Distribution, equity and diversity:
the impact of the changes
In addition to critical analysis of the cuts to the Australia Council
and the terms of the proposed NPEA, a large volume of evidence received by the
committee raised concerns about the impacts the new funding arrangements may
have on particular sectors of the arts community, and on the broader Australian
community as participants in, and audiences of, the arts.
This included discussion of the interrelated nature of the arts
'ecosystem' and a false division between major organisations and small to
medium arts groups, as well as individual artists. In addition, the committee
heard from representatives of indigenous artists, artists of multicultural and
linguistic diversity, people with disability, and artists and audiences in
regional and rural Australia, expressing concern about the potential for the
changes to further marginalise their participation in the arts.
Individual artists, small and medium organisations: the arts 'ecosystem'
The combination of cuts to the Australia Council, and perceived limits
and biases within the draft guidelines for the NPEA, led to the overwhelming
emphasis of evidence on the disproportionate disadvantage posed to small and
medium sized organisations, and individual artists.
This was not, however, presented to the committee as a discrete problem.
A very strong theme throughout the evidence was the interconnected nature of
the arts sector, often described as an 'ecosystem', and the threat that reduced
support for individual artists, small and medium arts organisations posed to the
continued survival of the arts as a whole in Australia.
Ms Nicole Beyer of ArtsPeak described the situation:
The main point I want to make is how interconnected the arts
are. Minister Brandis recognises the value and success of the major performing
arts organisations but is cutting funding to small organisations and
independent artists—yet they are highly interconnected. Individual artists,
those who do not work in salaried positions in organisations, work in and out
of small organisations and major companies. Small companies work with each
other. Major organisations work with small organisations. Collaboration is
essential to what we do in the arts. Unlike many other industries, in the arts
[we] are very itinerant. Artists, writers, designers, composers, producers, and
managers move across and between projects and companies a great deal. They need
that cross-fertilisation to make excellent art. If one part of the sector is
affected, then the whole sector is affected. There is no way to make big
changes to the small companies and to the individual artists that does not
affect the major companies as well.
Ms Petra Kalive provided one of many examples of the 'arts ecosystem' in
Without the support by the Australia Council for her book The
Secret River, Kate Grenville would not have written her incredible novel,
which in turn would not have been picked up for adaptation by Andrew Bovell and
presented by Sydney Theatre Company subsequently nominated for 11 Helpmann
awards, then going on to being a successful ABC mini-series. This is the
perfect example of excellence at all three levels of incarnation – but the
first stage – was support for an independent artist through the Australia
Council. This independent artist – through a small investment from the Australia
Council – was a seed through which a whole host of creatives were employed and
a whole industry mobilised around a single story, which has captured the hearts
and imaginations of many Australians in its many forms. Just think how much
poorer our modern Australian cannon would be without this story and its
contribution. Without the Australia Council funded to be able to do what it has
been charged to do – we risk losing creative experiences like these.
Mr Krystian Seibert of Philanthropy Australia recognised that:
The arts sector in Australia is diverse, with innovative and
high-quality artistic work generated by small, medium and large organisations,
and by individual artists. Small and medium-sized organisations have an
important role in nurturing new talent, artists, administrators and
technicians, who then go on to join larger organisations as their careers
progress. Therefore, the ongoing stability of larger organisations and the
sector as a whole is dependent on having vibrant small- and medium-sized
Mr Aaron Beach of dance company Co3 also made the point that the
ecosystem did not only operate in one direction, either: many artists, like
himself, spent time in major organisations then brought that experience back
into the small and medium sector.
Others noted that not all artists aspired to work in major companies: small and
medium arts organisations had inherent value in themselves, and even advantages
over large organisations for both artists and audiences, and warranted support
in their own right.
The committee heard many accounts from small and medium organisations
who were already cutting staff, abandoning or downsizing projects in the
pipeline, and reducing the ambition of their future plans, following the 2014
and 2015 Budget decisions. One example came from Southern Edge Arts, a
performing arts company for young people based in the regional community of
Albany, Western Australia:
For the very first time in our 30-year history, Southern Edge
Arts has not been able to offer a three-year to five-year contract for an
artistic director. For the first time, we have offered only a six-month
contract. It has a negative impact directly on our staff. We have 10 staff
members, eight of whom are casual. One of the part-time positions is currently
in abeyance. We have had casual employees walking away from the industry and
seeking other opportunities because of the uncertainty. It has put immense
pressure on volunteers. Our turnover is extremely high, and for the first time
we have had artists and board members who are not fulfilling the three-year
terms of their position. A lot of them are very tired and disenchanted. We
support excellence but not through exclusivity.
Many other artists and arts organisations offered examples, predictions
and visions about the impact that the reduction in support to the small and
medium arts sector would have on the Australian cultural landscape. Many spoke
about the potential downsizing or closure of smaller arts companies, a
reduction in the production and presentation of Australian content, and the
likely loss of Australian artists overseas.
Drawing on the connection between artists and their audiences,
Ms Helen Bock of the Community Arts Network SA expressed her view:
Basically, the biggest impact is that ordinary Australians
will have less or no access to the arts, as I understand it, with the new
approach. I have always talked about the arts as the "haves" and the
"have-nots". Now what we are going to have is the
"have-mores" and the "have-nots". We have lost the
"haves" in the middle. It is a bit like we are losing our middle
It is going to put us back to the point where art will be an
elitist thing. It will be for the rich; it will be for the people who can
afford to go to those perceived things that Senator Brandis calls
"excellent". Ordinary Australians will miss out on that transition to
appreciating the arts. Ordinary Australians will miss out on having their lives
improved, having opportunities to build their self-esteem and confidence—a
stepping stone—and having the experience of creating things and getting a smile
on their faces.
Others drew attention to the broader social and economic flow-on effects
from changes to the arts sector, particularly in relation to individual artists
and smaller enterprises operating within communities:
We have to understand that most of these organisations and
individual artists are small businesses, so it is going to have an impact on
both those businesses and all the people that they employ...The ripple effect of
the contraction of those organisations and constraining the ability of
independent artists to secure support—there are all sorts of other
interdependent areas like tourism, city animation and regional community
nourishment of the social life of the regions, education and health. Almost
everywhere where the arts actually has a connection with what else goes on in
the world is going to be impacted by these changes.
The major performing arts
companies: a false immunity
While the major performing arts companies had been quarantined from
funding cuts, leading to some public discussion of a divide within the arts
community, several of the major organisations submitted to and spoke to the
committee to endorse the concept of the arts ecosystem, and to add their voices
to concerns that undermining the smaller players in the arts community would also
destabilise the major companies, and the arts as a whole.
Major performing arts peak body AMPAG submitted that 'we firmly believe
our own work and our own long-term vibrancy is intertwined with and affected by
the overall health and vibrancy of the broader arts ecosystem'.
AMPAG described small and medium arts organisations as 'a key supply line of
creativity to many of our major companies' and submitted that 'their demise
would weaken not just the major performing arts companies but the overall arts
AMPAG pointed out that major performing arts (MPAs) bodies were not the
largest employer in the sector, with only around 10,000 of the 34,000 people
working in the performing arts in Australia employed by MPAs:
...in a given year, anywhere between two and 95 per cent of an
MPA's employees or contractors are working in, or have come from, other parts
of the sector and in particular from the small to medium organisations in the
performing arts. Many artists and creatives develop their skills and talents in
smaller organisations before working in key MPA creative roles.
We provide capacity and resources to the sector, and we
exchange practically and creatively. It is a porous relationship. Our own
long-term vibrancy is interrelated with the overall health and vibrancy of the
broader arts ecosystem.
Black Swan State Theatre, from WA, told the committee that although its
funding was preserved as a major company, it 'survived and thrived' only
through its relationships with other companies, large and small.
What we are concerned with is that change to any part of the
sector will have a flow-on effect through the rest of the sector. So, yes, we
have been insulated, which is fantastic on one level, but we are very concerned
about the fact that our colleague companies do a huge amount of work in terms
of the pipeline that comes through to the major companies that will have a
long-term effect on what the major companies do, so really you cannot separate
the two. It is like thinking about other parts of industry that have the small
R&D companies and have the major parts of industry that all work together,
Black Swan and smaller company Blue Room theatre jointly provided the
committee with an eloquent argument and case studies about the importance of
the arts 'pipeline', demonstrating that major organisations, small and medium
companies, independent artists, training institutions and presenting venues and
festivals were all linked 'and any negative change at any one end of the
sector, will have negative impacts on the other parts of the sector'.
The Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) agreed. It advised the committee
In the last financial year, QTC employed 380 people of whom
only 35 are permanent. Of these 380, 47 per cent were performers and creators,
many of whom may only receive one contract each year with us of around eight to
10 weeks if lucky. That means that for the other 42 weeks of the year, they
work in the rest of the sector—if it exists—in order to continue to hone their
craft and develop work. We felt compelled as a major performing arts company to
raise our concerns about the proposed arts funding changes. As stated, the arts
sector works interdependently across a number of levels. If you cut one level,
it ultimately affects the other.
Major company Circus Oz wrote that every year it collaborated with more
than 50 artists from the independent, small and medium arts sector to create
its workshops and performances, as well as a pool of part-time performers
supplementing its core ensemble of 12. These artists relied on work across
multiple organisations and projects within the sector. Circus Oz believed that
without a 'thriving' small and medium sector including 'blossoming' youth
circus arts organisations, these essential sources for its work could be lost.
Peak body Live Performance Australia, whose membership of over 400
ranged from 'the biggest employers through to the smallest of arts
organisations', told the committee that in the current circumstances 'all our
members have a concern about the ability of this sector to continue to
collaborate and produce good work'.
Mr Geordie Brookman from the State Theatre Company of South Australia summed up
the 'ecosystem' analogy in this way: 'A healthy arts ecology cannot be built
from the top down; if the understorey is barren, the canopy will wither'.
Individuals were recognised as being particularly hard-hit within the
arts ecosystem, as they were specifically excluded from applying for funding
under the NPEA. The impact on early-career individuals was noted in particular.
One witness observed that the cancellation of the Australia Council's ArtStart
program for young and emerging artists, plus their ineligibility to apply for
NPEA grants, meant that 'effectively they are hit with a double whammy'.
Artist Vivian Diherl expressed alarm at the impact that the funding
changes would have specifically on individual artists, assessing that:
Considering the Australia Council’s estimates across the
streams of 'ArtStart', 'Australian Fellowships, New Work and Presentation' and
'Artists in Residence'; funding to individuals was approximately $5,970,000
across all art-forms for the financial year 2013-14. Under the proposed changes
and forward estimates this appears to be $0 by 2016, and with individuals not
eligible to apply for the NPEA under the Draft Guidelines.
Many artists told the committee of the crucial role individual funding
had provided in launching and enhancing their careers. Dr Cat Hope noted the
value for money in supporting individuals, who 'offer the capacity to work very
hard without a lot of infrastructure'.
She advised that '[w]hen I began my career in music, the flexibility and
tailoring offered by grants to individuals enabled me to collaborate, to take
risks, to gain experience and to develop an international profile, without
which my current academic position would simply have been unobtainable'.
Dr Hope expressed the view that 'if you do not support independent artists and
people starting you will not have anything in your NPEA—no-one eligible to
apply. And this might not happen now; it might not even happen in the next
election cycle, but perhaps after that'.
Artist Ms Rebecca Baumann told the committee about the role Australia
Council funding had played in helping her, as an emerging independent artist,
build her career. She noted that she spent the first five years of her career
working full-time in other jobs while pursuing art in her own time, but project
support from the government allowed her to gradually increase the time devoted
to her art until she was in a position to become a full-time artist.
I am an independent visual artist. At this stage I am working
full-time. But it means that I have to do administration, marketing—all these
different things. I really rely on support from these core organisations. I
have gotten new work funding before through the Australia Council, and I can
show a clear stream of how that has helped build my career. I got a new work
grant in 2011 to show work at Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art in
Sydney, which was the first time I was shown at a major institution on a
national level. Since then they have collected my work into their collection.
Also I have just done a project with them for Vivid Sydney this year, which was
seen by over 1 million people. Having that little bit of money at the beginning
gives you that exposure and allows you to be experimental, innovative and to
push your practice.
Fremantle Arts Centre later advised the committee that it was presenting
a major show with Ms Baumann, for which it had secured corporate sponsorship.
'She is bringing Australia Council funding and we have come up with a budget of
over $100,000 for that project. That could just not happen with Rebecca
operating on her own'.
The ministry stated that the exclusion of individuals from eligibility
for the NPEA and the subsequent Catalyst fund was a matter of distinction
between the roles of the ministry and the Australia Council:
The Commonwealth has always delivered arts programs through
two mechanisms: through the ministry and through the Australia Council. One of
the key differences between the two, though, is: through the ministry, we do
not fund individuals; we have never funded individuals. To move into that space
would then create more confusion about what the Australia Council does and what
the ministry does. That is the area of expertise for the Australia Council, and
it always has been, and they do that very well.
We actively discussed that, and, in the end, our view was to
The ministry argued that the ability of individuals to source funding
from the Catalyst program under the auspices of an organisation, and the
funding returned to the Australia Council in November 2015, had responded to
the concerns raised about the exclusion of individuals from the proposed NPEA.
Geographic distribution of funding: equity and access
An issue which often arose during the committee's hearings around
Australia was the distribution of arts funding between the states and
territories, and between large capital cities and regional, rural and remote communities.
In this context the notion of 'equity' sparked lively discussion.
Dr Paula Abood of the Centre for Community Arts and Cultural Development
stated that 'the principle of equity is around regional-rural-remote Australia'
...that is where equity is critical. Equity is about the
equitable distribution of resources regardless of geography or demographics.
Equity for me might translate as looking at the pool of arts and cultural
funding—do small to mediums get a third, do artists get a third and do majors
get a third? If that is the case, in my experience of working in the small to
medium, that is where rural and regional is critical.
Dr Abood argued that if the NPEA:
...was named the "National Program for Equity", I
think there would be almost universal celebration that it was in recognition
that there is inequity in funding. Since May, the sector and many people within
the sector have learnt and been exposed to the fact of the inequitable
distribution of funding in terms of what the small to medium sector
In going to the second term of equity, for me equity is about
promoting fairness in the distribution of resources, particularly for those
most in need, certainly recognising and promoting rights and improving the accountability
of decision makers. Equity is ensuring that people have fairer access to the
resources and services that are essential to meeting needs and improving
quality of life, providing people with better opportunities for genuine
participation and consultation about decisions affecting their lives.
The states and territories
In its submission Artslink Queensland cited figures reported by the
Australia Council which indicated that its funding to Queensland was in the
order of $3.40 per capita, compared to $6.80 for Victoria and $7.80 for NSW.
Artslink Queensland expressed the hope that an increased role for the ministry,
including new initiatives such as the NPEA, might assist in addressing that
The Queensland Government also drew attention to a historical disadvantage in
funding, saying it would maintain a 'watchful eye' on all federal funding and
continue to advocate for 'equitable opportunities in arts development and
Mr Henry Boston from Western Australia's Chamber of Arts and Culture
noted the frustration of the arts sector in Western Australia about its
comparatively poor receipt of support from the Australia Council compared to
other states. He argued that the recent reforms to the Australia Council
created optimism that this would be addressed going forward, but that the more
recent 2015 budget changes to the arts removed that hope, 'muddying the waters'
and offering nothing to suggest that the new arrangements would improve equity
between the states.
Ms Amy Barrett-Lennard from the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts
agreed, emphasising that the Western Australian arts community had worked very
hard with the Australia Council:
...that was very, very positive around how they were going to
roll out and address some of those issues in really strategic ways that did not
compromise the Australia Council's priority around excellence but very much
were looking at strategic ways in which that percentage could be increased for
Western Australia. One of the issues the Australia Council
has found is that there are fewer applications coming from WA, and that was one
of the things that we were hoping to address. So these things were very much
being addressed. We were all looking forward to seeing how it would roll out.
Ms Fiona de Garis, a sometime peer assessor for the Australia Council,
observed that while inequity in funding between states could be a frustration,
peer review required consideration of a broader range of factors in determining
the competitiveness of applications.
Other Western Australian and Queensland arts stakeholders agreed that the cause
of interstate inequity in funding was at least in part due to the number and
quality of applications having been deficient, and that this was changing for
Regional, rural and remote
Much evidence was provided to the committee about the value and
importance of the arts for both artists and communities in regional and rural
Australia; about the financial fragility of regional arts; and about the anxiety
felt within regional communities that funding changes would further reduce their
access to and participation in the arts.
Regional Arts Australia (RAA) told the committee that presently 88 per
cent of Australia Council funding was directed to the capital cities, where 64
per cent of Australians lived. RAA acknowledged that the Australia Council had
worked hard to build relationships in regional and remote areas to increase
Arts Nexus highlighted the fundamental role of arts in regional Australia
in 'community wellbeing and cohesion, in disaster recovery, and in a host of
social inclusion activities with diverse, remote and marginalised communities'.
Ms Eve Stafford of Savvy Arts stated that regional Australia was
grateful for tours and workshops by major companies but this 'traditional
access and touring model...largely treats the regions as audiences, perpetual
amateurs and volunteers'.
Mr Lachlan McDonald emphasised that regional communities across the
country 'want the resources to be able to tell their own stories. They do not
want them dropped in from the city'.
Ms Stafford described the vibrant arts sector which had developed in
North Queensland over the last 25 years and the accompanying social and
Our joint efforts at building a local cultural sector have
been spectacularly successful. An economic study commissioned by Arts Nexus in
2008 showed the creative industries in Far North Queensland were worth
$300 million—in the same ballpark as the sugar industry, fishing or
tropical fruits...Cairns did not have a built university or even a regional
gallery at all until as late as 1995, but hasn't the local creativity flowered
since. With a bare minimum of public investment in a handful of soft
infrastructure organisations providing support services to local enterprises,
we have collaborated among ourselves as [a] sector to drive this interdependent
self-determined future for Cairns and the far north over the last 25 years.
But now this is in real danger of going backwards. Arts in
the regions is not "a frill on the petticoat of life", to quote Robyn
Archer, but life itself. The destructive elements of the 2015 arts budget are a
barnacle on the ship of government and should be reversed.
Western Riverina Arts similarly emphasised the importance of grants
programs to sustaining arts and cultural activity in regional NSW. While
acknowledging that '[h]istorically there has not been a lot of federal funding
of arts projects in my part of regional New South Wales through the Australia
Dr Derek Motion, Regional Arts Development Officer for Western Riverina Arts,
remained supportive nonetheless of the Australia Council process for allocating
I have worked with many individuals and groups to obtain
Australia Council grants. Importantly, I have always advised that they are
difficult to obtain, and this is well understood. It is understood because the
Australia Council grants program has already had excellence built into it. It
is a national funding program. Applications have to be strong and project ideas
have to be strong and well thought out, and people in my community know that.
With regard to potential support for regional arts from the NPEA,
regional arts organisations queried whether the draft NPEA guidelines should be
read as indicating that projects must be national in scope to attract support;
believing such an approach would be unnecessarily restrictive' of opportunities
for local and regional organisations.
Regional Arts Australia was concerned that the NPEA would 'become a vehicle for
a particular brand of excellence that might be imposed on regional Australia'.
Ms Felicity Bott from Ausdance WA commented on the draft guidelines:
Reading them in the form they are now, there are words and
phrases in there like 'demand driven' and 'nationally outcome driven'. They are
looking for national outcomes. Certainly, when it comes to regional and remote
practice, they are not particularly loud voices; their demands are not easily
heard...how do people or organisations who are en route to having national
profiles get heard in that process? To an experienced grant writer, I would say
that it does not look like it fits the profile of many of the people that we
represent and want to see making art.
The Tasmanian Government saw 'a tension between the NPEA's articulation
of activities for regional and remote audiences, and its emphasis on the
delivery of national outcomes', expressing concern that the draft guidelines
'appear to imply that established national organisations will be used to
deliver works to regional areas, rather than directly funding local
KickArts argued that the continued success of its work was 'under
threat' and that:
The reduction of funding through the Australia Council not
only places regional growth at risk in this small to medium sector but also
significantly diminishes our capacity to nurture and develop the creative
ecology of our region. In turn, when our partner artists and organisations are
unable to access adequate funds our region faces serious repercussions
including fewer opportunities for our artists to create ambitious works worthy
of capital institutions. If they cannot do it here, how are they going to have
the chance to be seen elsewhere, and who will notice? It includes the
disenfranchisement of our regional artists. By buying in capital city
programming, we risk devaluing our own contributors to our culture and our
regional identity. Questions will arise about where, when and how voices from
our region will be heard.
The disproportionate impact of the funding changes on small and medium
companies was also extrapolated as having a strong impact on the exposure of
regional and rural audiences to broader arts experiences. The Performing Arts
Touring Alliance was one of a number of arts groups which pointed out to the
committee that, based upon past grants information, 73 per cent of touring in
regional Australia was conducted by small to medium companies.
Mr Rick Heath described touring productions by small and medium arts
organisations as 'the lifeblood of regional performing arts centres in
Australia', and noted that it was often simply not feasible for major
organisations to transport and perform their works in smaller regional venues.
Mr Heath believed that reducing funding to the small to medium sector would
significantly impact on the ability of those companies to tour, and
consequently on the diversity of productions seen in regional communities.
Ms Georgia Cribb of National Exhibitions Touring Support Victoria
observed that funding support also allowed regional and rural arts
organisations to develop their own projects and tour them to metropolitan
audiences: 'Without the small-to-medium sector supporting and enabling those
sorts of projects and partnerships I think that the dialogue between regional
communities and the larger cities and state will be lost'.
Interaction between Commonwealth
and state/territory government programs
Speaking on behalf of the South Australian Government, Arts SA Acting
Executive Director Ms Jennifer Layther told the committee that the federal
minister's funding changes had not been precipitated by any consultation at all
with state and territory governments, but had come as a 'complete shock'.
The Queensland Government submitted that 'where gaps have been created,
pressure will mount on state and territory arts budgets that are already under
strain with ever-increasing demand'.
Mr Boston, and Ms Jessica Machin from Community Arts WA, noted that the
WA government had arranged its funding program to synchronise with the
Australia Council's six-year organisational funding model, which had now been
The Queensland Government also advised that it had worked with the Australia
Council to streamline programs and make application simpler for artists and
organisations, warning of the risk of the NPEA duplicating funding streams and
adding to the burden on applicants in 'an increasingly complex funding
Ms Layther said that the change and delay in the Australia Council's
organisational funding to the new four-year program would leave Arts SA only 'a
very short time' to respond, in order to protect the sustainability of small to
medium organisations in that state. She also noted that some multi-year funding
under its programs was contingent upon organisations having a funding partner,
so if organisations were core funded by the Australia Council and lost that
funding, they would also become ineligible for the state government funds.
In its submission to the committee, the Tasmanian Government emphasised
the importance of the cultural sector and the predominance of small to medium
organisations in the state's arts ecology, making Tasmania 'particularly vulnerable
to change'. The government 'strongly urge[d]' the Commonwealth to 'consider the
specific challenges and needs of Tasmania' in the context of changes to arts
policy and funding, and take steps to insulate the state from 'unintended
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts
During the course of the inquiry the committee heard from a range of
representatives and organisations about the importance and value of indigenous art
not only to indigenous artists but also to the indigenous and the wider
Australian community. Indigenous representatives stressed the intrinsic nature
of artistic expression within culture and identity.
ILBIJERRI Theatre explained that indigenous art and artists play an
invaluable role in promoting and facilitating broader community discussions
about racism and cultural diversity:
...often as artists we play a role in having the big
conversations that define us as a nation. Often they are difficult
conversations, as we have seen with this whole Adam Goodes hoo-ha. Who are we
as a nation? Those conversations are being led by artists. Particularly from an
Indigenous perspective, the industry is very precarious and fragile, and our
capacity to drive those conversations becomes very threatened. We are a
minority culture—it is not okay to stand up and talk up, as Adam Goodes did. It
is so important to continue to nurture and feed that side of the industry.
The Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts highlighted the value of indigenous
art to the broader Australian community, identifying a recent research report
by the Australia Council which found that 92 per cent of respondents considered
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts to be an important part of
Australian culture and 64 per cent of Australians have a strong or growing
interest in art created or performed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
The intertwined relationship between art and identity, as well as the
concept of artistic expression as 'cultural maintenance' were raised by a range
of indigenous submitters and witnesses as key reasons why continued support for
the arts was vital.
The Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA) stated that:
Arts centres are much more than just arts centres. They are
where people come to pass on stories and knowledge. There are arts centres
situated from Cardwell in the south to Mornington Island in the gulf, across
Cape York and the Torres Strait. They are all dramatically affected by these
cuts. IACA's vision is supporting culturally strong, best-practice Indigenous
arts centres. I emphasise the phrase "culturally strong". Through
these art centres, we work to build a profile of Queensland Indigenous art and
assist in the maintenance and celebration of the rich and diverse culture of
Far North Queensland Indigenous communities. We assist in the economic
advancement of over 500 remote Indigenous artists.
Arts centres are one of the only employers in remote
Indigenous communities offering a career path and are vital places of cultural
maintenance and creative activity. They act as a safe place for young people to
get away from other harmful pathways in remote communities. Current funding
provided by state and federal governments to IACA is insufficient for IACA to
offer the support for Queensland artists to catch up and compete nationally and
internationally. The current situation is one where IACA has been funded to
fail. Where do grassroots support organisations, such as ours, go to seek
operational funding to develop excellence in the arts?
Biddigal Performing Arts concurred:
Biddigal not only supports the maintenance and preservation
of Indigenous songs, stories and dance for the next generation, but we actively
integrate oral histories that contribute to Australian identity through the
arts and share very significant narratives through dance and performance in a
unique manner...The practice and transmission of our cultural expression should
be continued by way of lore—not law—for the benefit of future generations.
Biddigal also believes that non-Indigenous Australians should
have culturally appropriate access to and information about authentic
Indigenous cultural expression in the belief that this can lead to greater
understanding, respect for and protection of this culture. I know that the
Australia Council for the Arts has protocol set in place for the production of
Indigenous Australian performing arts to follow the rights of Australia's
Indigenous peoples. I am yet to see this practice and policy from the NPEA.
Central Australian community arts organisation Incite Arts said that the
proposed changes to arts funding—and particularly the potential loss of
operational funding—put at risk its ability to employ, train and mentor local indigenous
We employ 50 to 68 artists, 25 to 35 of those being
professional artists, 33 of those being Indigenous cultural mentors, as well as
four arts workers. All of that is in jeopardy. It is about whether or not we
will have the capacity to secure operational support in the future, as to how
much we could possibly deliver.
That means that, if we are not there, there are not those
opportunities for that arts engagement for young people, for people with
disability and for Aboriginal communities and their young people to be involved
with arts programs like the ones we offer. We offer multi-art forms. We offer
visual arts, performing arts—a lot of performing arts—music and dance in
culturally appropriate ways, and we have complex cross-sectoral partnerships.
We are the arts enabler in those relationships, because a lot of non-arts
organisations recognise the benefits and the contribution that arts makes to
the wellbeing of their communities, and that is what makes them want to invest
in working with arts. So, if we are not there, I guess you would probably get
people who fly in and fly out and deliver. What Central Australia will lose is
all the corporate knowledge, all the body of work, the relationship building,
the trust, the confidence that they have invested in Incite over the last 15
Mr Thomas Lewis of Djilpin Arts Aboriginal Corporation described it
I live in the bush and I run an Aboriginal arts organisation...I
do theatre. I do a lot of things. I even run festivals. If we do not get this
sort of support then the country gets more thirsty as you frack. You do all
that stuff. You take and you take, and you do not consider looking after your
own backyard. You are all responsible for the cultures and the dynamics we go
through. We work very strongly to run our arts organisations. It is part of you
and me. Our responsibility, our culture, our art and our commitment is there
for our families and people. If you take things away from our Australia
Council, you cut out a lot of people. We have got a lot of faith in the
Australia Council. It is the only place that we can rely on to reach the bush
and you go "humbug" to that place. A lot of our children are talented
kids. Let's use them again and say "How about their future?"
In respect of the NPEA, Mr Les Malezer, Co-Chair of the National
Congress of Australia's First Peoples, told the committee that indigenous
communities were concerned about the perceived or actual politicisation of arts
funding and the resultant risk that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
...could be forced out at that end of the individual and lower
budget-type operations. That is the reality, and we are looking very closely to
see if they are forced to go into other programs that are offered in other
portfolios and so on.
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples raised a broader concern
'that the position the government has taken in relation to policy on Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples does not seem to be well understood across
and expressed frustration about the lack of 'cooperation and comprehension
across the portfolios about where support is coming from and what goals and
objectives are to be achieved'.
The National Congress recommended:
One, that the development of arts policies and strategies and
programs for the arts be reviewed for the purpose of compliance with the rights
held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including the rights to
self-determination, which includes cultural development. Second, that the
institutions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be respected in
the form of decision making and program delivery. This includes reinstatement
of the Aboriginal Arts Board and serious consideration of the proposed National
Indigenous Cultural Authority. Third, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples receive greater proportion of the funds ultimately provided to
the major arts companies; and fourthly, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples be reinstated to be in charge of the preparations and
participation of the Australian contingent to the Festival of Pacific Arts in
Guam in 2016.
In its evidence to the committee the ministry advised that aside from
any opportunities to apply for mainstream Australia Council and ministry
funding, the Australian Government invested some $44 million per year into
indigenous-specific arts programs through the ministry. On 31 March 2015 the
(then) minister had announced a new approach to funding indigenous arts and
languages through the arts portfolio, simplifying the program and bringing it
into line with the government's indigenous affairs priorities, including
support for indigenous languages. In the field of visual arts, the ministry
supported 97 organisations working with more than 7000 indigenous artists.
Culturally and linguistically diverse communities
Along with indigenous representatives, submitters and witnesses argued
that the voices of culturally diverse Australians were crucial to community and
national identity and must not be lost from the arts landscape, and expressed
their concern that cuts to Australia Council funding and the introduction of
the NPEA threatened this.
For example, Nexus Multicultural Arts Centre argued that the funding
changes would '[impede] access to funding by artists from culturally diverse
backgrounds, and further limit their participation in the arts'.
Nexus highlighted the existing disadvantage experienced by artists from
culturally diverse and non-English speaking backgrounds, noting that:
The [Australia Council's 2015 edition of Arts Nation] found
that professional artist populations are less diverse than the rest of the
Australian workforce, with people from non-English speaking backgrounds
accounting for eight per cent of the professional artist population. That
compares to 16 per cent of the overall workforce. For an artist from a
non-English-speaking background, their medium income from their creative
practice is 40 per cent lower than the medium income from other artists. The
NPEA and the Ministry for the Arts have no remit to fund culture-diverse arts.
My fear is that artists from marginalised communities who may make works that
comment against past and current government policies will be cut out of funding
through the NPEA.
Nexus acknowledged that the Australia Council recognised there was still
more to be done to increase participation by and funding to culturally-diverse
artists; however, Nexus remained concerned that the funding changes would
impact this group of artists and lamented the loss of 'key organisational
funding after 2016 while there is still so much work to do in this sector to
ensure greater cultural diversity'.
Similarly, Peril Magazine believed that the funding changes would have a
disproportionately negative effect on non-English speaking and culturally
We respect that these funding changes do not formally
establish new or express barriers for cultural diversity. However, in a context
that is already marked by inequality and imbalance, increased internal
competition, sector instability and purportedly value-neutral phrases for excellence
mask a disproportionate impact on creative producers, participants and
audiences from culturally diverse backgrounds.
CuriousWorks—a small to medium arts organisation 'renowned for producing
ambitious work which celebrates Australia's untold stories' by indigenous and
culturally diverse Australians—opposed the introduction of the NPEA because it
'comes directly at the cost of the Australia Council's ability to support us'.
CuriousWorks expressed its concern that the loss of operational funding would
subsequently diminish the ability of 'the next generation of storytellers' to
present 'modern, multicultural Australia to the world'.
People with disabilities
Ensuring that people with a disability continued to engage in and have
access to the arts was raised during the inquiry. As with indigenous and
culturally diverse artists, the committee heard about the continued need for
greater inclusion and representation of disability in the arts, as well as the
sometimes profound positive impact engagement in the arts had for people with a
JUTE Theatre Company, the Tropical Arts Association, Access2Arts and
Arts Access Australia all spoke of inclusion and representation through the
work of disabled artists. Tropical Arts remarked that:
The process is inclusion, so our focus is in reaching out to
include as many different and diverse groups as possible...What we do at Tropical
Arts is make a seamless fabric of society where people with a disability are
not seen as separate but are included as part of our fabric. By seeing that on
stage, an audience can actually, palpably get an opportunity to be with and see
the strengths of people with disability.
Access2Arts and Arts Access Australia similarly described why inclusion
and representation of artists with a disability are so necessary:
Ms Mellis: ...when you look at, for example, the impact
of someone like Stella Young, who is a fantastic comedian—she is the artist who
springs to mind, and unfortunately she passed away—the impact that she had on
changing attitudes in broader society through her comedy and using humour to
actually break down some of those attitudinal barriers has been extraordinary,
and she has been a worldwide success. When you look at things like casting of
people with disability in television programs, you only need to look at Silent
Witness, where there is a forensic scientist who is a wheelchair user. That
is a very subtle but effective way to change people's attitudes, because people
get to see people with disability through the arts doing work that they would
not necessarily attribute to a person with disability—that they would not
necessarily think a person with disability was capable of. It is an enormously
powerful window into what is possible in our society.
Mrs Bennison: We do not see the representation of
ourselves on Australian stages and screens. People are still "cripping
up" and that is a term that we use which is the equivalent of blackface.
There are children who do not see themselves represented, and I know the story
of a young child who never saw her impairment represented. It is not about
telling a disability story, but she thought she was going to die because she
did not know any adults with that condition and so thought she would die before
she became an adult. So the arts can change things. We are also very clear on
what we think are good arts and bad arts. We are not talking about the warm or
patronising stuff, but about making arts accessible. People should be able to
see themselves represented on stage. I have worked nationally and
internationally as a designer for over 25 years; I had to leave the country to
see myself represented in the art form I worked in.
Ms Velvet Eldred described the therapeutic benefit of engaging in the
arts for people with a disability and the empowerment derived from that
What I do is akin to speech therapy and occupational therapy.
I have people with a disability who do not speak, speaking Shakespeare. I am
not a miracle worker. The brain is an extraordinary thing and it will change...I
support young people with autism to be able to actually walk into a room. I
train people who have never spoken before to speak. I train people who cannot
walk steadily to walk. A human being is just a pot of potential...I have just
come from a show where there is a young woman called Gabby Toby who cannot
speak, but the excitement she gets from being on stage with people is
extraordinary. Another young woman who could not even walk into a room without
dry retching can now come into a room and take her place in a community that
adores her. We are working with young people with Down syndrome who are looking
at a lifetime of endeavour at $2.50 an hour to put things on earphones and
cutlery but who now have a place. Their parents say, "Oh my God, I never
knew they could do that." But I knew. They stand beside their professional
colleagues in the circle of a 60-strong community and they are valued and
loved. That is the point.
The effect of the funding changes was discussed by DADAA Ltd, a
not-for-profit community arts and cultural development organisation with a
particular focus on 'positive social change and opportunities for people with a
disability or a mental illness'.
Mr David Doyle, Executive Director of DADAA, explained that its 'funding
ecology is complex and highly interwoven' and its ability to partner with
government, corporate and community partners is reliant upon its 'leverage and
DADAA informed that the funding changes announced in the 2015 Commonwealth
Budget had already resulted in it cutting some of its programs:
As of last year DADAA was one of 13 key organisations in the
community partnership section of the Australia Council for the Arts. Last year
DADAA's six-year contract was suspended, along with those of all 13 companies.
So our funding from 2017 to 2022 was terminated, which meant a loss of $880,000
in confirmed revenue for the organisation.
...I made the necessary decision to cancel some regional
programs. DADAA no longer has the assurance to plan non-core operations in this
environment. Yesterday I suspended a 14-year-old mental health project. With
the reform of the Australia Council occurring in tandem with the national
disability reform agenda, the national health reform agenda and the national
mental health reform agenda, at a point where we are experiencing the end of
the mining boom here in Western Australia, DADAA finds itself in the middle of
a perfect storm.
This decision is potentially disastrous for the 16,000 people
who access our programs. At risk is the ongoing employment of 50 per cent of
DADAA's 100-strong arts team and our capacity to broker state-wide regional
programs like FIVE-2, which saw 7,200 regional Western Australians access our
programs over the last two years. Also at risk is DADAA's capacity to sustain
arts and disability cultural spaces, two of which we are expanding rapidly
right now as we position to meet the rollout of the NDIS. Also at risk is the
sustainability of DADAA's rural and remote programs and, really importantly,
DADAA's capacity to support 16,000 Western Australians with a disability to
take their place in the cultural life of Australia.
Access2Arts spoke positively about the Australia Council's commitment to
'removing barriers that disable and exclude' which in turn had enabled
'strategic and effective' funding and capacity building of the disability arts
Ms Gaelle Mellis explained that in South Australia this had provided
for an 'unprecedented' range of activities in 2015, including an international
residency for deaf and disabled artists and authors.
Ms Mellis stated that it was unclear from the draft NPEA guidelines
whether similar opportunities for disabled artists and arts workers would be
available in the future. Ms Mellis continued:
With NPEA not funding independent artists, and the cuts to
the small and medium sector that includes arts and disability organisations and
many of our allies and partners, we fear that diversity, different experiences
and stories that enrich our culture will be eroded.
As for the criteria of excellence in the NPEA, when artists
with disability have equal access and inclusion, we can and do produce
excellent work. But we tell our stories in different ways, because we have
different and unique experiences, and a different viewpoint on life. Our work,
we know, does connect to the eyes, ears, hearts and minds of Australian
Arts Access Australia informed the committee that it had been working
closely with the Ministry for the Arts 'to ensure that people with disability
are considered in terms of organisational funding and making sure that
organisations have things like disability action plans'.
However, when asked to compare the Australia Council's funding model and
processes with those proposed in the NPEA, Mrs Bennison observed that:
...the word that comes to mind is 'transparency'. The Australia
Council has an open and transparent peer review process. They openly encourage
people with disability to apply to be on the peer register. They consult people
with disability, arts and disability organisations and Arts Access Australia
before they make decisions; not only about disability-specific programs of the
Australia Council but all programs of the Australia Council. We had to go to the
NPEA and ask to be consulted.
Arts Access Australia was:
...very concerned about the ability of the NPEA to ensure
adequate representation of people with disability on peer review panels—or
review panels; I do not think they are calling them peer review panels. We are
also very concerned about how people with disability will be represented
because of the fact that the Ministry for the Arts has had no success
whatsoever in bringing people with disability to the table in relation to the
National Arts and Disability Strategy conversations that have happened over the
past three years. If they are not able to do that in a disability context, then
I am very worried about how they are going to manage it in a broader context.
Obviously, we are also worried about small to medium
organisations and how Arts Access Australia itself will be sustainable under
the NPEA. We are very concerned that we have already lost one staff member as a
result of these funding uncertainties. We are contributing a significant
program to the month-long program in South Australia...and we are now looking at
whether we can actually even deliver that because of the fact that we need to
consider our sustainability. It is likely that we will have to close our doors
beyond 2016 if we are not successful under the NPEA. One other thing I wanted
to mention is that we are very concerned not only that the Australia Council
will have diminished capacity as a funding body but about it having diminished
capacity in terms of the advocacy and capacity building work that it does—for
example, the Sync Leadership Program it runs for people with disability. I was
very fortunate last year to receive a leadership development grant to travel to
the UK and look at disability leadership. I cannot imagine that those sorts of
things will be able to happen, and they are really important opportunities for
people like me and other artists with disability, and just artists generally.
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