Friday, July 3, 2015

National Program for Excellence in the Arts

Australian Government Attorney-General's Department, Ministry for the Arts
To read the complete document, go to

Commentary by Frank McKone
July 3, 2015

The Guidelines tell you what you need to do to ask for money. Like

 be an Australian organisation or entity
 have as its principal purpose the arts – this includes: the performing and visual arts, cross-artform and digital arts, arts training and collecting institutions whether at a national, regional or community level; (usually defined in the organisation’s Constitution or Articles of Association, and reflected in the Annual Report and Business Plans)
 have an active Australian Business Number (ABN)
 be registered for the Goods and Services Tax (GST), if required by the Australian Tax Office
 not have any outstanding reports, acquittals or serious breaches relating to any Australian Government funding

I think I fulfil these requirements.  So now I need to know who won’t get money:

What the Program will not fund:
 Business start-up costs
 Private tuition, training or study
 Work used for academic assessment
Projects by individuals [my emphasis]
 Competitions and eisteddfods
 Awards and prizes
 Film and television production
 Interactive games
 Built or natural heritage projects
 Projects or components of projects that are also funded by other programs administered by the Ministry for the Arts.

But I’m an individual!  I’m a Freelance Writer with an annual turnover so small that I’m not required to be registered for GST (but I can if I want) and the Australian Tax Office (ATO) classes me as a Special Professional.  That means if I’m an artist, a writer, a performer, a sportsperson or an inventor I keep simple business records, work out if I’ve made a profit or a loss.  Then I can simply add my profit – or subtract my loss – from whatever other personal income I have on my annual tax return. 

Peter Costello did this for us soon after the GST started, so small scale artists didn’t go round the bend.

But I can’t ask for money from the National Program for Excellence in the Arts.  What if I happen to be a new and as yet not well-known but “excellent” artist?  I’d be in the same sort of position as a first-time house buyer, in the negative-gearing market.  Unless you’re already big, you’re not going to get a look-in.

I guess I can still ask the Australia Council for the Arts, can’t I?  But now that they’ve lost about a third of their money, my chances are so much less.

I guess I don’t really mind if the Attorney-General / Arts Minister (in itself a very odd combination of portfolios, I think) wants to boost the profile of Australian arts overseas – which the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) already does through its programs.  But what about the rest of his Objectives?

The Program will:
 Deliver a wide range of quality arts and cultural experiences that grow arts audiences, throughout Australia and internationally
 strengthen Australia’s reputation as a sophisticated and artistic nation with a confident, outward-focused arts sector
 encourage greater private sector support and partnership funding for the arts
 support collaborations to develop arts and culture initiatives including in specific regions or priority areas.

Sounds great.  Who wouldn’t want all this to happen?

But look at the process:

To achieve these objectives, the Program will offer funding for arts and cultural projects and initiatives through three streams:

1. Endowment Incentives
The endowment incentives stream will support organisations to realise medium to long term projects through financial partnerships and collaborations. Funding will be conditional on organisations leveraging funds from other sources to realise projects. Organisations will need to demonstrate evidence of financial, cash or in-kind support from sources other than the Australian Government. This stream will be open to a wide range of projects. Examples of the kind of activity which could be supported are:: co-investment through a Foundation or arts organisation to deliver a new initiative such as a fellowship program; a contribution to an infrastructure project that has other partners; and partnering in the development of new Australian works.

2. International and Cultural Diplomacy
The International and Cultural Diplomacy stream will support arts and cultural organisations to expand audiences for Australian artistic and creative works through international tours, exhibitions, partnerships and exchanges. It will also support Australian arts organisations to bring internationally significant art and artists to Australia, thus giving Australian audiences greater opportunities to experience the world’s finest performances and exhibitions.

3. Strategic Initiatives
The Strategic Initiatives stream will assist arts and cultural organisations to respond to new opportunities, challenges and issues. It will be flexible and responsive to enable organisations to maximise the potential outcomes of new opportunities. It will also support organisations to deliver outcomes against planned and developing priorities. It will support projects enabling regional and remote audiences, to have new opportunities for access to a wide range of art forms. It is from this stream that the Australian Government will directly fund appropriate major initiatives.

And how much money for all this?  $20 million “each financial year”!  WOW!

And what has happened to the just-developed 6-year funding program for which people already have on-going applications to the Arts Council?  Sorry, that’s all on hold.  After all you can’t expect any sympathy when the Arts Council knew nothing about losing $104 millions until the afternoon of Budget Day, even though Minister Brandis knew what programs were in train.

So, I say refund the Arts Council the untimely ripped off funds and tell it not to worry about the big established companies.  Just get on with the job of funding all the excellent individuals and small companies as judged by their peers and at arms length from political interference – as we have been doing for 40 years, but with the new 6-year funding program in place.  And add funding for start-ups, so the new artists can get a leg-up.

Then pay for the National Program for Excellence in the Arts - just call it the Great Australian Arts Support Program (GAASP) - from the Arts Ministry bucket, so that when artists and companies have proved themselves and grown through the Arts Council program, and become “established”, the Government of the day can claim all the kudos it wants by supporting them properly.

Then I would ask (because I’m a theatre reviewer) for what Julian Meyrick suggested a year or so ago: “An NTA [National Theatre of Australia] could base itself in Canberra and be federally funded, thereby avoiding the perception of Sydney/Melbourne bias and the fractious politicking that comes with variable state support.  It would unite three specialisms represented by three kinds of organisation.  It would be partly a playwright development agency, like Playwriting Australia or Playworks.  It would be partly a producing entity, like the state theatres and second-tier companies.  And it would be partly a touring intelligence, like Performing Lines and Playing Australia.  Again it would not supplant these bodies but add capacity as a partner organisation drawing on their separate spheres of operation.”

How about it, dear Minister?