Given the scale of the blood-letting in Tim Nicholls’ Queensland budget yesterday, it might be thought that the arts got off rather lightly.

There will be cuts, of course: $12.4 million from arts grants over the forward estimates, and several of the state’s cultural institutions, such as the Queensland Art Gallery and the Queensland Museum, will also have their funding reduced. Around 25 jobs will go from the Queensland Art Gallery, the Museum will lose 22 jobs, and there will be likely be jobs lost from Arts Queensland.

Discovering the true nature and scale of the funding cuts from the budget papers is very difficult. As with many of the other departments in Campbell Newman’s government, the arts has been moved to a new organisational entity in the new government — out of Anna Bligh’s Premier’s Department, and into Ros Bates’ Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts.

As far as I can read the budget papers, the estimated budget for 2011-12 for the “Arts and Culture Service” line of Queensland’s budget, which contains Arts Queensland, was $116.4 million, and the budget for 2012-13 is $108.8 million. So that’s a cut of $8.4 million over last year’s forward estimate.

Some of the arts cuts may have been money saved by not implementing Anna Bligh’s various arts budget promises, such as an extra $1 million a year for small-to-medium organisations and a special fund for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists called the Backing Indigenous Arts program. Crikey contacted Minister Bates’ office for further details, but hadn’t received confirmation by the time of writing.

The $12 million in cuts to arts grants are small potatoes in the scheme of the savings Nicholls has implemented across the Health and Public Works departments, but they will be keenly felt. That’s because grants to artists are such a tiny component, not just of overall government spending, but even of state government funding for Arts Queensland. For instance, 45 of Queensland’s small-to-medium cultural organisations received about $11.4 million a year under Anna Bligh.

Grants for artists themselves — to make new work; to tour a production — constitute only $2 million a year. So a cut of $3.19 million next year, $4.85 million in 2014-15 and $3.82 million in 2015-16 could potentially wipe out the entire artists’ grants program, or cut the small-to-medium grants program by a third.

Arts Minister Ros Bates has had something of a rocky ride since taking office. Just days into her new portfolio, Premier Campbell Newman cancelled the Queensland Premiers’ Literary Awards without telling her. Weeks later, Bates sacked the Deputy Director General of Arts Queensland, Shane Rowlands, blaming her department for a speech Bates gave to Queensland Parliament that it turned out had been delivered almost word-for-word by Bates’ predecessor, Labor’s Rachel Nolan, last year.

The cuts to vulnerable funding programs won’t help Bates’ dire standing in the Queensland arts sector. In recent weeks, Crikey has heard rumours that Bates has been refusing invitations to Queensland arts events, after a number of frosty receptions from the local cultural community.