The Gillard government may not be signing off the National Cultural Policy, but there has been some movement in the portfolio this week with the announcement of a new agency, Creative Partnerships Australia. The new federal body will amalgamate the two existing agencies in the field, the Australian Business Arts Foundation and Artsupport, as recommended by advertising tycoon Harold Mitchell in his 2011 report into private sector support for the arts.

“Creative Partnerships Australia is a crucial part of the strategy in the National Cultural Policy,” Arts Minister Simon Crean said this week. “Creative Partnerships Australia has the responsibility for creating a new culture of giving and investment for the cultural industries in Australia by bringing donors, business, artists and cultural organisations together.”

Crean has named a new chair for the agency, highly-connected social investor Carol Schwartz, as well as a new CEO, former Wheeler Centre head of development Fiona Menzies. Menzies will be responsible for pushing through the merger and setting up the new agency in Melbourne.

“It is an amalgamation with all the staff from both organisations coming together,” Menzies confirmed this week to Crikey. “We’ll have a whole new board, we’ve got the chair in Carol, and the Minister will be appointing new board members in due course.”

Menzies says the normal activities of both ABAF and Artsupport will continue in the meantime. “The Australian Cultural Fund continues, the awards will be held at the end of the year as they usually are,” she said.

Menzies comes to the job after a successful stint at the Wheeler Centre, a signature partnership that involved a multi-million dollar gift from Maureen and Tony Wheeler to set up the centre as part of Melbourne’s successful bid to become a “city of literature”. Prior to that she spent more than five years working as an advisor to a number of federal Liberal arts ministers, including Richard Alston and Peter McGauran.

Menzies says the challenge of supporting private sector investment in the arts is the diversity of arts and culture; supporting partnerships and giving can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. “We’re ranging from the state galleries, the ballet, the opera at one end to individual artists at the other end and whole lot in between,” she explained.

“Those large organisations really need there to be a culture of giving — we can help to create that — but at the other end of the spectrum they need more intensive mentoring, introductions, the kinds of things that they can’t do on their own as a sole practitioner or a quintet or something. We have to keep in mind the diversity of the sector and make sure we have programs and services that will help everyone at every level.”

“The whole issue of the relationship between the private sector and the non-profit sector … is up for grabs at the moment.”

So what is the state of arts philanthropy? How well is the sector doing?

“I actually think arts organisations do a pretty reasonable job,” Menzies said. “I think compared to possibly some other not-for-profit sectors we’re pretty good at what we do. This is a great opportunity to review and evaluate what we all do now, and come up with some new ideas about other different ways that things can be done. It’s also good timing with the review of the Australia Council.”

In recent times, crowdfunding has come to prominence as a new tool for arts philanthropy. Menzies says crowd funding has a role to play “in the right circumstances”.

“One thing that was put to me was should there be an arts crowdfunding platform and I would tend to say not. There are some really good platforms like Pozible and because they are broad-based you in fact might get people who come across a project who wouldn’t necessarily have gone to an arts-only platform.”

The example of Pozible — which has seen robust support for screen and film projects — opens up the question of what sort of activities the new agency will support: “capital A” arts or culture more generally?

“You’ll notice in the name we’re called Creative Partnerships Australia and that’s to encompass all creative industries and not to exclude any,” Menzies responded. “What it does also is get Joe Public to be able to realise that the arts are not just the opera and the ballet and the orchestra, and that almost everyone interacts with the arts in some form or another.”

The appointment of Menzies is still filtering down to the sector, but Crikey spoke to one industry figure that welcomed the move. Arts sector consultant Cathy Hunt of Positive Solutions says the new body should champion a new approach to arts partnerships, beyond the old traditions of corporate sponsorships and grants from foundations.

“The whole issue of the relationship between the private sector and the non-profit sector — which is obviously where the art sits — is up for grabs at the moment,” she said. “For businesses it is going to be triple-bottom line, for the non-profit setter it is going to be commercial and cultural value.” Hunt argues that “what is happening under the radar in non-profit space under the heading of ‘impact investing’ has real potential for changing existing models of funding and financing the arts”.

Menzies is looking forward to getting started. “Hopefully it won’t be too long before we have a complete board in place, and that means we can get on with the strategy and planning,” she said.