Thursday, September 15, 2016

Making ends meet – the brittle new world of arts funding

Everyone is still recovering from the shock of the announcement by the Australia Council back in May this year of which organisations had been successful in obtaining four year operating funding – and which had not. It’s not so much directly due to the transfer of funds from the Australia Council but more a matter of new applicants applying in a competitive funding round, with an expanding sector, yet limited funds and a shrinking arts budget. Planning how to operate in the arts landscape of the future is something everyone needs to do. Having a Plan B and Plan C will be critical.

Everyone is still recovering from the shock of the announcement by the Australia Council back in May this year of which organisations had been successful in obtaining four year operating funding – and which had not. For the moment life goes on for everyone involved, with both those funded and those not, trying to adjust to the brittle new world of Australian arts funding.

Limited and locked up arts funding has always been an issue with a growing population and an expanding arts and cultural sector - in an era of shrinking funding, the problem becomes accentuated.

On a rainy Canberra afternoon I thought ‘this will be good for farmers’, as I headed off to a briefing by the Australia Council for successful ACT recipients of four year funding for organisations. I was there because Craft ACT, an organisation I am on the Board of, was a successful, if small, applicant and needed to know how the funding will operate, what we need to do and what it means for the future.

The Australia Council noted that the briefing was to spell out what the shape of the relationship and the associated mutual expectations were to be over the coming four year period. A focus of the session was to be the Australia Council’s Strategic Planning Framework and specifically how supported organisations reflected this during the 2017-2020 four year period of funding. Tony Grybowski, CEO of the Australia Council for the Arts and Frank Panucci, Executive Director, Grants and Engagement, filled us in.

Not transferred funds, just not enough funds
The briefing made me revisit an article I wrote on my Facebook page, ‘indefinite article’ about the funding results back in May. At the time I had initially thought that the problem was that since the pool of Australia Council funding has shrunk, less organisations were able to be supported. This was due to the transfer of funds for the Catalyst program – which doesn’t fund operational costs, though it does seem to fund every thing else you can think of, except artists – and the steady overall attrition of Australia Council funds.

My deepest concern had been that a large amount of funding which had previously been earmarked to support multi-year funding for small arts and cultural organisations had been removed. Instead the funds were to be used through the Catalyst fund for project funding rather than operational funding. There was a very real possibility that a whole layer of small arts and cultural organisations crucial to Australia’s cultural life would be fractured.

‘There was a very real possibility that a whole layer of small arts and cultural organisations crucial to Australia’s cultural life would be fractured.’

Despite the cuts, the Australia Council had somehow managed to corral together $28m per year for the replacement four year program and to fund a fair swag of Indigenous organisations and organisations outside the major cities. Assembling these funds was presumably at the expense of other areas of support. The Australia Council had previously said in Senate Estimates that before the cuts it had planned to spend between $28m and $30m per year on the proposed six year funding for organisations. This compares to the earlier Key Organisations Program, which had funds of around $23m per year but supported 147 organisations.

One plus one only makes two
According to the Australia Council, these are the final figures:
· 262 organisations applied, across all areas of arts practice and regions of the country. Of these 20% were new applicants.
· 128 organisations were funded (a 49% success rate).
· Of these 19 organisations chose service to the sector as the category they fitted.
· 16 successful organisations were Indigenous-led.
· The average funding level under the four year program is $219,000 per year, compared with $157,000 under the previous programs (39.5% higher) as the Australia Council has said it has consciously tried to fund at higher levels that enable organisations to be more sustainable – for those not funded it’s obviously not a level that enables them to be sustainable at all.
· 43 organisations that had not had multi-year funding before were successful (a third of those funded).
· This means that 85 organisations of the 147 previously funded under the earler program were successful (57.8%).
· This means that 62 organisations previously funded were not funded this time (42%).

What you see is what you would have got
It’s highly likely the Australia Council would not have used the transferred Catalyst money for this program, so the result would probably not have been that different to what we have now. According to the Australia Council, it’s likely there would have been a change in the organisations getting multi-year funding in a competitive round whether the budget changes had occurred or not.

It does mean that the negative impact on the crucial layer of small arts and cultural organisations will still be felt. The funding decision meant that a large number of very fine and very effective small arts and cultural organisations are left out in the cold. However, it’s not so much directly due to the transfer of funds from the Australia Council but more because the overall level of arts funding available for support for small organisations is so much lower than the need.

‘It’s a matter of new applicants applying in a competitive funding round, with an expanding sector, yet limited funds and a shrinking arts budget.’

There were even claims at the time that prominent organisations servicing the arts sector, like the National Association for the Visual Arts, had not been funded because of their leading role in opposing the Catalyst changes. Unfortunately, whatever the reason some of these organisations were not funded, this is the least likely reason. If it was, then Feral Arts, which was central to support for the #freethearts campaign, would have not been funded either.

More likely it’s a matter of new applicants applying in a competitive funding round, with an expanding sector, yet limited funds and a shrinking arts budget. What this means is that the predecessor of the current government didn’t determine who was successful, it just determined the overall funding environment in which their applications occurred .

These organisations have not been ‘defunded’ or had their funding ‘withdrawn’. Their funding is not eternal. Like it or not, the way the Australia Council has operated for as long as I can remember is to have competitive funding rounds using peer assessment to decide which organisations get funding. This has many weaknesses, including the problem that organisations can’t plan ahead or use their funding to attract broader sources of support. Multi-year funding, like the original plan for six year funding and the current scheme with four year funding, has been an attempt to redress this to some degree.

What could have been
If the Australia Council had retained the missing funds and used them to support the four year funding program, it would have had quite a significant impact. The average level of grant under this program is $219,000 per year, so the missing $12m per year transferred to the Ministry for the Arts just for the Catalyst program, excluding other transfers and the routine attrition of funding, which would increase this figure, would have enabled an extra 55 organisations to be funded under this program.

However, I presume that the missing funds would instead have funded other areas of Australia Council support, such as project funding or artist support, which must now be missing out. The only question that then remains is: what are the other areas of Australia Council support which the missing funds would have previously funded, which are now not being funded and to what degree, if any, is the Catalyst program filling the gap? It’s clear that some organisations have substituted operational funding from the Australia Council for project funding from Catalyst.

Plan A – and B and C
As the briefing pointed out, in four years the whole process starts again. As was made clear, fundamentally, the Australia Council doesn’t have a growth budget. If there are new entrants to the sector who are successful in the competitive round, some organisations currently funded will not be in the future. What this means is that, if there is still an Australia Council with funding to hand out (even if it is likely, nothing is certain), organisations successful in the last round could well be unsuccessful in the future. This is something we all need to plan for. Having a Plan B and Plan C will be critical. It is particularly an issue for the Boards of arts and cultural organisations.

‘Having a Plan B and Plan C will be critical. It is particularly an issue for the Boards of arts and cultural organisations.’

In the world of ‘cocktail funding’, it’s important to be clear about the relative roles of the Australia Council, what used to be called the Ministry for the Arts and state and territory arts funding bodies. The new balance is still becoming settled and won’t be obvious for some time.

To help simplify matters, in response to the changing arts environment, the Australia Council has made many changes beyond the move from six year operational funding for organisations to four year. For example, grant categories have been streamlined form 140 to just 5.

One query that came up was about the age-old quest for harmonisation of reporting on funding across jurisdictions, so organisations aren’t reporting different things on different occasions to each funding body. This is something that has been a dream – with some commendable attempts to realise it – for as long as I can remember. Let’s just see it as a work in progress, with more or less work and more or less progress, depending on staffing cuts, system issues and political will.

Knowing what’s happening – a benefit for us all
How to best manage in this latest situation? The Australia Council could apply its strong research capacity to see how organisations that weren’t successful in the multi-year funding round are faring. The 62 organisations which are currently funded under the previous Australia Council scheme have funding until the end of 2016. The question will be whether in the meantime they can access enough Australia Council project funding plus cobble together sufficient wider support to keep operating in some way or other. Some will inevitably close. Some won’t and it would be valuable to know who manages to keep operating and who doesn’t and, most importantly, why and how.

This could give us all useful insights in how to plan more effectively for the arts landscape of the future, with which we all have to deal, sooner or later.

‘It would be valuable to know who manages to keep operating and who doesn’t and, most importantly, why and how.’

Given the importance of the peer assessment process, the briefing underlined the importance of people putting their names forward for the peer registers, which are currently due for review, as their three year tenure expires. The new peer bodies will commence operation in April and names will need to be approved by the March Australia Council Board meeting. To ensure a deep pool of expertise is available for grant assessment, the opportunity needs to be promoted though the networks of arts and culture sector organisations.

Support beyond funding
In these straitened times, where funding is becoming more and more restricted over time, the focus is shifting to think about support beyond funding. From the Australia Council, this includes what it can contribute through strategic activities. Given its role, it has a national overview and a strong research capability, evident in its latest ground-breaking publication, Showcasing Creativity: Programming and presenting First Nations performing arts, which looks at the track record of the presentation of Indigenous performance across Australia.

‘Interested in what arts and cultural organisations can contribute to the arts sector above and beyond their program of activities.’

It also has a deep body of international contacts, as well as a set of International Development Managers in Europe, Asia and North America. It can also provide expertise and advice on tricky questions, like engaging with First Nations artists and communities or with cultural diversity and run a successful annual national marketing summit in the first half of the year. It also manages an emerging leaders program.

Above and beyond this, it attempts to use the information and case studies it receives from arts organisations to build the case for the arts as a whole. For that reason, it is keen to hear of good research it is not aware of about the value of arts and culture. From the other end of the relationship, the Australia Council is interested in what arts and cultural organisations can contribute to the arts sector above and beyond their program of activities.

The briefing confirmed what I have increasingly argued. While artists and arts and culture organisations should continue to make the case for government support for Australian arts and culture strongly, they can’t rely on it. It is critical to look beyond the obvious sources of support, build strong alliances with other like-minded sectors, plan for rainy weather and hope it’s good for more than farmers.

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.

If the arts are important but not enough people know it, are they really important?
‘As the new landscape of Australia’s arts and culture emerge in the post-Brandis era, we are starting to see how organisations are adapting and the issues they are facing in doing so. To a lesser degree we are also seeing how artists themselves are responding. It seems clear that the absence of any overall strategic approach to arts and culture – whether from the Government or from the arts and culture sector – is having a deadening effect’, If the arts are important but not enough people know it, are they really important?

Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture 
‘Australia’s arts and culture is at a critical stage. One of the issues confronting it is lack of any kind of shared sense of what the role of government is in encouraging our arts and culture. The whole set of interlinked problems with the relationship between government and Australia’s arts and culture can be reduced to a lack of strategic vision and a long-term plan for the future. This deficiency is most apparent in the lack of any guiding policy, like trying to navigate a dark and dangerous tunnel without a torch or flying at night without lights or a map’, Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture.

Putting culture on the main agenda – the power of policy
‘With the ongoing malaise due to the absence of national arts and cultural policy in Australia, it's worth reminding ourselves what beneficial impact good policy can have. To understand the power of policy to make an impact in the world, it’s worthwhile contrasting two recent major Australian Government cultural policies – the National Cultural Policy and the National Indigenous Languages Policy. This helps illuminate how cultural policy can promote the long view, innovation, breadth and leadership. Both policies showed that more important than funding or specific initiatives was the overall strategic vision and the way in which it attempted to place culture not just on the main agenda, but somewhere near the centre of the main agenda’, Putting culture on the main agenda – the power of policy.

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.

Banish the bland – Kim Williams spells out a positive Australia
‘Australia needs more far-sighted strategic vision and discussion and less of the self-serving waffle we get from too many of our politicians. The creative and intellectual capacity of our people is central to a bright, ambitious and optimistic future and essential to avoid a decline into irrelevance, according to Kim Williams, former media executive and composer. He is an Australian who values ideas and his vision for a positive Australia is firmly focused on our artists, scientists and major cultural and scientific institutions’, Banish the bland – Kim Williams spells out a positive Australia.

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?

Dear Treasurer – our arts are central to everyday life, why doesn’t funding reflect it?
‘In response to steadily diminishing support for arts and culture by government, it's crucial to recognise that Australia's arts are central to everyday life and should be firmly on the main national agenda. Apart from their value in maintaining a thriving Australian culture, the range of social and economic benefits they deliver and their role in telling Australia's story to ourselves and the world make them an essential service’, Dear Treasurer – our arts are central to everyday life, why doesn’t funding reflect it?

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.

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.

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’ 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.

Out from the shadows – the other Arts Minister
‘I ventured out through the dark wilds of the Australian National University to hear the Opposition Spokesperson on the Arts, Mark Dreyfus, share his view of what a contemporary arts and culture policy might look like. It was a timely moment, given the turmoil stirred up by recent changes to national arts funding arrangements and the #freethearts response from small arts and cultural organisations and artists. Luckily, as he himself noted, he has a very recent model to work with. The National Cultural Policy is little more than two years old,’ Out from the shadows – the other Arts Minister.

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