Mar 9, 2012

Mitchell’s plan to shake down the rich for more arts funding

Harold Mitchell's review of arts philanthropy should be welcomed by the sector and its recommendations should be adopted by Arts Minister Simon Crean.

Ben Eltham — <em>Crikey</em> arts commentator

Ben Eltham

Crikey arts commentator

Arts Minister Simon Crean released the Mitchell Review into arts philanthropy this week. Chaired by marketing guru and noted philanthropist Harold Mitchell, it “aimed to identify any barriers or impediments that may exist in Australia with respect to private sector support for the arts”.

Private giving is a significant and growing contributor to the arts in Australia. Using Australian Business Arts Foundation figures, the review estimates it was worth $223 million to the sector in 2009-10. Of this, $123 million was philanthropic income and $98 million was corporate sponsorship. In contrast, government funding across local, state and Commonwealth levels stretches into the billions — but even so, the review thinks that private support represents perhaps 10% of the total income to the sector.

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One thought on “Mitchell’s plan to shake down the rich for more arts funding

  1. Jim Hart

    I haven’t read the whole report but from the summary here and in other media, Mitchell’s recommendations seem sensible though it remains to be seen if anything will actually change.

    Philanthropic and government support is now weighted towards the big and established names. One reason is the hurdle of applying – often the time and effort is disproportional to the likely return. Small organisations and solo artists don’t have staff on hand to write applications so have to take significant time out from their work. Or else employ someone to do it, and while this might improve their chances it’s an expense they probably can’t afford and the net result is more likely to be a loss not a gain.

    Then there is the widely held perception that government grants go to the safe, the proven, the known, or the established. Yes, public money must be spent responsibly but risk-avoidance should not be a leading criterion. Hopefully this is where greater private philanthropy can step in without worrying about being answerable to a minister whose greatest fear is offending the electorate.

    There are also anomolies in the complexities of tax law that prescribe who can fund what. As an individual I can make a tax-deductible donation to Abaf, and to the community foundation where I have established a fund, but for some reason that foundation can’t use my money to fund an Abaf project.

    If Harold Mitchell can help shift money from people who want to support the arts to the artists who need it then more power to him and let’s hope his report leads to some change.

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