The NSW arts community is bracing for a grim future after both major political parties reneged on promises to release detailed arts policies during the state election campaign.
As of this morning, specific arts policies were conspicuously absent from the both the NSW Liberal and Labor websites, despite high-level assurances funding announcements and detailed policy prescriptions would be made this week.
On Monday, Arts Minister Virginia Judge cancelled a planned policy announcement at Sydney’s CarriageWorks venue, leaving insiders — who were looking forward to sizing up some last-minute Labor largesse — shaking their heads in disbelief.
And shadow minister Anthony Roberts has also failed to make good on any promised policy detail, despite giving a briefing late last month alongside adviser Justin Macdonnell at an Australia Council for the Arts SAMAG conference at the Sydney Opera Centre.
Macdonnell, an industry veteran who helms consultancy Anzarts, is believed to be assisting the incoming Liberal government to deliver its arts agenda when Barry O’Farrell inevitably takes his place as premier on Sunday. He is said to be working closely with Australia Council theatre board member and ex-Liberal senator Chris Puplick. But so far, only one-off announcements from the conservatives have been forthcoming.
Sydney Theatre Company executive producer Jo Dyer says the Coalition had “announced a few individual initiatives on the campaign trail but there has been nothing cohesive about the arts and cultural industries”. “It’s a shame,” she told Crikey.
Another insider said the Liberals had “already managed to put a whole lot of noses out of joint” with one-off funding promises of $1.2 million for Sculpture by the Sea and $1.5 million for the Short+Sweet play festival. The most recent Short+Sweet is said to have taken $160,000 at the box office but there is a running debate over what proportion of that will go to the writers or performers who bring in the crowds.
“Word around Coalition ranks is that these ‘back-from-the-dead’ Liberal arts advisers still seem to think it’s 1980 when they were all at the heights of their power,” the source said.
Bec Dean, associate director with leading interdisciplinary institution Performance Space, told Crikey that based on her attendance at the SAMAG conference there would be “no more money” for the arts under the Liberals but that the new minister would seek chop-outs from other departments.
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“The message was that artists are good small business people, but it was difficult to get bang for your buck from the treasury. The problem with these discussions is that they never get to the stage of why the arts are important … the discourse never progresses.”
Greens arts spokesman, upper house MP John Kaye, told Crikey the lack of any announcements from the two major parties was “shocking”.
“NSW has lower per capita rate of arts funding of any state or territory in Australia and less than a third of the ACT’s per capita funding,” he said. “It’s a disgraceful outcome for a state that styles itself on being cosmopolitan and yet we have a failed government that’s deserted the arts and an opposition that promises to repeat the same level of neglect as its predecessor.
“Part of the problem is that the arts aren’t regarded as a bread and butter issue. But strong outcomes in the portfolio are fundamental to the health of any society, particular one as multicultural as NSW.”
Yet even the Greens haven’t delved too far into the detail, with non-specific promises like “increase substantially the total funding of arts organisations in NSW” on its online policy document. The statement was last updated in August 2006, however Kaye said a pre-election review had decided to leave the broad thrust intact.
Neither shadow Roberts nor outgoing minister Judge returned repeated calls this morning. A spokesperson for the government’s peak arts policy and funding body Arts NSW said it “looked forward to working with the incoming government to continue to support a vibrant and sustainable arts and cultural sector in NSW”.