Music Australia News

Funding cuts bite deep for music as election nears

image courtesy of the big music project
Chris Bowen
| May 23, 2016

By now, the news of the Australia Council’s decision to cut funding to over 60 organisations, including Music Australia and six other music companies, has been well publicised. But the full impacts are yet to be felt, as voices of criticism across the industry gather on the eve of an election.

Music companies supported through the current key organisation program not funded under the new four year program include Gondwana Choirs, Music Australia, Pro Musica (Canberra international Music Festival), Southern Cross Soloists, Synergy/Taikoz, Topology, and Wangaratta Jazz Festival.

In addition many more music applicants have recently been unsuccessful in securing funding through the Federal Government’s Australia Council or new Catalyst Program. These include the Queensland Music Festival, Camerata of St Johns and music export office Sounds Australia, among others.

Michael Chugg speaks out

Music Industry identity Michael Chugg has criticised the substantial reduction in funding to export body Sounds Australia from 2017. Chugg told The Music Network of his frustration at “the Federal Government’s minute investment in music compared to what overseas governments are spending.” He notes the millions of dollars that comes back into Australia from its music exports, and laments that the Government seems not to care. “Just a minute percentage of the cash injection the Australian Government gets from all of our exports touring overseas could save the export development body” he told TMN. “What the Government are putting in, compared to what the Canadian government spends, compared to what the Scandinavians spend, and Germany and France and Holland, is just a minute drop in the ocean.”

Uncoordinated Investment

A much cited sector complaint is the apparent absence of coordinated investment by the Australian Government, and lack of any demonstrated policy framework. The above Sounds Australia case, where no one agency was equipped to make this important strategic investment, is a case in point.

Industry body Live Performance Australia has concluded “there is no rhyme or reason to the funding cuts”. LPA chief Evelyn Richardson noted “Almost forty per cent of small to medium companies which received project funding through the Catalyst program had their longer term operational funding cut by the Australia Council.” Their analysis also noted:

  • Music sector hardest hit with 7 out of 13 key organisations defunded and no new live music companies supported. Two of the defunded companies are music festivals in regional areas.
  • Live performance key organisations employed 7,436 people in 2014 – based on funding cuts, this could affect more than 1,300 jobs.

Sydney’s Carriageworks Director Lisa Havilah, has also criticised the Government’s lack of a policy framework to guide their investment decisions. “The ongoing lack of a national policy has resulted in unprecedented damage to the sector” she said.

Funding crisis

Alisson Croggon, writing in The Guardian, notes a 28 percent reduction in the number of funded small to medium companies from 178 to 128. She argues that the crisis goes deeper, pointing out: “The number of Australia Council grants to individual artists and projects has decreased by a staggering 70% since the 2013/14 financial year.”

And Lisa Havilah goes on to make the point, increasingly heard, that the Australia Council is now left with insufficient funds to do its job properly:  “It is not acceptable for the Australia Council who after authoring their strategy a Culturally Ambitious Nation to now be put into a position where they can no longer deliver that strategy to any great degree.”

Drawing Inspiration

Sydney Festival Director Wesley Enoch, in a thoughtful blog post, where he decried the lack of logic and confusion caused by arts funding changes and cuts, has urged the arts community to rally:

“This is not the week the Arts died in this country. This is a week we will look back on and say it was the week we found our voice….it is the week we stepped up not down.”

And an important way to do this, is at the ballot box…

Election Arts Debate
In the lead up to the 2 July poll, ArtsPeak has organised a National Arts Election Debate at the Wheeler Centre Melbourne on Wednesday 8 June from 1pm. The three major parties have been invited to put their arts policies forward and take questions from the floor. The Debate will be moderated by ABC’s Patricia Karvelas.

At the time of writing Shadow Arts Minister Mark Dreyfus and Greens Arts Spokesperson, Adam Bandt had confirmed, but Arts Minister Senator Mitch Fifield had not yet responded to his invitation.

This is a free event but bookings are essential. You can contribute your ideas for questions for the debate here.

And for us

We’ll share more on the funding impact for us, and our future plans, in coming weeks. In the meantime you can read our funding announcement here.

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