Monday, March 21, 2016

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 worthwile 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.

In a speech at the National Press Club on 16 March, Australian Government Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield, commented about his joint responsibilities, ‘As Minister for Communications and the Arts I see myself as having responsibility for both the sinews and the soul of the nation. The sinews through Communications and the soul through the Arts. The sinews being that which is essential, connective and often unseen. And the soul, well the closest any minister comes to that in a secular, pluralistic democracy is the Arts Minister’.

Policy helps to see the wood despite the trees and also helps to see both through the fog of daily Government chaos. 

Government funding less important
His speech was almost exclusively about media reform but in questions afterwards he made some telling comments, which thankfully have been reported by Deborah Stone in ‘ArtsHub’.

He said that being a strong advocate for the arts doesn’t mean delivering government funding. He noted ‘I do consider myself to be a strong advocate for the arts. The arts isn’t something that should be seen as a luxury. The arts isn’t something that should be seen as an extra. The arts are core to who we are as a nation. They are core to how we express ourselves and how we interpret our past and how we look to the future. So the arts are core business for government. But it’s not just something for Government. Yes it’s appropriate that government provides funding to support the arts across the genres, but it is also important that the Government money is used to leverage philanthropic, corporate and individual dollars into the sector. So I don’t think an arts Minister or a government should be judged just on the quantum of money that government puts in. But we do put significant dollars into support for the arts.’

He also commented about the recent Government Innovation Statement launching its National Innovation and Science Agenda. ‘We’ve got to see the arts, we’ve got to see Australian culture not just as something that is of inherent value, which the arts are, they have value in and of themselves. But that’s not inconsistent with recognising that they are also an important part of the creative industries. So we need to look broadly to see what we can do to help them be competitive.’

He continued ‘When the Innovation statement was released some people said to me, why isn’t the arts mentioned there? And the answer to that is, well the Innovation Statement was the first word not the last word on innovation and to be a truly innovative society, you’ve got to recognise that the arts are at the heart of helping create a culture that is broad thinking. That supports and fosters creativity. That sort of creativity feeds into a culture of innovation.’

‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Whether arts and culture are eventually integrated into the Innovation and Science (and Culture) Agenda only time will tell. Whether the Minister and the Government will sort out the botched, hamfisted and petty attempt to rearrange national arts funding is also an open question’

As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Whether arts and culture are eventually (or even tomorrow) integrated into the Innovation and Science (and Culture) Agenda only time will tell. Whether the Minister and the Government will sort out the botched, hamfisted and petty attempt to rearrange national arts funding – in the process consigning potentially hundreds of small organisations and their programs of activities to oblivion, is also an open question.

Three problems in one
The problem the Government has to confront is threefold – firstly, it has muddied the waters of existing arts funding, cutting many worthwhile organisations loose for no reason, secondly, rather than delivering arts funding, it has reduced it significantly, and, thirdly, it has no coherent strategy or policy to guide its arts decisions or direction. The first two problems flow inexorably and dangerously from the third.

'The problem the Government has to confront is it has muddied the waters of existing arts funding, has reduced it significantly, and has no coherent strategy or policy to guide its arts decisions or direction. The first two problems flow inexorably and dangerously from the third'

Having said that, to some degree I agree with Fifield that the level of funding is not the main issue, because the fundamental problem is the third one – that the Government has no coherent strategy or direction for its arts support. Rhetoric about how the arts are important and valuable will not cut it. Without a firm and practical commitment to the strategic importance of arts and culture for Australia’s society and economy and to the principle of support for national arts and culture, funding is merely a random sum of money without rationale or permanence. With a clear cut policy, funding is much more likely to be maintained and has hope of being increased in the future, even though the argument may still have to be made for how much and what for. Without it, funding will ebb away bit by bit with every wave of Government cuts, never to be replaced.

The Labor Party is more inclined to clearly enunciated policy which it may or may not implement to varying degrees, depending on priorities. The National Cultural Policy is a fine example of a pretty good policy. The Coalition tend to be more wary, preferring basic statements about underlying principles and seeing cultural policy as a form of social engineering. This can all too easily lead to its Arts Policy looking uncomfortably like the sum total of personal whims of the responsible Minister.

'The Coalition tend to be more wary, preferring basic statements about underlying principles and seeing cultural policy as a form of social engineering'

The Coalition would probably be more likely to lean towards a framework or general statement of direction. Whether called a policy or not, a consistent and coherent position, clearly outlined, would be an improvement. However, we also have to take into account a general philosophical reluctance on the part of the Liberal Party for any form of Government role, including in supporting arts and culture, with a nod towards corporate and philanthropic support instead.  At least there seems to be an acknowledgement that core Government funding enables organisations to leverage wider support.

Why arts and culture have to be integrated into Government policy and strategy
As I have said before, nationally the arts sector must look more broadly than the narrow arts area, to creative industries and the knowledge economy within which the creative industries are located. Arts and culture plays an important role in Australia’s social and economic life, with an integral relationship to key economic and social factors such as education, innovation, community resilience, social and community identity and health and wellbeing. Focusing on the important economic role of arts and culture is similar to a focus on its community role – both spring from recognition that the arts and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.

'Increasingly the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape are both clever and clean.At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future'

Increasingly the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape are both clever and clean. They are mainly service industries that make up the knowledge economy, based on intellectual enquiry and research and exhibiting both innovative services or products and also new and innovative ways of doing business.
At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. 

Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world by helping channel those who write the stories, paint the pictures and dance the dances that tell our story. They are underpinned by the arts and culture sector and the artists and arts and cultural organisations, mainly small, that make it up and create the content which feeds into and inspires other sectors.

'Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world'

In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not. As part of Australia's culture sector they share the critical function of managing the meaning of Australia and what being Australian means, which distinguishes this sector from other parts of the knowledge economy.

Arts, culture and creative industries also show promise in helping address central social challenges Australia faces, such as responding effectively and productively to cultural diversity and tackling Indigenous disadvantage in a practical and positive way. These industries depend on innovation and innovation occurs where cultures intersect and differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged and assessed.

Policy provides rationale for funding
A policy and the understanding that produces it, provides arts and culture with a stature that underpins funding. Otherwise the funding will always be ad hoc and insecure, piecemeal, project-based, intermittent and at the mercy of whim and fashion. We have to get arts and culture to the stage where it is seen like public health or education and debated accordingly. This applies to a Labor Government just as much as it does to a Coalition Government.

'Policy and the understanding that produces it, provides arts and culture with a stature that underpins funding. Otherwise funding will always be ad hoc and insecure, piecemeal, project-based, intermittent and at the mercy of whim and fashion'

The understanding of the issues that produces the policy is crucial. Without that understanding and the commitment which flows from it, a policy is merely empty words, not much more than vague rhetoric about how arts and culture is ‘important’. Lots of things are important – the question is how important? This is where funding can be particularly relevant because a commitment of funding shows that something is important. It just doesn’t show why it’s important or how important it is.

Long term process
When the Labor Government announced Australia’s first National Indigenous Languages Policy in 2009, some organisations criticised the fact that there was no new money attached to the Policy. What they failed to realise is that, in a period of successive Government cuts by both Labor and the Coalition, the existing Government program of support for Indigenous languages suddenly became much, much more secure. The adoption of the Policy also suddenly meant that access by Indigenous community languages organisations to important policy processes in education and employment became much easier. The work on developing a national curriculum by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority is a good example.

Furthermore, in 2014, three and a half years later, when the National Cultural Policy was announced, new money of $9.5 million over four years was included for support for Indigenous languages. This would not have occurred without the National Indigenous Languages Policy and the slow and patient work that led to it.

Permanently on the main agenda
When that late lamented National Cultural Policy was being developed, the issue of attaching funding was a major one. Arts Minister Crean didn’t want to announce a policy without funding. He persevered and managed to squirrel away enough to assemble a significant package. It was a major achievement, especially given all the other claims on the money from other Ministers. However, all along I considered that the funding was not the main thing, that what was needed was the framework, the policy, the strategic commitment.

'The National Cultural Policy for a brief period provided a window of opportunity for arts and culture issues to be considered on the main policy agenda where they belonged'

Even though most of the submissions in the public consultation process focused on the question of funding, some of the most important supported a focus on the framework rather than the money. These expressed a view that in a period of tight fiscal conditions, a shortage of funding shouldn’t derail the policy. Those working in the area of arts and health were particularly interested in the way a policy could provide greater access to areas of government making major decisions about health policy and funding.

More generally the National Cultural Policy for a brief period provided a window of opportunity for arts and culture issues to be considered on the main policy agenda where they belonged. This shouldn’t be a rare event, something that only happens once in twenty years. Instead arts and culture should be permanently on the main agenda, an integral part of the consideration of all major policy issues.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook.

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.

Election mode for Australian arts and culture – a policy-free zone?
‘A policy and the understanding of issues that leads to its adoption, provides arts and culture with a stature that underpins funding by providing a rationale for support. Otherwise funding will always be ad hoc and insecure, piecemeal, project-based, intermittent and at the mercy of whim and fashion. We have to get arts and culture to the stage where it is seen like public health or education and debated accordingly’, Election mode for Australian arts and culture – a policy-free zone?

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.

Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities
‘It is becoming abundantly clear that in our contemporary world two critical things will help shape the way we make a living – and our economy overall. The first is the central role of cities in generating wealth. The second is the knowledge economy of the future and, more particularly, the creative industries that sit at its heart. In Sydney, Australia’s largest city, both of these come together in a scattering of evolving creative clusters – concentrations of creative individuals and small businesses, clumped together in geographic proximity. This development is part of a national and world-wide trend which has profound implications’, Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities.

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.

Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts
‘Asked in the most recent Senate Additional Estimates hearings about cuts to Ministry for the Arts funding in the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook review, the Department of Communications and the Arts replied that there were cuts of $9.6m over the forward estimates. This seriously understates the cumulative long-term magnitude and effect of these cuts and underestimates, 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’, Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts.

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.

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.

Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?
‘With a Coalition Government which now stands a far better chance of being re-elected for a second term, the transfer of the Commonwealth’s Arts Ministry to Communications helps get arts and culture back onto larger and more contemporary agendas. This move reflects that fact that the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, are both clever and clean. Where they differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not’, Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?

Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture
‘A far more important issue than arts funding is how can the broad arts and cultural sector become a better organised, effective voice for arts and culture and its wider importance for Australia? Changes like this happen because they are able to happen – because decision-makers think they can get away with it. The arts and culture sector and its supporters have to be influential enough that decision-makers think carefully about the importance and the standing of Australia’s arts and culture and weigh any decisions they make carefully in terms of the strategic needs of the sector. These current dire circumstances may provide the opportunity we have needed to look seriously at this question’, Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture.

Arts funding changes – rearranging the deckchairs while we ditch the lifeboats
‘The impact of the changes to national arts funding flowing from the Budget are likely to be deep and severe. The main issue for me is what will now not be funded – by the Australia Council or by anyone else. There are hundreds of small to medium arts and cultural organisations that play a pivotal role in supporting Australia’s cultural life. They need to be seen as every bit as important a part of Australia’s cultural infrastructure as the major performing arts companies or the major arts galleries and museums. They are essential infrastructure for our arts and culture’, Arts funding changes – rearranging the deckchairs while we ditch the lifeboats.

‘Having a go’ at Australia’s arts and culture – the Budget Mark 2
We are seeing is the steady skewing of Australia’s arts and culture sector as the most dynamic component, the one most connected to both artistic innovation and to community engagement, atrophies and withers. This is the absolute opposite of innovation and excellence. It is cultural vandalism of the worst kind, ‘Having a go’ at Australia’s arts and culture – the Budget Mark 2.

‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel
‘Faced with the increasing prospect that it could become the next Australian Government, the Labor Party is reviewing its ‘arts’ policy. Whatever happens and whoever it happens to, considered and strategic discussion of arts and culture policy is critical to Australia's future.’ ‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel.

1 comment:

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