Arts funding winners grin, but some criticism for Crean report
Rick Heath of the Australian Performing Arts Centres Association agrees the “regional stuff is a little light on”. But like many Crikey spoke to, Heath was highly supportive of Creative Australia’s overt focus on the value of the arts: “It’s great to hear a political leader speak and advocate convincingly about the value of the arts. The money is of less importance than having someone show some leadership in the cultural sector.”
Heath praised the restructure of the Australia Council: “If it reduces the silo mentality and better matches the market development aspect of the art that’s being made, that’s long overdue.” But the funding has to flow to the small-to-medium sector. “That’s pretty critical to us in terms of the supply side of what we need to fill venues,” he said.
The policy’s focus on “arts accords” with arts and cultural agencies in state and local governments also won praise. The City of Sydney’s Rachel Healy is currently putting the finishing touches on that municipality’s new cultural policy; she told Crikey “I think this ambition is where the most interesting and far-reaching opportunity lies”.“While it might seem at first to be an uninteresting footnote compared to the new and sexy financial windfalls for other areas,” Healy wrote in an email, “for a capital city government like the City of Sydney (which is a consent authority for commercial developers and has relationships with business, retail and the corporate, community and government sectors), co-ordination and integration with other tiers of government will ensure more efficient and complementary planning. The dividends to the community and cultural sector could be momentous.”
A number of organisations emerge as clear winners from Creative Australia, particularly six of the major performing arts organisations, which received specific funding increases. Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre was one of them — executive producer Jo Porter is understandably excited.
“We’re very pleased and we’ll be able to continue to employ lots of artists from across Australia,” Porter said, echoing many when adding “one of the exciting things of the speech yesterday was that the sense that creativity is part of our national culture … That was incredibly heartening; it was fantastic to hear that from the minister.”
But what about the losers? As Crikey noted on Wednesday, the extra money supplied to major performing arts companies like Malthouse, Belvoir St in Sydney and Perth’s Black Swan inevitably led similar organisations to ask why they missed out. As La Boite’s David Berthold told Crikey: “La Boite does seem the odd one out, in that it clearly occupies a position in the landscape similar to Malthouse and Belvoir — the ‘second’ companies in their respective cities, whatever that might mean.”
Berthold, the Brisbane company’s artistic director, highlights the inflexible nature of Australia Council funding categories which relegates La Boite below the “majors” level. As a result, between 2009 and 2012, La Boite received no annual funding from the Australia Council at all. “These are the rigid rules. They are rules that have created a situation in which La Boite struggles to fulfil the role it is clearly meant to play, and that the arts community wishes it to play,” he said.
Perhaps the most disappointed group is Arts Access Australia. The peak body for artists with a disability released a strongly critical response to Creative Australia last night, arguing the policy fails to adequately invest in the 2011 national arts and disability strategy:
“The purpose of the national arts and disability strategy was to leverage new investment by bringing all levels of Government together. There have been some important achievements to-date, but three years on, too many artists still have little or no access to training, professional development and employment and too many venues are still not funded or required to offer access for people with disability as audiences.”
In the academic sphere, feedback on the new policy is more nuanced and more critical. Monash University’s chair of Communications and Cultural Economy, Justin O’Connor, compares Creative Australia to Paul Keating’s 1994 policy Creative Nation and finds the new document wanting. “Torn between the dual sterilities of the creative industries and an ‘artistic excellence’ increasingly driven into a corner by its lack of wider legitimacy, the government has produced a document which more or less ducks the problem,” he said.