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May 15, 2008

Arts funding sticks to status quo

There's no grand Labor arts agenda in sight just yet, but Peter Garrett has left the door open for more youth and regional programming in future, writes Nick Pickard.

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For the arts, this year’s budget is less about a “Creative Australia” and more like steady-as-she-goes, as Arts Minister Peter Garrett follows on closely from predecessor George Brandis. However, it’s what happens over the coming years that could be of most concern to the arts community.

So far, very little has changed from the previous financial year, with the previous government delivering one of the largest injections of federal money to the arts just twelve months ago. Garrett has pretty much maintained the funding for the coming twelve months, adding a few small flourishes of his own that give a little push to arts institutions to foster new talent and new creativity.

The biggest change we will see this year is the creation of Screen Australia, a Howard Government initiative to merge the Australian Film Commission, Film Finance Corporation and Film Australia into one national peak body. It has been kept by Garrett and provided with $103 million for the coming financial year.

A closer look at the finances reveals that this is a funding cut to the film industry when you look at the overall provision of the three organisations from previous years but a Garrett spokesman has told Crikey that the new 40% producer rebate for qualifying production expenditure will hopefully make more of the film industry “rely less on direct funding”.

ArtStart, the controversial programme that will provide artists with improved access to social security has been ignored this year but a Garrett spokesman has told Crikey that it’s “still an election commitment and has not dropped off the radar”.

Regional Australia has also been left off the map after a continuing request for $24 million in touring and presentation funding was ignored. The Arts Minister has tried to offset that cut with the creation of a $10 million Creative Communities initiative that takes the arts to outer metropolitan and regional areas.

As well, the Australia Council for the Arts, already hit with an “efficiency dividend” of 2% earlier this year, gets a slight increase in total government funding to $173.2 million.  his will no doubt please the major performing arts companies, the small to medium performing arts sector and the visual arts and crafts industry, who profited most from Howard’s previous budget.

But after the slight increase this year, future budget estimates show that Federal Government funding plateaus despite inflation rising by 4%. As well as these increasing costs and the efficiency dividend, the Australia Council will also have to find $6.6 million to fund Garrett’s Young and Emerging Artists program, which aims to increase the exposure of performing arts companies to schools and young people.

Kathy Keele, Australia Council CEO has guaranteed that grants to artists, despite the rising costs, will not be affected. “We are putting in place measures to maintain our funding for artists and arts organisations by streamlining the organisation and making $2 million in administrative savings,” she said.

Another organisation hit by the efficiency dividend has been the National Library of Australia which sees funding drop $600,000 to around $57.6 million for the coming financial year. Already running off the smell of an oily rag, the cut to the NLA has angered many, not only within literary circles but also those who understand the importance of storing digital information – a costly and complicated exercise that will keep the nation’s public records for years to come.

One of the big positives from this year’s budget is the creation of a resale royalty rights scheme for visual artists that will cost $1.5 million over the next three years. The funding will assist in creating an independent collecting body that will ensure that artists continue to get paid for works when on-sold to other buyers.

“This scheme will bring Australia into line with similar resale royalty arrangements operating in the United Kingdom and Europe and will embody the recognition that visual artists’ rights extend beyond the first sale of an artwork,” Mr Garrett said in a statement on Budget night.

The creation of a new National Film and Sound Archive as an independent statutory authority is another big step and will receive an allocation of $105.2 million over four years.

“As well as continuing its important activities in relation to the national audiovisual collection, the government believes it is important that the National Film and Sound Archive has a strong role in public outreach,” Mr Garrett said.

It’s a solid first budget for Mr Garrett, setting him only slightly apart from his predecessor. He is slowly showing his stripes in favouring additional funding for young and emerging artists. It’s a small step, but it could be the tip of an iceberg as he slowly forces the institutions that previously found favour with the Howard Government to increase their involvement with young people and start investing in the future creativity of the country.

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