2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts

The Commonwealth Budget 2015–16 announced major changes to arts funding. With funds cut from the Australia Council, the Federal Minister for Arts established the National Program for Excellence in the Arts. This led to reduced funding programs across the professional dance sector, increased uncertainty about the sustainability of artists' careers, and the potential loss of arms’ length funding and genuine peer assessment. 

We are working with our members and ArtsPeak to contribute policy direction and provide advice.

Project Status

In May 2015 the Federal Budget contained some surprising changes for the Australian sector. With funds cut from the Australia Council, the Federal Minister for Arts established the National Program for Excellence in the Arts.

These changes came after a hectic few years which included the development and launch of the Australia Council's strategic plan 2014–2019 (1.17MB PDF) and rewrite of their funding model, the establishment and shelving of a Federal Government arts policy, and the impact of a so-called budget emergency federally.

The Australia Council for the Arts, in response to reduced funding, has cancelled two funding rounds in 2015 and pulled back some programs including ArtStart, Artists-In-Residence and long-term support for key arts organisations.

The significant changes brought about by the Commonwealth Budget 2015–16 have led to increased uncertainty and reduced programs across the professional dance sector. This uncertainty affects the full spectrum of dance practice: audiences, community participants, education programs, employment of professional artists and associated creatives, and ongoing artistic creation and development.

Ausdance, along with other performing arts and live entertainment organisations, welcomed the 2013–14 Budget increases and financial commitment to unfunded excellence of the arts and other associated initiatives through the Australia Council.

This funding was used to support the extension and collaboration of artists and art forms and the creation of new works, as well as extending the research capacity of the Australia Council. More support for ‘unfunded excellence’ enabled support for eight projects via the Dance Board across three categories supporting at least 184 participating artists (an example from one round delivered in late 2013). Despite extra funding in 2013, only 27 percent of project grants for creative development and presentation could be funded.

Even before the 2014 and 2015 reductions in funding, there was significant unmet demand for arts projects in Australia. The new approach to funding, a model outlined in the Australia Council's strategic plan (launched in August 2014), was not given an opportunity to be implemented or reviewed because the first round of funding was offered following the announcement of the 2015–16 Federal Budget.

On Monday 21 September 2015 Senator Mitch Fifield was sworn in as the new Minister for the Arts and Communications, taking over the arts portfolio from Senator George Brandis following the change in Liberal Party leadership and Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister.

As part of these changes, the Ministry of Arts will move from the Attorney-General’s Department and merge with the Department of Communications.

Still on the table is the roll-out of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts and the associated cuts to funding at the Australia Council. Senator Fifield has indicated (during an ABC Radio National interview) that the Ministry is reviewing the feedback received on the NPEA (over 300 submissions) before launching the program.

Our response

Ausdance National believes what the sector needs now is greater support, a focus on developing the sustainability of artists and organisations, along with clear leadership and policy direction to nurture the arts in Australia. As an independent artist and President of Ausdance National, Brian Lucas showed his support for our membership and sector in his response to the Australia Council funding cuts (4 June 2015).

Ausdance network responses

Senate Inquiry into the impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts

In response to the 2015 Federal Budget, ArtsPeak called for a Senate Inquiry into the 2015 & 2014 budget cuts to the arts. As an active member of ArtsPeak, we have participated in many forums and the development of broad sector responses.

In July the Australian Senate launched an inquiry to review the impact of the budget decisions. Over 2000 submissions were directed to the inquiry, demonstrating the engagement and concern by the community on this issue. The Committee will undertake a series of public hearings to gather further evidence. They will report in November.

Ausdance and representatives of the Victorian dance sector (Lucy Guerin Inc, BalletLab, Kage and YellowWheel) participated in the public hearing held in Melbourne on 5 August. Visit Placestories for a recording of the Melbourne Senate Inquiry hearing. Ausdance WA, Strut Dance and Co3 presented in Perth, with Tasdance and Stompin representing dance in Hobart. At hearings in Brisbane, independent dance artist Liesel Zink provided evidence, while in Adelaide Restless Dance Theatre and The Mill put forward specific dance issues for the Senators.

All submissions are available at the Senate Inquiry's submission's page on the Parliament of Australia's website.

Read

Dance submissions to the Senate Inquiry

The National Program for Excellence in the Arts

The National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) is likely to begin in the second half of 2015.

The guidelines propose a rolling process of application and decision in three main categories: Endowment Incentives, International and Cultural Diplomacy and Strategic Initiatives.

While there has been some discussion about boycotting the NPEA, we are encouraging dance organisations to put in strong applications to show the depth and worth of the sector, as part of a larger strategy focused on increasing funding for the arts.

The NPEA released draft guidelines for public comment in June. Ausdance National and ArtsPeak provided a response.

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Conclusion

What can you do?

Keep up to date. There is a lot happening focused on support for the arts sector in Australia. ArtsPeak member Feral Arts has led the #FreetheArts campaign, which you can follow on Facebook.

Regularly come back to this page and keep in contact with your local Ausdance office to keep up to date on the most recent developments.

Talk to your friends, students, audiences and fellow creatives about how these changes will affect you and what you'd like to see happen to support the Australian arts sector. This issue affects the arts sector broadly, but not everyone knows about it yet. We need as many people talking about these issues if we want to see change. Use #freethearts and #ArtsInq hashtags when you share your thoughts on social media.

Contact your local members of Parliament. Let your Federal representative know how you feel about these recent changes and let the state MPs know how it will affect your practice and craft.

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