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Budget cuts hit artists who can least afford it

If Joe Hockey’s budget can be characterised as hitting those who can least afford it, then that strategy is perfectly mirrored in its arts funding. The biggest loser in arts last night was the country’s peak arts organisation, the Australia Council which makes grants of $200 million to arts companies and artists per year. Now the council will have to trim about $7 million a year as Hockey cut $28.2 million in uncommitted funding over four years from its overall budget. (Screen Australia took its own $25.1 million cut).

Where the Australia Council makes its cuts is yet to be determined (the Australia Council did not return calls by deadline), but the arts companies most able to absorb cost cutting are spared. Our 28 major arts companies that include Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet and the major state theatre companies and orchestras don’t take the cuts. They account for about 65 per cent of the Australia Council annual grants and they are locked into untouchable three-year contracts.

The choices left for the Australia Council are to make cuts within its own organisation; to cut individual and project grants which will affect small to medium arts; or do both.

“This shields the rich (arts companies) and impacts most adversely on those who can least afford it,” said Tamara Winikoff, the executive director the National Association of Visual Arts (NAVA) who thinks the cuts will fall on individual artists.

“It’s short-termism at its clearest because all the up and coming talent is going to be severely curtailed. The Australian community is the loser because new talent will be squashed. Artists – who are taxpayers too, let’s not forget – will either go overseas or stop,” she said.

The so- called rich companies also rely on new talent to create new work, and fear the cuts could directly affect them.

Virginia Lovett the executive director of the Melbourne Theatre Company can rely on the $2.1 million her company gets from the Australia Council each year,  but she said the company also applies for small grants to develop projects with small companies such as Arena Theatre for work in its “In the Mix” and “Neon” programs by emerging artists.

“It would be disappointing if these initiatives were affected,” Lovett said.

Another major performing arts company head who did not want to be named, said it was concerning that it looked like small to medium organisations and individual artists will bear the brunt of the cuts.

“It potentially means that the landscape in general is going to be very thinned out,” she said. “That will have a knock-on effect to the larger organisations who will have to do some more heavy lifting in terms of artist development. It’s a concern for the industry ten years from now, where the artists who should have been busily developing their craft won’t have had as much of an opportunity to. It will have an impact on the larger sector where we won’t necessarily have artists at the skill level you want them to be at.”

“It’s the individual artists and new projects that will bear the brunt – all those applying for funds coming up,” agreed David Berthold the current artistic director of La Boite in Brisbane and the artistic director of Brisbane Festival from June this year. “That’s the thing that troubles me most. The danger is that the most affected will be the grassroots: a major source of innovation and adventure,” he said.

The Australia Council will also be expected to trim its costs although it is already subject to an efficiency dividend regime. Those who work with the Australia Council generally agree that it already operates leanly, although on-going structural change under its new chairman Rupert Myer might see some cost benefits.

“There’s some duplication there between the states and the Australia Council,’’ one arts company manager said.

The Council is particularly admired for the research its does, but if there is much fat in its operation it might be in the travel expenses involved in getting its many committee members from around the country into the same rooms for meetings.

Hockey’s budget also made good on the government’s wish for artists look to the private sector and philanthropy for more support.

Creative Partnerships Australia (an agency merged from an Australia Council division and the Australian Business Arts Foundation) last night learnt its funding of $5.4 million was assured over four years until 2017.

12 responses to “Budget cuts hit artists who can least afford it

  1. The government are seriously so boring! They cut funding to exciting things like arts of all kinds, so that we can live just an existence and work in boring jobs, no thanks! Lets just fight this budget cut! I won’t accept talented artists missing out!!!

  2. Most of the money allocated to the OSCO Viz art sector gets used for administration( that is why they increasingly turn to philanthropy as the way to pay for actual artworks). The OSCO stopped doing efficiency dividends a few years ago, too hard, so the successive efficiency cuts were passed on to the smaller organisations to pas on to programs.

    Personally if the whole of the OSCO viz arts section was stolen by aliens , I would not notice much of a difference, at all.

    Gustave Courbet was a radical man and radical artist he once said : “The one and only thing a government can do for an artist is, leave him alone”.

  3. Without resources, human or otherwise how are independents supposed to ‘suddenly’ embark on becoming philanthropic and sponsorship moguls ??? when does this transitions happen without training, contacts or a track record no less to reel those with money in. Its a joke. The rich get richer.

  4. What this government is doing to the arts is typical of these sort of governments. When the Newman LNP government was elected in Queensland, one of the first things they did was to eliminate the premier’s literary awards worth about $240,000 a year. In the same breath, they threw $100 million to racing for infrastructure and $14,000 to the Barcaldine goat races.

    This budget of the federal Coalition government is a total mess. Adding taxes to pensioners, the sick and low and middle income earners will mean that they will spend less, which means business will sell less goods and services, which means the economy will go backwards.

    At the same time, billions are being spent on fighter jets, roads (rather than public transport), health research, paid parental leave for rich folk, direct action, etc, and palming off hospitals and schools to the states, which will mean more taxes – a hike in state taxes and GST.

    The Coalition’s deficit for 2013-14 is $50 billion, after Labor had reduced it to $19 billion in 2012-13. The deficit in 2014-15 will be $30 billion and in 2015-16 it will be $17 billion. Thus it will take them three years to get to where Labor was in 2012-13.

  5. You make some fine points Scott, but things like axing the Interactive Games Fund makes no sense to me, because that’s the sort of place where we cam build on Australia’s reputation with animation and develop more jobs for arts graduates. Instead they fund accommodation for budding ballerinas who will, one presumes, work in a govt. subsidised industry all of their career, if indeed they have a career.

  6. “There’s some duplication there between the states and the Australia Council,’’ one arts company manager said.

    NSW doesn’t even have an Arts Ministry or Department – there’s certainly NO duplication of the funding of individuals – for example NSW offers ONE writing fellowship every two years! It’s totally risible. That’s no argument mr/ms “arts company manager”

  7. To respond sensibly to this Budget and it’s implications for the Arts in Australia we need to first take stock of the Budget as it’s a milestone document by a new government and since we are discussing Federal Government arts Funding we need to assess how to respond rather than knee jerk reaction. The 2014 Budget is an ideological one that aims to change Australia. In that way it must be taken seriously.

    Hockey didn’t want to do a ‘Malcolm Fraser’ and just ticker at the edges and achieve very little, so looking at and the LNP government’s actions they genuinely believe we must all become more Capitalist, to those in charge at the moment The welfare state needs to be wound back along with Australia’s “high wage structure” (Hockey’s words). For the moment Hockey and Abbott will be VERY pleased with the Budget reaction as they have, for once, been able to frame the national argument.

    Of course given the appalling polls since Abbott was elected they have no choice, hence a few commentators resorting to the famous Gough Whitlam quote of “Crash or Crash Through” or the “Crazy Brave” epithet. There is also John Hewson’s “Fightback” ghost to contend with. My personal belief is enough Australians will be worried at the broken promises and the spectre of a rise in the GST level along with the petrol levy abolition that this Budget will be a ‘slow burn’ similar to Anna Bligh’s post reelection decisions in Qld.

    So where does this leave the Arts in Australia? The idea to amalgamate ‘back room’ operations of many if the large Canberra cultural behemoths (so many huge white elephants stuck away from Australia’s population centres) is Symbolic. To save only $2 million or so and cause so much mayhem seems genuinely dumb if looked at economically BUT if looked at symbolically we can see it proves that culture in Australia is run by the Government and is overwhelmingly subject to the whims of Government.

    What we need to all realise is instead of wringing our hands at the pocket money “Daddy” has taken away from us and allowing ourself to be victims, those in the Arts must also change our thinking. Government funding for the Arts was not increased by Labor at all, in real terms it was reduced. Of course culture for the elites is quarantined which we all allow even though so few actually go to opera, ballet and classical music.

    Contemporary art draws large audiences in the big institutions but that’s because it free and air conditioned. I doubt people would pay to see contemporary art and anyway it’s artists who really fund it all as we earn so little from doing it if anything at all? NO what we need to do is totally give up the notion of Government money and start a new and fresh conversation with the PUBLIC about art and culture! It is up to creative people to accept that Governments will fund the arts and work from this fact. The money is gone and won’t come back. There is no new Paul Keating although Turnbull may attempt to look like such.

    I have always believed that there was something very wrong about public servants running Australian art. I am not at all sad or concerned that that era is going. I am not even sure how much the Australian public wanted it anymore anyway. The LNP has thrown down a radical gauntlet and the artists of Australia (and NOT the art public servants) MUST reassess.

    Maybe the future art is being made on Youtube, Facebook, blog pages and emails to friends. Perhaps we need to actually become really radical in our thinking. Forge a new Australian art and culture. Instead I think we all will go the way of the poor pensioners, we’ll sit and complain and do nothing. In many ways Hockey only made transparent the true nature of Australian culture. In many ways I thank him.

    1. If people wanted only wanted to sit in big air conditioned spaces, they would go to the mall or cinema.

      Do you really think leaving leaving art to the whims of the free market is the best thing? What kind of work do you imagined will be produced? Do you think the outcome will be tend to be challenging and expressive, or rather pandering to the status quo which will pick and choose what survives?

      What you’ve left out in you’re manifesto is the topic of artist welfare. How do they support themselves making art with Facebook? Do you think the art will be better if they are working 9-5 at the cafe then coming home to their practice afterwards? I’m skeptical on both fronts.

      Look, I know what your saying about institutionalized art (I’ve written critiques on it as well), but to me what this budget reflects is that the Australian people (which the government represents) no longer values the cultivation, welfare, or contribution of artists to society, and this is very, very sad.

      I believe you’re right, art by nature is adaptive, and it will evolve, and maybe for art’s sake, it will make it stronger and more innovative. But what are the circumstances its adapting to?

      At the end of the day I value human and social welfare above Art (which is a subset of said welfare), and having been a starving artist myself, ado not romanticize it at all.

      Interested to hear your thoughts.


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