The Federal Minister for the Arts, Mitch Fifield, is set to restore most, if not all, the funding to the Australia Council that was raided from the national arts funding body by the previous arts minister, Senator George Brandis in May 2015.
Daily Review has learnt that Fifield’s office is now working with other agencies and arts bodies to dismantle most of the effects of Brandis’ funding grab which saw $104 million taken from OzCo to fund his disastrous pet project called “The National Program for Excellence in the Arts” (NPEA) but now known as “Catalyst”.
It is understood that while Catalyst funding still has favour with some arts bodies in Queensland (Brandis’ home state) and Western Australia, the program might remain in name but its funds will be substantially wound back and reallocated to the Australia Council.
This will reverse Brandis’ program that funnelled Australia Council funds into the Arts Ministry itself rather than the small and medium arts organisations for which they were mostly intended. One Catalyst project saw $485,000 allocated to a Queensland art dealer to stage a show of indigenous art at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco.
The ideologically-driven Australia Council raid was labelled as the “Brandis’ slush fund” by the Labor Party and the Greens. It destabilised the subsidised arts sector – and outraged most of it – as scores of small to medium arts organisations around the country were forced to reduce programs or close their doors.
When Malcolm Turnbull deposed Tony Abbott as Prime Minister late last year he dumped the abrasive Brandis from the arts porfolio and appointed the little known Fifield.
The new Arts Minister has used a gently-gently approach and has attempted to mend fences with the arts sector since his appointment. His first conciliation was to return a third of the NPEA funds to the Australia Council and re-badge the NPEA as Catalyst last November.
While the Brandis debacle has caused incalculable damage to many within the small to medium sector, it has ironically united many and compelled them to articulate the value and importance of the arts to this country.
The Minister’s office issued the following statement late yesterday that can be read as confirming the move to dismantle Catalyst.
‘We don’t comment on every speculative report but as per the Minister’s comments at the National Arts Debate in Melbourne on 8 June, 2016: “I don’t claim that we’ve achieved perfection in arts administration. I am open to adjusting and refining the program and arrangements. Happy to keep the dialogue open with the sector”.’