In a far cry from our previous concerns that the Federal Government’s new arts funding program wouldn’t spend all the money in the first year – they’ve actually dispersed double!
The job was made easier when incoming Arts Minister Mitch Fifield provided some relief by returning 40 percent of the $20 million taken from the Australia Council in the last arts budget. This left $12 million in the new Catalyst Fund for this year, and future years.
However in an energetic feat, as Arthub reports, the Arts Department has now awarded over $23 million in grants through this program. A further round of grants went up on the Department’s website last week. So effectively, the full allocation for two years has now been announced.
On the surface this appears to be peculiar public policy, without apparent explanation, particularly given the timing.
Which of course will only fuel arts sector speculation, such as that the Government may be seeking to avoid Parliamentary Senate scrutiny, or to spread the love prior to en election campaign, and there may be no funds left for next year.
However on examination it seems there are two reasons for this:
- The first is that many projects are multi year, with part funding coming from future year allocations. As Artshub reports, the Department of Communications said: “monies spent to date were the full allocation of 2016-2017 Catalyst funds, and additional funding for successful multi-year projects.”
- The second is the timing was essential if further funding was to be dispersed this financial year. Significant expenditure decisions cannot be made during an election period when Government is in Caretaker mode. So last Friday was the Minister’s last chance to sign off.
So how does it shape up?
Criticisms? There are plenty, and these have been wide articulated by us and others previously, particularly in relation to this program’s overall policy framework. Specifically we don’t like the administrative duplication involved for the sector. Or the ‘churn’ of Commonwealth dollars – why do national cultural institutions have to apply to Catalyst for project funding? Surely it would have been simpler to not apply efficiency cuts to them in the first place?
And in disturbing news we understand our highly regarded music export program Sounds Australia, an industry partnership with APRA AMCOS, has not been funded through Catalyst. This is very disappointing.
The welcome news is the diversity of funding announced – which includes heritage projects, that the small to medium sector was indeed prioritised, and that these funds will all be dispersed into to the sector in the year for which they were always intended.
Would we like to see more investment in the music sector? Absolutely! This presents a good opportunity for us all.
In the meantime the Australia Council has announced their latest grants from their February round with $11.2 million awarded. We congratulate all successful recipients to both programs, and are confident this pubic money will be wisely invested.