Understanding the effect of cutting over $100 million from the Australia Council Budget

“The last time there were similar cuts, when severe budget cuts wiped out the entire middle sector of Australian theatre in the 1990s, the culture took twenty years to recover. I believe these budget cuts are much more serious.” – Alison Croggon, submission to the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding

Mary Lou Jelbart, who runs fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne has sent the following newsletter to supporters of fortyfivedownstairs.  It shows plainly how the arts are being hit by Senator Brandis’ reduction of funding for the Australia Council.

Many arts lovers are finding it difficult to comprehend just how powerful an impact the Government’s 30% cut to the Australia Council will have, and it’s hard for non-practitioners to work out why it matters so much.
The opera, the ballet, the major theatre companies and the orchestras have been “quarantined” from the cuts, and their funding will not be affected. Instead, the cuts will have to come from grants to individuals, small to medium sized organisations, and independent theatre companies nationally. This amounts to a 57% cut of previous total funding. Already small grant programs for artists in their early years after graduation have vanished, and two of this years’ four funding rounds have been cancelled.
fortyfivedownstairs does not receive funding from the Australia Council or other public funding sources. However, arts venues have already been seriously affected by the cancellation of theatre seasons scheduled for 2016 due to companies’ inability to apply for funding support.

For example, in the past 9 years, fortyfivedownstairs has supported and/or presented over 70 new Australian productions and 40 readings of new plays. Literally hundreds of emerging and mid-career artists have exhibited there.  Some of the most remarkable exhibitions, and productions, have been made possible by relatively small grants from the Australia Council. All that is under threat, and with it the viability of fortyfivedownstairs, and other small, independent venues around the country.

Last week the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding received submissions.  Many  arts practitioners attended and spoke to their submissions. I strongly recommend looking at them on the Parliament of Australia website.

Very important issues are raised in these submissions, including concerns about secrecy of decision-making by the newly established National Program for Excellence in the Arts. If you only read one or two of the submissions I would strongly recommend the impressive submissions from writer and critic Alison Croggan (no.116), curator David Pledger (no.172) and Professor Nikos Papastergiadis (no.4).
Australia Council Funding is not a perfect system, but it is open and transparent, and has evolved over forty years. The NPEA, set up by Senator George Brandis, will not publish names of those who make the decisions, those who receive the grants, or the amounts granted. As many have pointed out, in the wrong hands a secretive program could well become a vehicle for political control.