long-term damage. Yet this is the real and permanent impact – a compound effect of creeping cuts.

In the Senate Additional Estimates hearings on 9 February, the Department of Communications and the Arts was asked how much funding was cut from the Ministry for the Arts in the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook and which programs would have to be discontinued and reduced.

The Department replied that ‘there were administrative program cuts of $9.6 million for the arts programs over the forward estimates…This is money within the Ministry that has not been allocated to anybody. The Ministry's budget has been decreased by $9.6 million. The major part of that is the $6 million in savings from not continuing with the Book Council.’

The former home of the Ministry for the Arts - SAP House, or as I used to call it, ASAP House. One of the many stops the Ministry has made in its circumnavigation of the public service and of Canberra as it has weathered the storms of policy and program upheaval.

A compound effect of creeping cuts
This seems to be a lot less than the figures in the table I provided in my earlier article, ‘Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding’. It is accurate – but limited – and doesn't tell us a lot. It seriously understates the cumulative long-term magnitude and effect of these cuts and, just as with the national cultural institutions, the long-term damage is the worst – a compound effect of creeping cuts.

It is possible to see how this figure is arrived at. Answering the question in 2015-16 and referring to the ‘forward estimates’, there was a cut of $9.8m in the 2014-15 budget for 2016-17. However, that was made up of $5m which occurred in the previous year, but which was also repeated in subsequent years, which lowers the baseline budget for the following year by that amount. So the cut on top of the new baseline budget is only $4.8m. The same thing happens in subsequent years, so the cut in 2017-18 is not the $14.6m listed but only a new amount of $4.8m. The cumulative total is large ($33.8m from 2014-15 to 2017-18) but using this method, it seems smaller. Therefore the total cut over the forward estimates (currently out to 2018-19) is only $9.6m. The other cuts from the following budget, the 2015-16 one, totalling $2.2 million over four years are counted as ‘Arts and cultural programmes – efficiencies’ not ‘Arts programmes – reduced funding’, so are not included.

A cut is a cut is a cut – and the long-term, cumulative impacts are worse
However, have no doubt about this. Firstly, just as is the case with the national cultural institutions, so-called efficiencies are just another word for funding cuts. Secondly, the only initiative – or at least the main initiative – not proceeding because of these cuts may be the Book Council. However, the funds for the Book Council – before they disappeared – were funds for some other program or initiative that would have been supported from them but instead were hived off to pay for the Book Council. If you remove funds in a particular year which are not yet allocated to anything, they are not then available to fund anything in that year. If they are part of an ongoing reduction, as is almost always the case, then they will never be available to fund anything in future years.

This is exactly the same issue as we see with the national cultural institutions. The cuts each year look relatively small but they are cumulative and that’s what does the damage over time.

See my earlier article for the table of figures that maps the downwards trend in funding.

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.

For the impact of the same process on the national cultural institutions:

Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy
‘I always thought that long after all else has gone, after government has pruned and prioritised and slashed and bashed arts and cultural support, the national cultural institutions would still remain. They are one of the largest single items of Australian Government cultural funding and one of the longest supported and they would be likely to be the last to go, even with the most miserly and mean-spirited and short sighted of governments. However, in a finale to a series of cumulative cuts over recent years, they have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair. The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation at a crucial crossroads in its history’, Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy.

See also

Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future 
‘The real danger for Australia’s arts and culture is not funding cuts but steady, unending neglect. The decline of Government arts and culture support can be attributed to four long-running factors. This I call a quadruple whammy, caused by lack of indexation, the cumulative effect of ‘efficiency dividends’, the trend towards project funding rather than operational funding and falling behind as the population and economy expands’, Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future.

The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future
‘The never-ending election campaign that became the never-ending election tally has turned into the unpredictable second term government. What does this new world of fragmented politics mean for Australian arts and culture and the organisations, artists and communities which live it and advance it? There are a series of major factors which are hammering arts and culture organisations. These intersect and mutually reinforce one another to produce a cumulative and compounding long term disastrous impact. All this is happening in a context where there is no strategic policy or overview to guide Government. It is critical for the future that the arts and culture sector think broadly about arts and culture, build broad alliances and partnerships, never forget its underlying values and draw on its inherent creativity to help create a society based firmly on arts and culture’, The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future.

Greater than the sum of the parts: cultural funding and the power of diversity 
‘Cultural diversity underpins so much of value in Australia. It helps ensure innovation flourishes, because where cultures intersect, differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged. This is essential to the new clever and clean industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. The national Indigenous cultural programs play a critical role in support for both Indigenous communities and for a diverse and dynamic Australian culture. What is clear is that these programs have been affected by the range of cuts as part of the search for savings since the Coalition Government took office. Funding community organisations for services government would otherwise have to provide is a great way to get things on the cheap. If you don’t fund them at all, it’s even cheaper’, Greater than the sum of the parts: cultural funding and the power of diversity.

Silent retreat – is arts funding becoming project funding? 
‘In the flurry of recent changes to national arts funding arrangements we need to be concerned at what might be the beginning of a bigger trend – the tendency for government to withdraw from longer term operational support for the arts in preference for short term, one-off project funding. This creeping trend makes it ever harder for organisations to find the long term operational funding which small arts and cultural organisations need to keep their doors open so they can deliver base level frontline services’, Silent retreat – is arts funding becoming project funding?

Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst – the looming failure of arts support 
‘In the slowly unravelling universe of arts and culture support, organisations – whether they be small arts organisations or the largest of national cultural institutions – need to think seriously about their future. They need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. This means developing strategies to survive the combination of drastic cuts and slow erosion already occurring and likely to continue into the foreseeable – and unpredictable – future’, Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst – the looming failure of arts support.

Lies, damned lies and lies about statistics – how population growth will magnify the impact of arts and culture cuts 
‘I’ve said before that the traditional saying about ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’, should instead refer to ‘lies, damned lies and lies about statistics’. Cuts to national arts and cultural funding, while relatively small each year, have a cumulative effect far greater than at first appears and, in the long run, will undermine the effectiveness of national arts and culture support. Where the real disastrous impact of these cuts will hit home is when we also factor in the impact of population growth. If anything, there needs to be an expansion of arts and cultural funding to service the growth’, Lies, damned lies and lies about statistics – how population growth will magnify the impact of arts and culture cuts.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes
‘I am not too concerned who manages national arts funding. Both the Australia Council and the Ministry for the Arts have long managed numerous funding programs. I am more concerned about what is funded. The fact that the national pool of arts funding available to support the operational costs of smaller arts and cultural organisations has shrunk substantially is a deep concern. Watch as Australia’s arts and culture sector reels over the next five years from this exceptionally bad policy decision – and expect the early warning signs much sooner. Well- known and respected figures in the arts and culture sector have been expressing this concern sharply’, National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes.

Arts funding – it’s not all about the money
‘National Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield, has said that being a strong advocate for the arts doesn’t mean delivering government funding and that an arts Minister or a government shouldn’t be judged just on the quantum of money the government puts in. This sidesteps the Government’s very real problems that it has muddied the waters of existing arts funding, cutting many worthwhile organisations loose with no reason, that rather than delivering arts funding, it has reduced it significantly, and that it has no coherent strategy or policy to guide its arts decisions or direction. The real issue is that a national framework, strategy or policy for arts and culture support underpins and provides a rationale for arts funding – and is far more important’, Arts funding – it’s not all about the money.

National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes 
‘I am not too concerned who manages national arts funding. Both the Australia Council and the Ministry for the Arts have long managed numerous funding programs. I am more concerned about what is funded. The fact that the national pool of arts funding available to support the operational costs of smaller arts and cultural organisations has shrunk substantially is a deep concern. Watch as Australia’s arts and culture sector reels over the next five years from this exceptionally bad policy decision – and expect the early warning signs much sooner. Well- known and respected figures in the arts and culture sector have been expressing this concern sharply’, National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes.

No comments:

Post a Comment