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#FreeTheArts – Campaign Coverage

What’s Happening?

In Tuesday’s budget, Federal Arts Minister George Brandis pulled $104.8 million off the Australia Council, over four years, to start a National Centre for Excellence run by his own office. This will decimate the Australia Council’s discretionary budget, and has threatened the new programs and initiatives that started only this year.

What can You Do?

– Please write to your local federal MP to tell them how poor this decision is, and how it threatens the fundamental democratic process of arts funding. It doesn’t matter what political party they are from, they represent you and your interests. Find your local member here. (Put in your postcode, and it will give you the contact details for your local MP.)

– Get busy on social media: #FreeTheArts

Sign the petition!


Below is some of the media coverage from this week. Many thanks to our excellent media colleagues who have taken this issue on in a big way.

Ben Eltham, Arts Hub – ‘Budget shock decimates Australia Council’

$104.8 million over four years has been ripped out of the Australia Council’s budget to create a new slush fund, apparently to be decided at the discretion of the Arts Minister of the day. The funding cuts total $29 million in the coming year, a cut of 16 per cent for the Australia Council on 2014’s appropriation.

‘The National Centre for Excellence in the Arts will allow for a truly national approach to arts funding and will deliver on a number of Government priorities including national access to high quality arts and cultural experiences,’ Minister Brandis wrote in a media release.
The budget also removes $5.2 million in funding from the Australia Council, and gives it to Creative Partnerships Australia ‘to foster private sector support for the arts’.

Ben Eltham, The Drum – ‘Budget 2015: George Brandis’ extraordinary raid of the Australia Council’

(In response to Minister Brandis: Arts funding has until now been limited almost exclusively to projects favoured by the Australia Council. The National Programme for Excellence in the Arts will make funding available to a wider range of arts companies and arts practitioners, while at the same time respecting the preferences and tastes of Australia’s audiences. )

Ben writes: It’s not even true that arts funding has been “limited almost exclusively” to the things that the Australia Council likes. The Federal Government spends $100 million a year on screen culture through Screen Australia. It funds two national art galleries, two museums, a national library, a war memorial, a film and sound archive, and a media school. Together, those bodies get more funding than the Australia Council itself.

Even within the Australia Council’s ambit, the majority of the agency’s funding is not given to “projects favoured by the Australia Council”, but is in fact quarantined away from project funding. In 2013-14, the Australia Council gave $102 million of its $199 million grant budget to the 29 major performing arts organisations. That money, the majority of the Council’s funding, is not available to projects.

Debbie Cuthbertson, The Age – ‘Distressing cuts to Australia Council halve discretionary budget’

Mr Dreyfus [Shadow Minister for the Arts] branded the changes as “distressing” and said they had come without warning. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Australia Council said it would give “careful consideration” to its priorities as a result of the measures announced in the budget. “The announcement of the 2015-16 Budget last night included measures which will significantly impact the work of the Australia Council on behalf of the arts sector,” Australia Council chair Rupert Myer said.
Mr Myer’s carefully worded statement, according to Mr Dreyfus, was “code for major disruption. They of course can’t publicly criticise their own minister, you can expect a degree of diplomacy in their public statements,” Mr Dreyfus said of the Australia Council. “What we can see here is a grab here for the Australia Council budget to be administered on a personal whim, without any explanation, or any peer review.”

Live Performance Australia’s summary of the budget
The Visions of Australia and Festivals Australia programmes will return to the Ministry for the Arts after being transferred to the Australia Council by the previous Government. The Major Festivals Initiative will also be transferred with support for this programme to be doubled to $1.5 million using existing funds transferred from the Australia Council to Ministry for the Arts under the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts.

Matthew Knott, Sydney Morning Herald – ‘Federal Budget 2015: Australia Council loses $104m, funneled to Arts Ministry’
The Australia Council will also swallow $7.2 million in efficiency savings over four years to 2018-19. These combined cuts represent an annual funding reduction of around 13 per cent for the nation’s principal arts and funding body, which has an annual budget of $230 million.
Funding for Screen Australia, which supports new Australian films, will be cut by $3.6 million over the same period.

Van Badham, The Guardian – ‘After the budget: shh! Australia’s era of artistic silencing begins’
Brandis has made no pretence that these changes are about anything other than government resentment of the council’s independence, whose current appointments, led by chair Rupert Myer, predate the Coalition’s election to government. “Arts funding has until now been limited almost exclusively to projects favoured by the Australia Council,” was Brandis’ statement on Tuesday. Yes, George, it certainly has. But this is what’s desirable.

Statement By The Arts Industry

We the undersigned are shocked by Abbott Government proposals in the 2015–16 Budget to make cuts of massive size to the Australia Council for the Arts and other organisations, and to compromise the political independence of current arts funding arrangements.

We reject outright Federal Arts Minister George Brandis’ proposed redirection of $104.8 million over the next four years from the Australia Council for the Arts, to be dispersed at Ministry discretion into a “National Centre for Excellence in the Arts”.

We oppose this redirection as contrary to the informing principle of independent arts funding as a guarantee on democratic freedom of expression. The government’s budget proposal contradicts the current Minister’s own prior statement – that to provoke debate, “that’s why we have an arms-length and peer-reviewed structure for the allocation of the funding”.

Australia does not need a second national arts funding organisation: over its 42-year history, through a rigorous peer-review process, the Australia Council has realised a mission to ‘invest in artistic excellence’ and make art ‘accessible to all Australians’ and already cultivates a national engagement for audiences and creators.

TNV’s Response

We are vehemently opposed to Minister Brandis’ plan to take millions of dollars from the Australia Council into the control of his own office. We know that the Australia Council’s processes are completely democratic, rigorous and efficient. The agency’s fundamental platform – of arms length, peer assessed funding – would be undermined with this plan. Minister Brandis has himself expressed a desire for greater freedom of expression, but his own actions belie that principle. We agree with the outrage many of our colleagues have expressed in the media across the country in the past 48 hours, that the basis of democratic, accountable arts funding is at risk. We urge the government to reverse this plan. Do we really want a country that has tightly controlled, government managed arts activity?Now is the time to act! Please!

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