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.