Although Abbott’s recent budget is a Federal issue I am deeply concerned about the implication of the arts funding re-structure on Sydney’s arts and culture. Despite Minister George Brandis’s rhetoric, this has not been a good budget for the arts. Most significantly the move the strip over $100M from the Australia Council for the Arts – the independent body responsible for distributing arts funding – and place this funding under the discretion of the Arts Minister himself is deeply disturbing. In addition there have also been cuts to Screen Australia and other galleries and museums across the country.
The arts, at its most fundamental level, provides us with a space to reflect on what it is to be human. A vibrant arts scene is a sign of a healthy culture and an inclusive democracy. I’m really proud of the work we have done here at the City of Sydney to place the cultural sector at the front and centre of our agenda. The launch of the Cultural Policy last year was an important step in identifying critical areas of coordination where the City can support the sector. Importantly we have a focus on supporting local, grassroots driven programs.
Federal support for the arts has typically been the main source of funding for our large flagship arts companies such as The Australian Ballet, Opera Australia and the National Gallery but since the Whitlam Government there has been a strong recognition on a Federal level about the importance of smaller companies and locally based projects.
The Australia Council was established in 1975 to independently oversee the allocation of grant money and support to the arts sector. Diversity and accessibility are key principles of the Australia Council’s mandate. Giving the Arts Minister discretion over a sizable portion of arts funding puts an end to the vital principle of political independence.
Minister Brandis has stated that major performing arts organisations would be protected from the funding cuts. This is the clearest indication yet that the Abbott Government is not interested in diversity within the sector, preferring instead to preserve large flagship companies whilst smaller companies and individual artists are pushed out of the market. This Government fails to understand is that smaller companies and projects are vital to the sector. It is this end of the sector that drives the discovery of new creative talent and new formats of expression.
While the City is committed to supporting local diversity within the arts through grant funding and community participation we will not be able to cover the shortfall left by an absence of Federal funds. A thriving arts sector requires support and coordination from all levels of government. After yet another set of funding cuts to the sector the Abbott Government has demonstrated its lack of interest in diversity
I am passionate about the arts and will continue to advocate for a vibrant Sydney arts scene. As a Councillor I remain independent of specific cultural grant funding decisions. I suggest Minister Brandis does the same.
You can sign the petition against the new funding arrangements here.