BREAKING: Catalyst scrapped after almost two years of arts funding chaos

In an extraordinary backflip, the Turnbull Government has this morning announced it will scrap its much maligned Catalyst arts funding program and return the remaining funds to the Australia Council.

In a statement released by Arts Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, the government announced that approximately $61 million of uncommitted funds would be transferred back to the Australia Council to allow the funding body to “continue to focus on supporting small to medium arts organisations.”

Daily Review exclusively revealed in October that Fifield would be returning Catalyst funds to the Australia Council in the coming months. Daily Review had learnt that Fifield’s office was then working with other funding bodies to undo the Catalyst mess.

The statement says that the government has listened and responded to feedback from the Department, the Australia Council and the arts sector, but for many small-to-medium organisations the damage has already been done.

Catalyst was originally announced in 2015 by then Arts Minister, Senator George Brandis as the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, ripping $105 million from the Australia Council. It was immediately labelled a “slush fund”, and resulted in sector-wide protests from the arts community.

When Senator Fifield took over the arts portfolio, he returned a proportion of the funding to the Australia Council and rejigged the program as Catalyst. Now that program has been scrapped entirely.

Read Fifield’s full statement below:

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The Turnbull Government has announced changes to Arts portfolio funding arrangements, with the transfer of the majority of funds from Catalyst—Australian Arts and Culture Fund to the Australia Council. 

Under these arrangements there will be a transfer of approximately $61 million in uncommitted funding over four years. This includes the $32 million transfer to the Australia Council as announced in late 2015. These new funding arrangements will see a total of $80.2 million over four years in committed and uncommitted funds transferred to the Australia Council from 2017-18. 

This will also include the transfer of administration of $12 million in Catalyst funding agreements and $7.2 million in funding for the Major Festivals Initiative and the Australian World Orchestra.

This will allow the Australia Council to continue to focus on supporting small to medium arts organisations. It also provides scope for the Australia Council to address specific recommendations from the Opera Review related to Victorian Opera and Opera Queensland, as well as address funding sustainability for Queensland Ballet and the Brandenburg Orchestra.

To date, Catalyst has provided $35 million to 189 projects across the arts and culture sector, 159 of which were small to medium organisations. A total of 1086 individual activities were undertaken. Of these, 833 were undertaken across Australia, including 436 activities in regional and remote areas. Catalyst has funded a broad range of projects across all states and territories such as sculpture, music, playwriting, performances, visual arts, dance, theatre, art installations, digital arts, ballet, puppetry, tours and festivals.

While Catalyst has been successful in supporting a broad range of arts projects, especially those by small to medium arts organisations, the Government has listened and responded to feedback from the Department, the Australia Council and the arts sector regarding the ongoing arrangements for the Australian Government’s funding for the Arts portfolio.

The Department of Communications and the Arts will retain $2 million per year to provide an alternative avenue of funding for organisations which are not receiving funding through the Australia Council. This may include the galleries, libraries, archives and museums sector and some regional and community, education and health organisations. 

The Department will also continue to administer the Visions of Australia and Festivals Australia initiatives that were transferred from the Australia Council to the Department as part of the 2015-16 Budget. The Australia Council supports these activities remaining with the Department. Creative Partnerships Australia will retain the funding allocated in that Budget.

Applications received by 18 March 2017 will be assessed according to current Catalyst guidelines, and the Department and the Australia Council will work together on the management of Catalyst grant contracts to ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangements.

Funding decisions for applications that were submitted by the end of December 2016 will be announced in the coming weeks.

In addition to these new funding arrangements, the remit of the Department’s economic and statistical research unit has been broadened to encompass the Arts sector as well as Communications.  Initial analysis conducted by the now titled Bureau of Communications and Arts Research will be available next month.

These changes pave the way for the Department of Communications and the Arts to focus on the priority work of connecting the Arts sector to the broader innovation agenda. Further details will be announced in coming weeks regarding the work program and consultation process.

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