A change in Minister will further delay rollout of important arts portfolio funds this year. We’ve engaged in a little speculation about what may happen to the funds reserved for the new National Program for Excellence in the Arts. We see an opportunity here which we encourage the arts sector to dive into. We also see a few warning signs we hope won’t come to pass.
We’re worried about how the Government can wisely spend some $20 million by the end of the financial year. The new Minister Senator Mitch Fifield, whom we welcome here, quite reasonably needs time to come to grips with his portfolio. But in the meantime, the large sum taken from the Australia Council sits, as we understand it, largely unspent. By our reckoning, even if grants were opened tomorrow, allowing a three month processing period (government funding rarely takes less), and a few lost weeks over summer, we’re into February. So well over half the year will be gone and not a single dollar will have hit the intended source.
It’s worth remembering that if this money had been retained within the Australia Council, a considerable amount would have been invested in the sector by now. This is an opportunity lost.
It’s also worth noting that the Ministry for the Arts is setting this program up from scratch, and has to observe complex Commonwealth grants program rules and procedures. This all takes time. As it stands, the program still hasn’t been publicly finalised or opened six months after it was announced.
We feel this could go a couple of ways. One is that a large amount is dispersed in the second half of the year. This could be a good thing. It could mean a higher success rate for applicants in this period, which may be welcome. And this could do much to maintain momentum lost to date and keep the sector ticking over into another year.
This is where the opportunity lies – and we encourage the music sector to seize it.
The other is that it may not be spent wisely or at all. This becomes high risk. Possibilities are that lower quality projects are supported, or ones that are opportunistically large get a nod where they may otherwise may be pruned or miss out altogether. Or funds may be allocated to other initiatives that the Government deems worthwhile. Most worryingly, the money may not all be spent, in which case it goes back into consolidated revenue at 30 June.
Any of these scenarios could lead to a less wise investment in funded projects. Either way it can be argued these are not optimal outcomes, or in the best interests of the sector and the public.
Our advice? If and when the program is announced, put in your applications straight away. We understand it will be a rolling program without fixed closing dates, so if you get in early, and are assessed this financial year, it could be to your advantage. Research and plan your projects carefully so they are of high quality. Funded projects in the first year may well have higher success rates than in the years to come. How to start? Read the draft guidelines here – they may not change that much – and start planning your projects now!
And if the NPEA doesn’t proceed and the funds are returned? No matter, the Australia Council will then be in a similar position and you can apply to them!