• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

As Australians prepare for a Federal election in the closing months of 2001, many in the arts are again raising the question of whether Australia should have a national cultural policy. Sarah Gardner gives the background.

With much fanfare in October 1994, Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating announced Creative Nation, Australia?s first cultural policy. Such a significant symbol of political will in relation to the arts has not reappeared since. Described as both a social policy and an economic one, Creative Nation purported to meet the challenges of the ?threat of global mass culture? and the ?revolution in information technology?. It was about self-expression and creativity, heritage, innovation and participation. It aimed to spread departmental responsibility for cultural development to areas such as broadcasting and telecommunications, international trade, tax incentives, tourism, industry and education. There were initiatives to assist individual artists and their rights, major performing arts companies and the development of multimedia.

Support for many of these initiatives continued under the Coalition government, which came to power in 1995.A whole-of-government budget cut of 10% in 1996, however, spread as it was across all programmes and art form areas, was felt keenly by all organisations.

To some extent the cut was ameliorated by the simultaneous introduction of four new programmes, valued at AUD$14m over three years, which sought to address areas of particular electoral concern. Administered by the government?s primary arts funding body, the Australia Council (http://www.ozco.gov.au), the new programmes were aimed at supporting the arts in regional Australia, young and emerging artists, major (capital city) festivals and the export of contemporary music. The first three programmes continue today.

Shifting priorities

Since 1996 the Australia Council?s main shift in funding priorities has been towards supporting the ?demand side? of the arts. In what continues to be a contentious move, the Council broadened its attention from the arts community alone to the wider Australian community. Staff and financial resources were reallocated to audience development, and arts marketing programmes took on both a domestic and an international focus. Although the push came largely from within the Council itself, it was reinforced by Creative Nation and supported by the new government.

This staff restructuring occurred in parallel with a reduction of the Council?s decision-making structure to a single tier of Funds and the creation of Funds for Major Performing Arts and New Media Arts. The replacement of 159 grant categories with a suite of seven programmes across all Funds further reduced administration.

With little change since 1996, the Council?s $57m core expenditure in 1999?2000 was split roughly as follows: Major Performing Arts Companies $13m; Theatre $7.5m; approximately $6m each for Community Cultural Development and Visual Arts/Craft; $4m each for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts, Literature and Music; and $3m each for Dance and New Media Arts, respectively. Approximately $5m was expended on Audience Development initiatives and $2.5m on Policy and Communications.


In the last year further slight shifts have occurred towards funding strategic initiatives. In response to the Australians and the Arts research1, new strategies to promote the value of the arts via the media and to young people received a significant boost. Long under-funded policy areas such as Youth and the Arts, Indigenous Arts, and Arts in a Multicultural Australia also gained a small budget. The focus of these is cross- Council stimulation of arts practice and promotion to communities in need.

In addition, 2000?2001 was the first full year in which the Australia Council received the extraordinary injection of nearly $50m in new government money for Australia?s 31 major performing arts companies. This included its new responsibilities for Opera Australia and the five State symphony orchestras. The case for the companies was based on five years? experience of closely monitored performance contracts topped by a high level and intensive analysis of every aspect of the companies? business. Small to medium-sized performing arts companies and the visual arts/craft sector have now loudly called for such an analysis. The latter is currently underway.

Challenging legislation

In publishing, industry lobbying has focused on the introduction last year of a Goods and Services Tax as part of Australia?s unprecedented tax reform package. Despite vociferous public opposition from both authors and the industry, books were included in the tax. A $240m Books Industry Assistance Program was introduced to try to assuage the opposition. Together with subsidies for printers, primary schools and textbooks, it included an $8m book marketing programme (Books Alive) run by the Australia Council, and a long-fought-for extension of the Public Lending Right scheme to include Education Lending Rights.

Another breakthrough in artists? rights came in December 2000 with the passing, after more than 10 years of lobbying, of moral rights legislation. An authenticity label for Aboriginal artwork has also been developed (http://www.niaaa.com.au/label.html) in an attempt to curb the exploitation and appropriation of artists? work. Discussion about droit de suite is next on the rights agenda.

Major players

Such non-grant related policies are a vital part of the mix. The Australia Council?s funds comprise only 22% of Australia?s direct support for the arts, and less than 2% of total government cultural funding2. Public funding of the arts and culture in Australia differs markedly between the three levels of government ? Federal, State and Local. In 1998?1999, government funding for culture totalled almost $4 billion, or $197.40 per head of the population. The vast majority (84%) was of a recurrent nature.

Federal government spending on culture was approximately 33.4 % of the total, a decline from 1995?1996.Of this, over half went to radio and television broadcasting and approximately 5% to film, video and multimedia. Support is also provided to libraries, museums and art galleries, national parks and wildlife services.

Funding for culture from Australia?s six States and two Territories is 46% of the total spend, of which national parks and wildlife services account for around a third, followed by libraries and archives, museums and performing arts venues and centres. Local government contributes approximately 20% of the total, of which libraries and archives receive the largest share ? approximately 55%.

With a budget far greater than the Australia Council, the Federal Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (http://www.dcita.gov.au) is also a major player. It provides touring support for the performing and visual arts and administers the Public and Education Lending Right schemes. It also funds the national cultural institutions and training organisations and supports cultural heritage and industry programmes. For film industry bodies there was good news in September when, after some years in the funding doldrums, nearly $100m in new funding was announced.

Looking to the future

So, what of the future? The Australia Council?s Planning for the Future project 3 (http://www.ozco.gov.au/issues/pff/index.htm) revealed, not surprisingly, sectoral concerns about coping with new technology, globalisation and skills shortages. The parlous state of arts education was another concern, as was the desire for artists to enter more fully into the nation?s political debates. The 10-year vision was for a sustainable future with an increase in artistic hybridity and diversity, improved infrastructure and partnerships with industry. But what I found more remarkable in conducting the project was the strong desire by artists to reconnect with their communities and to regain greater meaning to their work. The creative tensions and possibilities of Australia?s culturally diverse communities excite many. More than 25% of Australians are from a non-English speaking background, but there is a sense of inadequacy in knowing where to start. The vision was for communities that are enabled to appreciate and participate and not just consume the arts.

These outcomes are reflected in the Australia Council?s recently released corporate plan for 2001?2004.Dr Terry Cutler, who took over Chair of the Australia Council in July, has used its release to highlight the promotion of artists? contribution to the nation?s creativity and innovation strategy as one of his major priorities.

As for the election, there are rumours that the government is preparing a Cultural Statement. It is likely to address many of these concerns. The Opposition Arts Minister, on the other hand, has raised broader policy concerns such as the impact on culture of the national broadcasters and international trade treaties, as well as the need for an inspired vision for the arts in Australia.

The future, of course, lies with young people. To really find out what?s going in the Australian arts visit the national youth arts festival, Noise (http://www.noise.net.au), which takes place throughout October on the Internet and in all other forms of media.

Sarah Gardner is the inaugural Executive Director of the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA). From 1990 to 2001 she held various senior management positions with the Australia Council for the Arts, including seven years spent as the Director of Strategy and Policy e:s.gardner@ozco.gov.au

1 Australia Council (2000) Australians and the Arts: What do the Arts Mean to Australians
2 National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics, Australian Bureau of Statistics (October 2000) Cultural Funding in Australia Three Tiers of Government 1998-99
3 Sarah Gardner (February 2001) Planning for the Future: Issues, Trends and Opportunities for the Arts in Australia ? A Discussion Paper, Australia Council

IFACCA (www.ifacca.org), the first global network of national arts funding bodies, was inaugurated at the World Summit on Arts and Culture in Ottawa in December 2000. It aims to create an international resource and meeting ground for all who have a public responsibility for supporting excellence and diversity in artistic endeavour. The secretariat, based in Sydney, reports to a seven member board, chaired by Dr Shirley Thomson (Director of the Canada Council) and experts from arts councils in all continents. The next World Summit will be in 2002.