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‘Open letter’ urging states to reject arts funding framework gets strong backing

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Updated Thursday October 10 at 4.22pm

More than 700 independent artists have signed an open letter urging state arts ministers to withhold their endorsement of the revised Major Performing Arts Framework (MPA) when they meet in Adelaide tomorrow.

Without significant structural change, the letter says, the artists say that “the small-medium and independent sector will collapse, precipitating a crisis in the national arts ecology.”

Major Performing Arts organisations (MPAs) receive a subsidy of $31.50 per audience member, the letter notes, whereas the small-to-medium and independent sector receives a subsidy of $3.36 per audience member. However, the latter attracts double the total audience of the MPAs, it adds, while receiving one-quarter of the funds received under the Australia Council’s grants budget.

David Pledger, one of the artists behind the letter, says that at last count 59 per cent of the Australia Council grants budget went to major performing arts organisations, which ends up “strangling” organisations outside of that group.

“That includes small to medium sector, independent artists and also visual arts, that’s important [to note]. It’s quite discriminatory against the visual arts.”

He says the response to the letter, whose signatories include Benjamin Law, Patricia Cornelius, Alison Croggan, Elizabeth Catherine Dalman, Liz Jones and Eugenia Lim, has left him “amazed”.

“I suppose what it tells us is that, basically, they’re fed up. They want the system that operates within the Australia Council for the Arts funding system to be changed, and they want funds distributed much more fairly, across the sector, in a way that reflects the influence, artistic merit of the whole sector, rather than just being ring-fenced for 29 organisations.”

State and territory arts ministers, along with their federal counterpart, will be gathering for the annual meeting of Commonwealth cultural ministers.

In a response to the open letter, Australian Major Performing Arts Group Executive Director Bethwyn Serow said the organisation shared “the real anguish that exists across the arts ecology”, but said “we should all be united in decrying this overall funding shortage.

“It is the overall situation that needs to be addressed with increased support across the board – not by destroying one part of the sector in a bid to help the other survive.”

Serow said it was “clear that more investment is needed to address systemic fragility,” but that “the solution is not to destroy the MPA Framework as if somehow that will solve all issues. 

“More extreme calls to dismantle the Framework removes stability and certainty and threatens the future of over 10,300 jobs and puts at risk the hard-won harmonisation of arts policies between state and federal governments.”

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The Letter

Open letter to the Meeting of Cultural Ministers regarding the Major Performing Arts (MPA) Framework

Dear Ministers,

We write to you as independent Australian artists and arts workers across all art-forms with an urgent request to withhold your endorsement of the revised MPA Framework at your Meeting of Cultural Ministers on Friday October 11th as a first step to dismantling the Framework altogether.

We urge you respectfully to consider our request in the context of these arguments regarding sector diversity, financial inequity, economic investment and sustainability.

Diversity – The Australia Council is bound by its legislation to reflect diversity in its vision, processes and priorities, identified as: First Nations Peoples; children and young people; older people; people with disability; regional and remote Australia. Of the 29 MPAs, only one is a First Nations company. None are led by or cater specifically to people with disability or young people. Nor are any located in, or orient their core work to, regional and remote Australia. Only three have female artistic leaders, and less than 10% of artistic directors come from culturally diverse backgrounds. These priorities are almost exclusively met by the independent and small-medium sector.

Inequity – The small-medium and independent sector attracts double the total audience of the MPAs (6.87 million as against 3.37 million in 2014-15). It also undertakes the vast bulk of national touring and 82% of international touring. In 2017-2018, it received 16% of the Australia Council’s grants budget which is around one quarter of the funds received by the MPAs. 

Economic investment – Economic data, tabled at the 2015 Senate Inquiry into the Arts, proved MPAs collectively received a subsidy of $31.50 per audience member whereas the small-to-medium and independent sector receives a subsidy of $3.36 per audience member. This means that the MPAs receive nine times the subsidy of the small-to-medium and independent sector which receives around a quarter of their funding but delivers twice the audience numbers.

Sustainability – Direct funding for individual artists in Australia fell by a third in the twenty years to 2010. By 2016, the number of Australia Council grants to individual artists and projects had decreased 70% on the previous two years. The Australia Council’s own research has tracked reductions in artist-populations and the ever-increasing precarity of the artist’s life.

Across all measures, the independent and small-medium sector is the lifeblood of the national arts ecology. This sector, on which Australian culture depends for its productivity, efficiency and international reputation, is on the verge of collapse. 

The MPA Framework is a roadblock to Australian culture’s growth and survival. Currently, MPA funding constitutes 59% of Australia Council grants, a proportion that is ‘ring-fenced’. The direct consequence of this is severely diminished discretionary funds available to independent artists.

We fully support any increase to the Australia Council’s budget and specifically the targeted increase recommended by Theatre Network Australia to the small-medium and independent sector, but our immediate concern is the fairer distribution of current funding across the sector in a genuinely competitive manner.

We firmly believe that without this significant, structural change involving the MPA Framework, the small-medium and independent sector will collapse precipitating a crisis in the national arts ecology.

Yours Sincerely,

Signed by independent artists, teachers, mentors, producers, curators, audiences, artistic directors and arts administrators.

You can see the list of signatories here.

You can see AMPAG’s response below:

2 responses to “‘Open letter’ urging states to reject arts funding framework gets strong backing

  1. It is with concern that what I experience is Australia puts a huge amount of funding into the sports, but a small amount into the arts comparison to sport. Researchers have demonstrated that the arts are important for an all round education and in fact help all aspect of academics for example Maybe he English The sciences and moreover creates a social and emotional and health wellbeing. I worry that not enough focus on the arts is already starting to create a society that will stunt people creative thinking and problem solving capabilities, even more needed in a complex world we live in. We need artist of all art forms to be supported to earn a living and pass onto the next generation the skills and compassion for the arts.

    Contemporary arts and innovation needs to be encouraged and funded to meet individual small companies and individual artist to realise their projects.

    I failed at school in the 50s left school at 13. An injury at work led me to re educate myself . I did year 12 as an adult and decided to take an art subject to make the up the forth subject needed to get Austudy. It was the best thing I ever did it helped me with my other subject, it helped me gain confidence. From being told I would amount to nothing all my life I achieved 3yrs of a Social Work Degree but something was missing, it was art. I then enrolled in behavioural science and was able to do a minor and elective in art. From there I changed to a full time visual arts degree achieving a Bachelor Of Honours. I am still at 74 still working in arts a disability.

    We must fund the arts and especially artist do we create a well rounded society.

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