Emerson: "Our commitment is not to cut funding to the arts at all. We're committed to maintaining the funding for the arts." Presenter: "Maintain the funding in real terms?" Emerson: "Yes, that's right."Whatever their other faults, Labor under Peter Beattie and Anna Bligh were surprisingly strong supporters of the arts. The Gallery of Modern Art, financed and built during the Bligh-Beattie government, remains a signature achievement, as does the new State Library building at Southbank. Arts funding also increased by about 5% annually during Bligh's final term, according to Nolan. In contrast, arts funding at the Brisbane City Council when Newman was lord mayor suffered some serious cuts. Newman cut half-a-million dollars in funding from the Brisbane Festival, slowly squeezed the funding for the Brisbane Powerhouse in real terms, and cut three-quarters of a million dollars from emerging artists programs. In fact, there is a bit of history here. One of the early battles between Bligh and Newman came when Newman was mayor and Bligh was serving her first term as arts minister. Brisbane City Council and Arts Queensland had a joint funding program called Creative Sparks, which supported emerging artists. Newman tried to kill it off, before Bligh intervened to enforce the contractual agreement the council had signed with the state government. Newman later reduced the council's share of the funding by 40%. Given the history, it's hard not to conclude the arts are being singled out. Newman has an ambitious program he wants to accomplish in his first 100 days in office, and yet has still found the time to kill off the state's writing awards in one of his first concrete spending decisions. Queensland's arts community is understandably bracing for further cuts in coming months. It doesn't help that incoming Arts Minister Ros Bates has not even made a comment about her portfolio yet. Bates, a former businesswoman from the Gold Coast, was not the shadow minister for arts in opposition -- Emerson had the portfolio -- and we know little of her commitment or attitudes towards the arts. When Crikey rang her office this morning, there didn't appear to be a lot of policy work going on (a spokeswoman for Bates told us that media and policy staff "are still being appointed" and "someone will get back to you but I don't know who"). Crikey understands that Bates wasn't even told of the axing before Newman made the announcement. She apparently found out from a Courier-Mail reporter. The value of the awards themselves is worth discussing. Most of the states, as well as the Commonwealth, have writing and book awards of this nature, but Queensland's was one of the most comprehensive, covering 14 different categories. As well as the typical gongs for fiction and non-fiction, the Queensland awards had special prizes for unpublished manuscripts and play scripts, and also supported important but often-neglected subject areas such as science writing. As Chad Parkhill points out in a post at Meanjin, the Unaipon Award was of particular value as it made "Queensland the only state with an award specifically for indigenous writing". That seems like a pretty valuable piece of cultural infrastructure to sacrifice. As for the savings, they will amount to $244,475, in a budget deficit of approximately $4.6 billion.
Can-Do economy: $244k saved on arts awards in $4.6b deficit
Saving a few extra dollars can cause all sorts of unwanted attention. That's the situation Queensland Premier Campbell Newman finds himself in after axing respected arts awards.