Opinion – It’s Broke. Let’s Fix It!

by Patrick Healey | General Manager

New South Wales is in state election mode and after that we will all be thrust into what promises to be an intriguing Federal election. Policies will be announced and politicians of all hues will seek to outdo each other’s promises. But, it is very likely that the arts and creative sector will receive little to no attention.

The competition for grants is intense, and of course, increased funding would help alleviate that problem. However, it is also apparent that there is an urgent need for a review of the overall framework of arts policy. For the small to medium sector, and especially in regional Australia, we rely on project grants. It is a short-term approach to investment that creates a whole set of organisational challenges and stresses in a never-ending annual cycle of grant writing. It inhibits long-term strategic planning for established arts organisations continually justifying a whole range of short-term focussed KPI’s.

A good example of the model is funding for Indigenous arts – especially for employment – that are annualised. The simple fact is, that to truly build capacity for artists and organisations, a long-term vision is badly needed. An Indigenous artist on a one-year funded contract, for example, will just be getting to the place of having worked through a creative development idea as the funding for their position suddenly comes to an end. And, (yes!) this sets off another round of pursuing project grants and trying to find the funds to maintain that employment, often with disappointing and uneven results.

At the federal level, it has been an interesting funding journey over the last few years. The recent national consultation on the Major Performing Arts (MPA) Framework was disappointing. It was narrow in its focus and the consultation process designed to ensure nothing changed to a funding model that is over 20 years old. 62% of Australia Council funding, $109 million, will be quarantined for the 28 MPA companies with the nearly 600 small to medium companies in Australia competing for access to  a balance of $53 million. Audience attendance to MPA performances are just over one-third, 3.3 million, of the 9.4 million audiences that attend the works of small to medium companies. Clearly, there is an imbalance.

The MPA framework has served Australia well. Unfortunately, the recent consultation process created friction and many negative responses in the sector. Yes, money is a huge issue and the limited investment in the creative sector, which increasingly drives our modern economy, is important to address. But, what we also need is a deeper appreciation of the arts sector’s role in driving innovation, social cohesion, the economy, and in reflecting our stories and identity as a nation. At both the state and federal levels of government we need a serious reimagining of arts policy and it needs to catch-up with an Australia that has evolved and changed a lot since the last time that substantively happened in the late 1990’s.