The first Labor federal budget has come down, but the arts are almost nowhere to be seen.
According to Arts Minister Tony Burke, the government is waiting for its new cultural policy, to be delivered later this year.
Only then will we know if the government is going to take any real action to address the disastrous issues in the arts sector.
Given the emphasis in the budget on addressing issues around “wellbeing”, it is worrisome we have longer to wait before issues in the arts are addressed by the Labor government.
It took the Coalition government more than seven months to announce any real relief to the sector during COVID, by which time many individuals and organisations had given up. Timing is everything when people are desperate.
What are the issues in the arts? Where do we start?
There is the continued funding decline and support of the arts over the past 15 years, the defunding of respected arts organisations by the Australia Council since 2016, the dramatic decline in funding support for individual artists, the dire impact of the pandemic, and the need to recognise that cultural value is not the same as economic value, and both are needed.
Individuals who work in the arts are highly skilled and talented. Acknowledging their labour as important and valuable is just the beginning.
Our artists are another aspect of our national wealth. Australia cannot afford to ignore them.
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Nevertheless, the government has taken action in some areas.
The budget also reflects the merging of Creative Partnerships Australia with the Australia Council.
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Creative Partnerships Australia costs the government around $4-5 million a year, so this merging will bring around $15 million to the Council over the next three years.
Creative Partnerships Australia grew out of the Australian Business Arts Foundation (AbaF), an initiative of the Howard government. Its mandate was to promote and facilitate private sector support for the arts and initially it focused on encouraging businesses to engage with the arts.
From 1998 to 2012, AbaF was driven through a council of business representatives, who committed $10,000 each and actively advocated for business partnerships with arts organisations. This council provided a rich resource base of potential benefactors and in its early days was successful at doing this. A separate arts philanthropy organisation, Artsupport Australia, sat under the Australia Council with AbaF support.
In 2012 Simon Crean, then arts minister, decided to excise Artsupport Australia from the Australia Council and re-orientate AbaF by rebranding it as Creative Partnerships Australia. Creative Partnerships Australia since then has had a primary focus on philanthropic support for the arts, and unlike AbaF, also distributes Commonwealth funds through grant programs.
Unlike the Australia Council, Creative Partnerships Australia is based in Melbourne (rather than Sydney), with staff also located in other cities. This means it has more immediate contact with its arts constituents outside Sydney.
The organisation has run many workshops over the years to develop fundraising skills for the arts, and has also been the home of the Australian Cultural Fund, which allows for donations to be given to individual artists and organisations that do not have tax deductibility status.
The loss of this stand-alone entity will likely be felt more by the smaller organisations and individuals than the larger ones. Larger organisations have no difficulty in claiming tax deductibility and greater likelihood of making connections with donors.
The Australia Council is a grant giving body, and has not historically facilitated philanthropy nor been a conduit for tax deductibility. It remains to be seen how these functions will be folded into the Australia Council.
The Labor government has a lot to do to restore confidence in the arts sector and help the sector recover from several terrible years. There is an urgency to this, but this urgency is nowhere to be seen in this budget.
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