Witnesses come forth to give evidence against Brandis' arts cuts

The first public hearing for The Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts is taking place today at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Melbourne.

Arts Minister George Brandis recently proposed taking $105 million from the Australia Council Budget to fund his National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). The proposal has been met with opposition from many, with concerns about the effect the NPEA will have on smaller arts organisations and individual artists, and therefore the entire Australian arts community.

The public has been given the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions by writing submissions to the Senate Inquiry. Over 2260 submissions were received by the committee.

The public hearing began at 9am sharp this morning with ArtsPeak, Footscray Community Arts Centre and Regional Arts Victoria as the first round of “witnesses”.

Journalists and arts supporters filled the meeting room until it was standing room only. Present were Senators Ludlam (Greens), Lazarus (Chair, Independent), Bilyk, Ludwig and Singh (ALP). There were no Coalition senators present.

ArtsPeak kicked off the hearing with director Nicole Beyer and National Association of Visual Arts executive director, Tamara Winikoff. After giving their opening statements, the committee asked them to give specific examples of work that would be lost because of the Australia Council funds reduction, and to elaborate on their submission.

Beyer and Winikoff discussed the cancellation of upcoming international tours, school projects that have already been cut and the cancellation of ArtStart, a program dedicated to helping individual artists start their careers. While other funding is available, these funds are often “pivotal”, they said,  on  funding from the Australia Council. “The numbers are sometimes small, but the impact is huge,” said Beyer, commenting on the impact of arts programs on children.

Winikoff brought up contradictions of the policy and draft guidelines, citing “loose language” (such as “excellence” and “value for money”) and “vague criteria” that she fears would give room for the Arts Minister to “make politically motivated decisions”. The Minister, she said, is “not meeting his responsibilities”.

Winikoff is still hopeful that there is an opportunity for the government to change its mind, and thinks the decision should be put on hold until further information is collected for a more evidence-based proposal. Ideally, she would like to see the restoration of the Australia Council funds to its 2013 levels.

Footscray Community Arts Centre, led by chair Lyn Morgain, said that due to the cuts its financial year has been a “black hole” despite previous planning. Morgain and her colleagues cited concerns that individual artists are not eligible for NPEA funding, although they only require a small amount of money. She suggested that aid should be made available through the hard transition period between policies. “We still come from a view that this is fixable.”

Esther Anatolitis from Regional Arts Victoria explained the huge impact that arts funding has on small regional communities, saying “every artist is capable of excellence”.

Applause was given after each witness presentation. And despite the desperate and delicate nature of the hearing, some light-hearted comments were made, such as Senator Ludlam’s inquiry: “Who is running the @ArtofBrandis twitter account?”

Today’s hearing is being broadcast online.

Four other public hearings are scheduled in September for Perth, Hobart, Brisbane and Sydney.

Image: the Hotel Grand Chancellor hearing this morning. Photo By Candice Kortlever.

Read more about the Brandis’ cuts:  

Live Performance Australia speaks out against Brandis’ cuts 

Big arts companies expected to help those hurt by Brandis’ cuts says Martin Foley

(Some) local and international artists voice their anger at Brandis’ cuts 

You can read the NPEA Draft Guidelines here.

New details emerge about Brandis’ arts “Slush fund” 

The Brandis raid so far …in pictures

Video: Artists protest Opera Australia opening 

MTC (sort of) weighs in to Brandis’ arts cuts controversy 

Protest planned for Opera Australia opening night

Major arts companies issue fresh statement on Brandis’ cuts

Senate Inquiry launched into Brandis’ arts cuts

Australia Council cuts: the companies on the chopping block

Editorial: Shameful silence over arts cuts

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