Arts NSW staff were practically dancing in the hallways n-ked yesterday with the announcement that new NSW Premier Nathan Rees had taken over the state’s arts portfolio.

After suffering at the hands of outgoing minister, Frank Sartor, the news that the arts have been restored to the Premier’s department was welcome relief for an industry that has faced the brunt of bad news and bad management.

The re-elevation of the portfolio recalls better times when arts advocates Neville Wran and Bob Carr kept a close watch on the cultural life of the state while in the top job on Macquarie Street. With a major in English Literature, Premier Rees is unique as he is surrounded by a bunch of pollies with the usual credentials of Law, Economics or Mr Sartor’s Engineering degree.

This fact is in the front of the minds of Arts NSW staff as they hope that Rees can turn around a ship badly scarred by an arts policy that favoured big ticket firework type arts events over the development of artists or the funding of community, youth or grassroots arts bodies.

Under Sartor and Iemma, arts announcements read like a list of photo opportunities with a surprise announcement, a big cheque and a handshake usually directed to institutions not in any dire need. But despite the flashing bulbs, the per capita cultural spend in NSW was way behind every state in the country except the ACT.

The situation is so dire, Australia Council for the Arts staff are quietly advising any grant applicants not to hang around in NSW as there are better opportunities for funding in the other states and territories.

It wasn’t just economically that the smaller arts organisations have felt the pinch. Last year, grant applicants waited over six months to hear the results of their applications, leaving many productions hanging and organisations were unable to forward plan for the coming financial year.

This year they have been waiting for the outcome of a review that looked at Arts NSW’s cultural grants. Only last week, the agency finally published the new guidelines that are usually provided at the beginning of the year.

Consequently, application processes have changed and now those seeking funding now only have six weeks to hand in submissions that can be as long as one hundred pages in explanations, financial data and various justifications and criteria.

If Local Governments in NSW think they have had a bad trot while dealing with Sartor as Planning Minister, it pales in comparison to what is now a creative industries exodus to Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. In fact anywhere else other than Sydney really.

Peter Fray

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