Federal Budget and #FreeTheArts

Friday, May 22, 2015
Kate Larsen

Graphic of #FreeTheArts

Last week’s Federal Budget came as a big shock for the arts, with the sector responding with a petition calling to reverse the proposed cuts.

WV looks at what Budget 2015 means for writers and literary orgs, and how you can have your say.

The budget left overall arts funding intact, but cut $104.8 million from The Australia Council over four years to go towards a new National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).

As Deborah Stone wrote in ArtsHub, this is a concern because the money “has not disappeared from the sector but it has been channelled into a body without the checks and balances of the Australia Council.”

The Australia Council is an arms-length statutory authority that has provided a mechanism for independent arts funding for more than 40 years, with applicants being assessed by a panel of their peers. By moving the funding into the Ministry-based NPEA, it seems unlikely that it will receive the same sort of political independence, accountability or peer review.

Another $5.2 million of cuts will be redirected to Creative Partnerships Australia (CPA) to foster private sector support for the arts. While writers and literary organisations may benefit from CPA’s match-funding programs, is it disappointing that these programs are being supported through a transfer of funds from the Australia Council rather than through additional funding.

A further $7.2 million in ‘efficiency savings’ will be cut from the Australia Council over the next four years. The announcements come just months after the newly-streamlined funder implemented a restructure and revised its funding programs, and a year after an initial $28.2 million was cut as part of Budget 2014.

As Ben Eltham wrote in ArtsHub, the cuts “completely reverse the funding increases that flowed to the Australia Council as part of Labor’s now-defunct Creative Australia policy of 2013.” Overall Australia Council funding is now less than what it was in 2012-13.

The cuts also follow on from last year’s announcement that $6 million would be taken from the Australia Council budget to fund a new Books Industry Council. Not much has been heard about the initiative since then, however, and the National Writers Centre Network (Australia’s biggest network of writers, of which Writers Vic is a member) has yet to be involved in the scoping process.

What should have been a period of stability and strategic growth now risks destabilisation. And with no reduction to funding to the 28 major performing arts organisations, it is the small to medium arts sector and independent writers and artists who will bear the brunt of these changes. Circus Oz was the first of the major organisations to speak out against the changes and the “broad potential impact of this decision on the fragile and symbiotic ecosystem of arts in Australia.”

In response to the budget cuts, the Australia Council has announced that it has suspended the six-year funding program and cancelled the upcoming June application round.

The ArtStart, Creative Communities Partnerships Initiative and Artists in Residence programs will not be offered in the future.

The Literature Section of the Australia Council already has one of the smallest pools of available funding, so it’s easy to see why writers and literary organisations are nervous about what will happen next. Screen-writers may also feel the effects of $3.7 million being cut from Screen Australia.

A focus on funding excellence at the expense of development risks not having a next generation of writers, artists and arts managers to create excellent work. As Ben Neutze wrote for Daily Review, artists and administrators warned that last year’s cuts would “hurt the artists and smaller companies who can afford it least, and are a major source of innovation and creative energy.”

Since the announcement, the sector has been in an uproar about the lack of accountability, concerns about equity in terms of access to funding, and the potential impact on freedom of expression. “If the situation was worrying last year, it’s potentially catastrophic this time around,” Neutze wrote.

Arts Access Australia has also expressed concern about the implications for writers and artists with disability in particular, through the risk to the Australia Council’s Artists with Disability Funding Program.

But as Eltham wrote for The Drum, “Arts is a small portfolio, but its visibility and cultural impact give the industry a loud voice.” And that’s a voice that’s already starting to make itself heard, with MEAA, Overland and Australian arts organisations releasing a petition that calls on the Federal Government to reverse the proposed cuts to the arts sector.

“For small-to-medium organisations and independent artists, whose work is absolutely critical to building diversity and encouraging innovation in the sector, this loss of financial support and investment will be devastating,” they wrote.

How to take action

You can sign the petition online.

You can write to your local federal MP to register your concerns.

You can join in a mass dance action across Australia on Friday May 22 at 1:30pm EST.

Or you can join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook using the #FreeTheArts hashtag.

How to find out more

And you can also read WV’s analysis of the State Budget 2015-16.