Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Distribution, equity and diversity: the impact of the changes

3.1        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.

3.2        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'

3.3        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.

3.4        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.

3.5        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.[1]

3.6        Ms Petra Kalive provided one of many examples of the 'arts ecosystem' in practice:

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.[2]

3.7        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 organisations.[3]

3.8        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.[4] 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.

3.9        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.[5]

3.10      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.

3.11      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 class.

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.[6]

3.12      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.[7]

The major performing arts companies: a false immunity

3.13      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.

3.14      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'.[8] 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 ecology'.[9]

3.15      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: 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.[10]

3.16      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.[11]

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, necessarily...[12]

3.17      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'.[13]

3.18      The Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) agreed. It advised the committee that:

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.[14]

3.19      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.[15]

3.20      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'.[16] 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'.[17]


3.21      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'.[18]

3.22      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.[19]

3.23      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'.[20] 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'.[21] 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'.[22]

3.24      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.[23] She explained:

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.[24]

3.25      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'.[25]

3.26      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 maintain clarity.[26]

3.27      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.[27]

Geographic distribution of funding: equity and access

3.28      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.

3.29      Dr Paula Abood of the Centre for Community Arts and Cultural Development stated that 'the principle of equity is around regional-rural-remote Australia' and:

...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.[28]

3.30      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 receives—individual artists.

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.[29]

The states and territories

3.31      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.[30] Artslink Queensland expressed the hope that an increased role for the ministry, including new initiatives such as the NPEA, might assist in addressing that inequity.[31] 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 participation'.[32]

3.32      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.[33]

3.33      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.[34]

3.34      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.[35] 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 the better.[36]

Regional, rural and remote communities

3.35      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.

3.36      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 application rates.[37]

3.37      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'.[38]

3.38      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'.[39] 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'.[40]

3.39      Ms Stafford described the vibrant arts sector which had developed in North Queensland over the last 25 years and the accompanying social and economic benefits:

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.[41]

3.40      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 Council', Dr Derek Motion, Regional Arts Development Officer for Western Riverina Arts, remained supportive nonetheless of the Australia Council process for allocating grants:

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.[42]

3.41      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.[43] 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'.[44] 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 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.[45]

3.42      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 organisations'.[46]

3.43      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.[47]

3.44      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.[48]

3.45      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.[49]

3.46      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'.[50]

Interaction between Commonwealth and state/territory government programs

3.47      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'.[51] 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'.[52]

3.48      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 abandoned.[53] 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 environment'.[54]

3.49      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.[55]

3.50      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 consequences'.[56]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts

3.51      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.

3.52      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.[57]

3.53      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 people.[58]

3.54      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.

3.55      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?[59]

3.56      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.[60]

3.57      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 artists:

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 years.[61]

3.58      Mr Thomas Lewis of Djilpin Arts Aboriginal Corporation described it thus:

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?"[62]

3.59      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 people:

...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.[63]

3.60      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 government portfolios'[64] 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'.[65]

3.61      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.[66]

3.62      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.[67]

Culturally and linguistically diverse communities

3.63      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.

3.64      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'.[68] 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.

3.65      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'.[69]

3.66      Similarly, Peril Magazine believed that the funding changes would have a disproportionately negative effect on non-English speaking and culturally diverse artists:

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.[70]

3.67      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'.[71] 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'.[72]

People with disabilities

3.68      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 disability.

3.69      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.[73]

3.70      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.[74]

3.71      Ms Velvet Eldred described the therapeutic benefit of engaging in the arts for people with a disability and the empowerment derived from that engagement:

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.[75]

3.72      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'.[76] 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 credibility'.[77] 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.[78]


...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.[79]

3.73      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 sector.[80] 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.[81]

3.74      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 audiences.[82]

3.75      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'.[83] 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.[84]

3.76      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.[85]

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