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Playing ball with arts funding

By Maryann Mussared - 10 March 2017 13

bright colored plastic ball in a swimming pool of a nursery to play

With the recent controversy over a reduction in arts funding, Canberra artists remain perplexed about government arts policy and funding in the future.  Technically, the arts funding ball is back in the court of Gordon Ramsay, MLA  Minister for the Arts, but luckily not everyone is sitting on the sidelines hoping this issue will be resolved by someone else.

Over 160 of Canberra’s leading artists and organisations have gathered together and formed a new group: Canberra Artists Action Group. Members believe that funding provided for artists through the ACT Government is no longer best servicing individual artists, arts organisations, or the ACT community.

As further background, in December 2016 the ACT Government made unannounced cuts to the Project Fund component of the ACT Arts Fund. These cuts meant that only 14 arts projects were funded in 2017, compared to over 60 in previous years. This represented an unprecedented 66% drop in dollar-funding for Canberra artists and their projects.

In response to a letter co-signed by over 160 of Canberra’s leading artists, the Arts Minister has since announced that an additional $230,000 of funding will be distributed for 2017 projects. Although this announcement was welcome news, the reality is that the total amount of project funding in 2017 will still only be 65% of what it has been in previous years.

What does this mean for the ACT artists and the broader community?

I spoke to one of the initial activists, Michael Sollis. He has been involved in the local and national arts scene for some time and is currently Artistic Director of the Griffin Ensemble, as well as Artistic Director of Musica Viva Australia, Education.

Michael commented, “well, it places significant stress on Canberra’s arts ecology.  The Minister’s announcement to partially redress this is welcome, but the reality is that funding is still only 65% compared to previous years.”

Michael told me the members of the arts sector who have come together under the banner of online Facebook Group “Canberra Artists Action Group” have expressed their concern at this significant arts funding decision by the ACT Government.

“What this all demonstrates is that current arts policy and funding is not delivering the best possible outcomes for artists or the community. We welcome the Minister’s pledge to honor ACT Labor’s election promise to increase project funding to a minimum of $1.25 million per year, but also look forward to working with the government to ensure there is a better way that policy can be informed by artists and the community.”

Canberra Artists Action Group believes that current arts funding does not provide the best possible return on investment for ACT artists, arts organisations, and the community. A workable solution is an Arts Advisory Board that reports to the Minister.   How this comes together will be discussed over the coming months.

The next step is a petition.  This will be online through the Legislative Assembly website in the next week. The RiotACT will provide notification through their Facebook page. Sponsored by Tara Cheyne, MLA, it is expected there will be a lot of interest by more than just the arts community. While the petition is available to be signed online, there will be a strong push in social media and promotion at events during March.

In the meantime, maybe the funding ball isn’t currently in anyone’s court. The Minister for the Arts has his ball in the air while he considers what form a possible Arts Advisory Board may take, and the artists of Canberra have all their balls in the air. As someone involved in the arts scene in Canberra for some decades, I would really like to see as many artists as possible, and their extended networks, as well as Canberrans who understand the value of the arts in our everyday lives, go out of their way to sign the petition. It is so important to think about what the future of the arts offers to many emerging artists coming out of our education system as well as the many artists who are already established. Strong support for an Arts Advisory Board equates to solidarity for the future of the arts in Canberra.

 

 

 

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13 Responses to
Playing ball with arts funding
1
wildturkeycanoe 3:00 pm
10 Mar 17
#

I do not understand why artists have this belief that their choice of lifestyle should be funded by taxpayers. I dabble in a bit of art and have always bought my own materials. If the art doesn’t sell in the open market then too bad, you shouldn’t be financed by people who don’t care to buy your creations.
On that note, I think some more input from the public is needed before ugly monstrosities are purchased by the government for public display. They might be surprised at how much people care about what is plonked on the roadside and how much is spent on it.

2
Maryann Mussared 1:01 pm
11 Mar 17
#

The arts budget funds a number of large arts organisations, including Key Arts Organisations and programmes for other arts organisations. There are other amounts available for festivals and events, as well as the projects of individual artists through an annual Project Funding round. In the past, public art was funded out of a separate fund and, at the moment, I don’t believe there is much danger of any new public art being sprung on the unsuspecting public.

One of the principal issues of concern to the new Canberra Artists Action Group is an amount of funding was supposedly earmarked for the 2017 annual Project Funding Round. An amount had been allocated in the budget, and artists applied; when the announcement of successful applications was made, it became obvious the amount formerly ‘promised’ had been cut substantially. Under pressure, the Minister did find some more money, but there is still a shortfall from the original amount.

The overarching issue is the system changed after the 2010 Loxton Report, and the Minister for the Arts was no longer being advised by the Cultural Council which had been disbanded, but directly by artsACT, a government agency. Bringing back an Arts Advisory Board will provide the opportunity for a group of experienced people, or are professional artists, to have some input to policy direction. It could turn out that they recommend cutting funding for projects for individual artists and put more money into arts organisations, especially Key Arts Organisations. They are in a better position to top up their budgets with sponsorships, grants from the Federal Government via the Australia Council, or donations from developers! However, if project funding is not available to assist individual artists, even occasionally, (especially emerging artists fresh out of a three year tertiary course), they will lose heart, pack up and leave town. And that will be Canberra’s loss.

wildturkeycanoe said :

I do not understand why artists have this belief that their choice of lifestyle should be funded by taxpayers. I dabble in a bit of art and have always bought my own materials. If the art doesn’t sell in the open market then too bad, you shouldn’t be financed by people who don’t care to buy your creations.
On that note, I think some more input from the public is needed before ugly monstrosities are purchased by the government for public display. They might be surprised at how much people care about what is plonked on the roadside and how much is spent on it.

3
John Moulis 5:34 pm
11 Mar 17
#

I too have misgivings about taxpayers funding the arts. In the end, art really does nothing to benefit society as a whole. Oh I know some of it is nice to look at, but why should we fund it?

I have to spend a large chunk of my fixed income on gym membership and as a result – at age 57 – I have spent no time in hospital for the past 20 years and I don’t burden the Medicare system with doctor’s visits. So where is my subsidy? Where is the money from government to encourage seniors like me pursuing healthy lifestyles and not being a burden on the health system?

Long ago someone in government got their priorities very screwed up.

4
Serina Huang 10:11 pm
11 Mar 17
#

Thank you for sharing this. The situation for artistic funding is really quite dire: not just Canberra but nationally as well. Artistic expression is so integral to society and community. It reflects so much about the dynamism (or otherwise) of a society. You might not notice it when it is there, but you certainly notice it when it is gone. And it can be a good investment to focus on creative industries. In a technologically advanced age where advanced economies such as Australia are based increasingly on services, investment in the arts can pay long term dividends. That struggling artist or dancer or musician might just end up being the next big thing, promoting Canberra globally to the world. And in the meantime, they help to make living in Canberra just that little bit more interesting.

5
wildturkeycanoe 8:20 am
12 Mar 17
#

Here is another point about arts Canberra that I believe to be a total furphy.

Serina Huang said :

That struggling artist or dancer or musician might just end up being the next big thing, promoting Canberra globally to the world.

How often has Arts A.C.T contributed to struggling Canberra artists? I did a little research on some public art I picked from the top of my head, of pieces that stand out like a sore thumb. The “Rhizome”, on the GDE, plus all the other pieces designed by its artist, came from a well known Sydney artist, not Canberra. The Skywhale was made by another famous artist from Melbourne. The phallic owl in Belconnen also came from a Melbourne artist. The new metal “Sphere” at Denman Prospect is by someone who lives in Germany for crying out loud.
Just browsing the Public Art List on the net reveals Canberra artworks have arrived here from Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico and all over the world. Yes, these were not funded by ArtsACT, but some of the ones that were came from places such as Braidwood, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Ballarat and Japan. Quite a lot were Victorian in origin too. Why is ArtsACT spending our money on interstate and international artists?

Another contentious point relates to your comment about struggling artists becoming the next big thing. That is hardly the case. Nearly all the artists involved in Canberra’s public art are very easy to find on the internet. They usually have worldwide or national acclaim, with quite reputable credentials and reasonably prosperous lives. Many are involved in some capacity with the institutions that teach the arts. Collectively I’d say they are the elite of the art world.
The criteria to be met to access government funding for arts, is nothing a “struggling artist” would be able to meet. The following, taken directly from from the ArtsACT website explains why,
“The artist should demonstrate planning and project management experience and skills relating the Scope of Works by demonstrating having completed public art commissions on a similar scale; in a collaborative manner. The artist should provide evidence of: a sound knowledge of the proposed materials and fabrication processes; resolution of design and structural issues; an understanding of installation requirements; and consideration of any Technical Issues referred to in the Artist’s Brief”
The first line pretty much says in layman’s terms, that you need to have completed a public art piece before, which has been done in cooperation with a commissioning body, in order to apply for funding. Exactly how do unknown ACT artists meet this which is just one of many requirements?
In my opinion, the ACT arts section of government cares little for the “small guy” and would prefer to get pieces from more widely recognized artists from around the world. How else are you to fulfill the objective of promoting Canberra to the world?

“Canberra Artists Action Group believes that current arts funding does not provide the best possible return on investment for ACT artists, arts organisations, and the community.”
I agree with this wholeheartedly, but will an advisory group have enough weight to change the wording in the ACT public arts guidelines to level the playing field for locals? That remains to be seen.

6
Acton 12:17 pm
12 Mar 17
#

Think carefully about the implications before supporting an Arts Advisory Board.

How many members will be appointed?

What will be their remuneration?

What will be the cost of administering the Board and the grants it considers and dispenses?

How many extra support staff will be required and what will their salaries, office costs etc amount to?

Will there be pressure on government to increase arts funding to justify the existance of the Arts Advisory Board?

Will funding go to local artists, or be primarily used to pay Arts Advisory Board members to create Visions, write Reports, attend Art Fests and undertake overseas trips?

Will Canberra ratepayers incur an increase in their rates above the currrent 10%pa rises to fund the Board and additional arts funding?

Will there be an imposition of an Arts Levy on ratepayers?

What guarantee is there that our public funds will not be wasted on offensive, confrontational, preachy, politicised or obscene works masquerading as ‘art’ (Skywhale)

Importantly, what is the opportunity cost of funding public art and a bloated Arts Advisory Board instead of much needed improvements in hospitals, housing, schools, parks, infrastructure etc….

7
Blen_Carmichael 1:39 pm
12 Mar 17
#

Serina Huang said :

The situation for artistic funding is really quite dire: not just Canberra but nationally as well. Artistic expression is so integral to society and community. It reflects so much about the dynamism (or otherwise) of a society.

Can’t say I regard the situation as “dire”. Wasn’t it only a couple of years ago that the government shelled out $20K for this? Talk about indulgence.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/liberals-outraged-that-kill-climate-deniers-play-is-funded-by-the-act-government-20141001-10ogo7.html

8
Maryann Mussared 3:15 pm
12 Mar 17
#

I completely respect your comments. I never cease to be amazed at how active the retired and ‘transition to retirement’ community are here in Canberra. There needs to be a discussion about a whole lot of things that are funded. I don’t know if you remember Healthpact, but it was a statutory authority that promoted health promotion activities in the ACT. The money came out of the budget, there was a highly respected Board, and there was a grants round that funded a huge range of health promoting activities, including a very successful falls prevention programme for seniors, a great dance programme for older Canberrans, arts based activities for people who identified with mental health issues, healthy breakfast programmes in schools for children from disadvantaged background, and the good old “Walking School Bus” that promoted children walking to school. Unfortunately Healthpact got the chop during the 2006 “Functional Review” and I believe it impacted on the community development model that Healthpact was promoting. I commend you for your commitment to your own health. I also believe we are a better community if we at least provide some support for artists, especially those straight out of tertiary art, music or drama school. I regard myself as a reasonable example as I had two modest grants in the 1990s which were for group visual art activities. The confidence I developed allowed me to go on and organise the odd festival, many art exhibitions, obtain funding for a small community gallery that still exists today, and provide activities for a Canberra-wide inclusive mental health programme. I also had a huge programme of activities in 2000 for the International Year of Older People. An Arts Advisory Board will at least be a step back in the right direction. Identifying what our community values is important and may be quite different from what worked so well over 10 years ago. quote comment=”576496″]I too have misgivings about taxpayers funding the arts. In the end, art really does nothing to benefit society as a whole. Oh I know some of it is nice to look at, but why should we fund it?

I have to spend a large chunk of my fixed income on gym membership and as a result – at age 57 – I have spent no time in hospital for the past 20 years and I don’t burden the Medicare system with doctor’s visits. So where is my subsidy? Where is the money from government to encourage seniors like me pursuing healthy lifestyles and not being a burden on the health system?

Long ago someone in government got their priorities very screwed up.

9
Maryann Mussared 3:21 pm
12 Mar 17
#

Thank you for your comments Serina. You have identified the very important aspect of how the arts contributes to the quality of our everyday life. Artists are hidden in every corner of our community, from those who work with children, to the creative thinkers who contribute through good design, actors who grace our local theatres, through to artists who go on to greater things. The Minister needs advice from people who have no conflict of interest, perhaps a business background, and artists who have ‘been there and done it’, like me. No, I don’t want to be on any Arts Advisory Board, but there are many well-qualified people in our community who could provide excellent advice to the Minister.

Serina Huang said :

Thank you for sharing this. The situation for artistic funding is really quite dire: not just Canberra but nationally as well. Artistic expression is so integral to society and community. It reflects so much about the dynamism (or otherwise) of a society. You might not notice it when it is there, but you certainly notice it when it is gone. And it can be a good investment to focus on creative industries. In a technologically advanced age where advanced economies such as Australia are based increasingly on services, investment in the arts can pay long term dividends. That struggling artist or dancer or musician might just end up being the next big thing, promoting Canberra globally to the world. And in the meantime, they help to make living in Canberra just that little bit more interesting.

10
Maryann Mussared 3:35 pm
12 Mar 17
#

As a member of the former Cultural Council, I attended many funded performances and exhibitions of questionable quality. I might also add, that no grant I have ever heard of has covered the full cost of presentation, so people who apply for grants have to have some faith in themselves as they are commiting their own money, as well as being assisted by other funding, such as a Project Grant. However, assisting someone to put on an event that might not be quite to everyone’s taste does have some benefits. Like everyone, artists learn from their mistakes and learn ‘on the job’, such staging a play or exhibition presentation. I have been to plays with a rivetting storyline, but poor acting, and also seen many finely acted performances where the content left me unimpressed. I didn’t see the play you mention – I think I am probably glad. I would like to think an Arts Advisory Board can help the Minister identify a positive way forward. The Loxton Report identified some things that didn’t work in arts funding, and this is a good starting point.

Blen_Carmichael said :

Serina Huang said :

The situation for artistic funding is really quite dire: not just Canberra but nationally as well. Artistic expression is so integral to society and community. It reflects so much about the dynamism (or otherwise) of a society.

Can’t say I regard the situation as “dire”. Wasn’t it only a couple of years ago that the government shelled out $20K for this? Talk about indulgence.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/liberals-outraged-that-kill-climate-deniers-play-is-funded-by-the-act-government-20141001-10ogo7.html

11
Maryann Mussared 4:00 pm
12 Mar 17
#

Thank you for the points you have so carefully considered for your part of the discussion. I believe the Minister has yet to decide how any Arts Advisory Board will come together. As a former member of the Cultural Council I know there was one officer in artsACT who had secretariat responsibility for the Council. They also did many other things in their job description. Members of the Council were paid a modest honorarium. Given that I often went on holidays with a fat folder full of grant applications to asses, I appreciated a small financial acknowledgment of the time I committed. Of course there are many excellent examples of voluntary boards, particularly in the arts, in Canberra where no-one gets any form of remuneration. Regarding your other points, we rely on our public service to write appropriate policy to provide guidance for the Ministers. You won’t agree with me, but I for one would love Skywhale to come back and am still in disbelief that we did not actually own the balloon! I would prefer a small voluntary board who consider what money is available and come up with guidelines for whoever it is that assesses the grants. Doubling up should be avoided, i.e. ensuring taxpayers are not funding professional development that can be funded from other sources, such as some of the programmes of Federally funded Australia Council. Regrettably the ACT does not fare well and I believe the ACT often receives less than its fair share from the Federal arts purse. I consider this situation would be an excellent place for a new Arts Advisory Board to start! There is now a very impressive Federal programme that allows artists to set up a fund-raising account for arts activities. It is a tax deductible scheme to raise money for themselves. I made a donation to one such arts ‘hapopening’ a few years ago for an excellent project, here in Canberra. The the tax benefit was appreciated, but the artistic outcome was significant. The current model of public servants driving ‘direction’ for a fair deal for artists does need review.

Acton said :

Think carefully about the implications before supporting an Arts Advisory Board.

How many members will be appointed?

What will be their remuneration?

What will be the cost of administering the Board and the grants it considers and dispenses?

How many extra support staff will be required and what will their salaries, office costs etc amount to?

Will there be pressure on government to increase arts funding to justify the existance of the Arts Advisory Board?

Will funding go to local artists, or be primarily used to pay Arts Advisory Board members to create Visions, write Reports, attend Art Fests and undertake overseas trips?

Will Canberra ratepayers incur an increase in their rates above the currrent 10%pa rises to fund the Board and additional arts funding?

Will there be an imposition of an Arts Levy on ratepayers?

What guarantee is there that our public funds will not be wasted on offensive, confrontational, preachy, politicised or obscene works masquerading as ‘art’ (Skywhale)

Importantly, what is the opportunity cost of funding public art and a bloated Arts Advisory Board instead of much needed improvements in hospitals, housing, schools, parks, infrastructure etc….

12
Acton 5:46 pm
12 Mar 17
#

Instead of paying outrageous amounts of public money to manufacture divisive works of dubious quality and limited appeal, put their talents to work in a way that results in public acclaim and a sell-out performance. Our artists and performers could be co-opted to stage a Festival of Ice Cream.

Imagine a year ahead and the Crimes breathlessly reporting:

[[Canberra held its inaugural Ice Cream Festival on Saturday, an event so popular the 20,000 tickets sold out within an hour.

Festival director Maryann Mussared said the event was organised because Canberra had run out of green spaces to exhibit any more public art. This is a popular way to alleviate the dire situation facing the struggling arts community and the stress upon the arts ecology after the ACT Government announced an end to funding of those whom some had so cruelly referred to as ‘con-artists’.

“A corybantic cooperative of creative Canberra confectionaries concocted celestial cocktails of creamy confectionary compositions” Ms Mussared contended.

On offer were cold creamy and sweet treats, from coffee pops and gelato to ice-cream filled donuts, from the likes of Artists Action Group, Griffin Ensemble, Musica Viva Australia, A Chorus of Women, Sparrow-Folk, Big hART and Aspen Island Theatre Company, fresh from another triumphant US tour performing ‘Kill Climate Deniers’.

The event was modelled on a similarly successful festival held in Brisbane:
http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/why-brisbane-is-screaming-for-an-icecream-festival-20170311-guvxdk.html ]]

13
Maryann Mussared 10:44 am
13 Mar 17
#

Most drole, Acton. I can honestly say I have been to more than a few arts events over the years that made me question the overall decision-making process of the various assessment boards. I also have to note there is an awful lot of experimental art going on that is self-funded. I have a background in community cultural development and directed my energy towards getting people in the community involved in arts-based activities. The first festival concert I put together in Westfield Belconnen included, amongst other, 60 energetic be-sequined young dancers from a local dance school eager to perform in public, a barber shop quartet who normally performed in nursing homes, and a particularly talented young guitarist. I am worried about that Ice Cream Festival – I can just see someone latching onto the idea of having one down by the Lake to farewell Westgate.

Acton said :

Instead of paying outrageous amounts of public money to manufacture divisive works of dubious quality and limited appeal, put their talents to work in a way that results in public acclaim and a sell-out performance. Our artists and performers could be co-opted to stage a Festival of Ice Cream.

Imagine a year ahead and the Crimes breathlessly reporting:

[[Canberra held its inaugural Ice Cream Festival on Saturday, an event so popular the 20,000 tickets sold out within an hour.

Festival director Maryann Mussared said the event was organised because Canberra had run out of green spaces to exhibit any more public art. This is a popular way to alleviate the dire situation facing the struggling arts community and the stress upon the arts ecology after the ACT Government announced an end to funding of those whom some had so cruelly referred to as ‘con-artists’.

“A corybantic cooperative of creative Canberra confectionaries concocted celestial cocktails of creamy confectionary compositions” Ms Mussared contended.

On offer were cold creamy and sweet treats, from coffee pops and gelato to ice-cream filled donuts, from the likes of Artists Action Group, Griffin Ensemble, Musica Viva Australia, A Chorus of Women, Sparrow-Folk, Big hART and Aspen Island Theatre Company, fresh from another triumphant US tour performing ‘Kill Climate Deniers’.

The event was modelled on a similarly successful festival held in Brisbane:
http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/why-brisbane-is-screaming-for-an-icecream-festival-20170311-guvxdk.html ]]

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