Australian arts foundations suffer as 2015 funding cuts come into play

Arts sector funding cuts promised during the 2015 Federal Government budget have begun to claim victims, making the future of organisations across Australia ever more uncertain. The small to medium arts sector is set to be the worst hit, a disastrous move that could see many new and emerging talents halted in their tracks.

In the last few days, both PACT, a Sydney based initiative for emerging artists, and the Australian Design Centre have received confirmation that they will not be receiving any funding this year from the Australia Council. Just two of many organisations receiving similarly damning news, both groups are already being forced to question their own sustainability in the coming years. In total, 65 organisations have lost their funding, either through a rejected or an un-renewed application, these include dance group Force Majeure, Adelaide’s Vitalstatistix, and 76 year old literary magazine Meanjin.

And with the Australia Council allocated just $28million a year from the annual budget to divide between over 120 different groups, that casualty list is likely to keep on growing in the coming years.

In a recent media release, the Confederation of Australian International Arts Festival Members, which represents some of the country’s most prestigious and diverse arts festivals, called for a reinstatement of the pre-2015 funding levels, in a public bid to combat the seemingly inevitable.

While the Confederation applauded some funding decisions made by the Australia Council, the new regulations brought about by Catalyst, a replacement funding programme specifically aimed at small to medium organisations, were dismissed as creatively limiting and not far sighted enough to sustain a “diverse and vibrant arts ecology.” Catalyst, with its focus on individual projects rather than long term operational funding, leaves more groups fighting for less money, while a stricter set of criteria would eliminate some organisations from funding altogether.

It seems that, in short, the Australian arts are in trouble.

“Australia Council funding provides the infrastructure to support our national touring program,” said Lisa Cahill, director of the Australian Design Centre (ADC). “Without this core operational funding our touring program that brings craft and design to audiences around the country and supports hundreds of makers and designers is at risk.”

The ADC’s fears are echoed elsewhere, a recurring refrain from the small to medium groups that are either at risk of being or have already been defunded.

According to PACT, 40% of their funding was provided by the Australia Council – a significant sum, and one that they are hoping to get back through public donations, rather than risk being unable to make ends meet. Like other defunded groups, such as the ADC and Force Majeure, PACT has a long history within the Australian arts sector, with alumni such as director Peter Weir, Grahame Bond, and recent Barry Award winner Zoe Coombs Marr. With their focus on new and emerging talent, PACT is perhaps the most indicative of the kind of threat the Australian arts are facing, representative of the smaller organisations that help launch careers finding themselves the most at risk without funds to cover their running costs.

It’s not all bad news though – 17 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups received funding, as did several organisations devoted to youth arts. Further to that, 25% of the allocation went to remote and regional groups. With four year funding, the average amount for each group would be $219,000, substantially more than in previous rounds. While that’s good news for the groups chosen, the issue remains – there is less money to go around, so less groups are funded as a result.

Without that long term funding, the futures of many small to medium organisations are potentially under threat, and who will actually be around for the next round of funding remains to be seen. Consequently the ability of Australian arts to continue to expand and evolve, and maintain its international standing, is itself threatened.

Whatever the outcome for the 65 defunded groups, none of which begrudge the successful applicants, only the system that has passed them over, one thing is sure: the fight for the arts has only just begun.


Featured image: Listen! I’m Telling You Stories 2015, created & performed by PACT COLLECTIVE
Photograph credit: Katy Green Loughrey