Music, News & Commentary, Stage, Visual Arts

So, when will Catalyst be wound down?

| |

Daily Review recently revealed that the Coalition’s arts funding debacle will see its recently introduced Catalyst program be scrapped and most, if not all, the funds returned from the Minister’s department to the Australia Council.

The question is not if but when Arts Minister Senator Mitch Fifield will announce the changes. It will happen no matter how the government decides to spin its backflip in an effort to to repair the damage unleashed by the former arts minister, the accident-prone Senator George Brandis.

It’s clear that it’s going to take some time to unscramble this ideologically driven and bizarrely executed Brandis mess. The Catalyst fund has already allocated funds to recipients with some of them set to receive funds for the next four years. In April and May this year the government announced its lists of recipients who would receive a total of $48 million over the next two years.

One presumes those organisations will keep those funds even if the Australia Council is the body that will be charged with dispensing them. One also presumes that the many small to medium organisations who lost their funding to pay for the Brandis folly will not have those funds restored — in the short term at least.

However or whenever it’s effected, it cannot be done too soon. There are huge complications and anomalies within the dual funding exercise that are so ludicrous that they can only have been realised once Catalyst came into operation. But then you didn’t need to be Nugget Coombs to realise that duplicating funding through two bodies — Catalyst and the Australia Council  — is as stupid as it is a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money.

Take the example of the arts organisation Playwriting Australia. Since 2008 that body’s “core activity” is it to hold an annual playwrights’ festival and conference where new work is developed and introduced to audiences.

Before the Brandis bungle, it received $415,000 a year from the Australia Council to pay for its core staff, infrastructure and hold its annual festival. It also usually received some project funding such as Indigenous Creative Residencies, bringing its Australia Council funding to around $450,000 a year.

When Brandis revealed his Frankenstein project in May last year, every small to medium arts organisation in Australia went into panic mode. Those who were receiving funds from the Australia Council for their day to day funding applied for Catalyst funding in case they lost Australia Council funding. The Australia Council then decided that funding for any small to medium organisation would be capped at $300,000 per year.

Playwriting Australia was one of the lucky organisations that learnt in May that it had in fact had won Catalyst funding of $800,000 (for a four year term).

So the upshot is that now Playwriting Australia receives $300,000 a year from the Australia Council and $200,000 a year from Catalyst giving it combined funds of $500,000 – or about $50,000 a year more than it used to receive.

So what’s wrong with that?

The catch is that Catalyst funding can only be spent on new or special projects and cannot be spent on day to day operation.

So now Playwriting Australia has $150,000 less a year to spend on its day to day and pre-exisiting activities which includes its annual playwriting festival which costs, you guessed it, about $150,000 to stage.

The upshot is that Playwriting Australia announced in August it would not be holding an annual festival and conference in 2017 and will no longer have an annual festival. It will be a biennial event instead.

The good news is that the Catalyst money will develop an “Ignition program” (partnerships with producers and companies to develop work for production of works of ambition and/or reflecting a diversity agenda).

It sounds like a fine project and in one sense allows the organisation to extend its remit. But it means the annual festival and conference which has been an annual event since 2008, has built its own momentum and identity as well as built philanthropic activity and various other valuable relationships has been hijacked. Now the organisation has to put more funding and resources into maintaining the festival while also allocating resources to the new project.

So all this worry, effort and duplication – not to mention the damage done to scores of arts organisations who lost their Australia Council funding — is for what? For George Brandis’ folly.

So when can we see some announcement?

The first sign might be in December when the government releases its mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) report. Last year it used that report to announce its arts funding changes.

5 responses to “So, when will Catalyst be wound down?

  1. This is so typical nowadays of the total incapable set of clowns that are running this country thanks to the blind sided voters who remain faithful to the idiots and their policies. Hopefully they will be brought into line by a purposeful senate who appear sensitive to the arts.

  2. I’m sorry but I still support the Catalyst intervention as I truly believe Australian arts is dying because of so much money going to the wages of public servants as evidenced by this quote from above: “Playwriting Australia…received $415,000 a year from the Australia Council to pay for its core staff…”.

    Ummm… Ray are we allowed to ask what wages these staff get and their Superannuation. Wages and superannuation that most artists and playwrights DON’T GET!! It was dumb and a waste to make two Arts Funding agencies BUT I’m sorry I am firmly convinced that actual Art is not the priority of Australia’s Arts Institutions.

    In Fine Art I would say the Govt funded Institutions (which is almost ALL Australia’s Art Institutions) would have their priorities thus (They would never state this though):

    1. Please the Government as it pays the wages.
    2. Please our peers and workmates as we work with them everyday.
    3. Please the General Public as audience sizes please the Government who pays our wages and Super!
    4. Please the Rich People who are donors as we need their money too and getting their money pleases the Government who pays our wages and Super.

    I would like to put individual artists in there somewhere but my experience of over 30 years is artists don’t really feature at all for Government Art except as an abstract entity for use in “Motherhood Statements”. I’m sorry Australian rt is a SHAM!! Brandis was correct to try and shake it up!!

  3. What is Brandis’s purpose in this world? It always seems that he is very good at making people angry without any sort of reason. There must be humane ways Brandis could be plucked from his potency and cast quietly into obscurity: maybe he could become enthralled in the allure of sex cult, or sat on by an elephant and have a life changing realisation, or lose all his money and become an accountant, or fall in love with a young woman in ALP, or realise being a pouty busy body serves no one, or be elevated into a strange spherical object floating over his lawn one night, or win the lottery and give up everything and buy an island in Tahiti, or wake up one morning unaccountable happy and unable to be the grouchy manipulator he is today.

  4. “… The upshot is that Playwriting Australia announced in August it would not be holding an annual festival and conference in 2017 and will no longer have an annual festival …”

    Hmm …

    I’m not sure you’re going to hear too many complaints from starving playwrights happy to forgo a pointless gabfest and arts administrator love junket every twelve months in favour of more money going directly to … you know … the people who actually create the works.

    More bread. Less circuses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *