Music Australia News

What The Return of Catalyst Funds Mean for Music

Chris Bowen
| March 28, 2017

Federal Arts Minister Mitch Fifield has bowed to sector pressure and announced the return of most of the funds removed from the Australia Council in 2015 by former Arts Minister George Brandis. The Catalyst program will also be closed. While this move is welcome, we examine what it means for music and ask where to from here?

What’s happened

First a recap. This sad story started in May 2015 when Senator Brandis controversially removed $24 Million of Australia Council funds annually for four years to establish a new Excellence program. A furore broke out within the arts sector. This eased slightly in November 2015 when new Minister Mitch Fifield returned $8 million annually and established a Catalyst Fund with the remaining funds.

However the real crunch came in May 2016 where, despite the returned funds, over sixty organisations missed out on Australia Council funding in what became known as Black Friday. There was a 28 percent reduction in funded small to medium companies, which Live Performance Australia estimated could cost up to 1,300 jobs.

Music sector impacted

The music sector was hard hit. Seven of 13 music organisations lost multiyear funding, including Music Australia and two regional festivals, and classical music was particularly impacted, as the accompanying list illustrates.   No new live music companies were supported, and several missed out on annual funding.

There was some good news, including investment in Queensland’s Big Sound Festival, and solid industry lobbying led to a late 2016 restoration of funding to music export office Sounds Australia.

Catalyst hasn’t helped music

Our analysis of the Catalyst Fund shows, on face value, that it hasn’t really helped music. While some of the listed organisations such as Black Armband and Synergy/Taikoz have won Catalyst grants, only 11% of grants announced to date (20 out of 189) have been for stand-alone music projects. Of Catalyst’s three categories music did worst in the Partnerships stream, winning only 1 out of 47 grants.

However, the deeper issue with Catalyst is it has used Australia Council funds for a range of projects for which they were never intended. This has included $1 million towards an Australian Ballet Centre capital project, a sizeable administrative chunk which effectively duplicated the Australia Council, and $2 million per annum retained for the Federal Department’s own allocations.

What it means for music

For music, these cuts and funding changes came after a previous suite of effective international music programs were dismantled, substantial under-investment in domestic music touring for both contemporary and classical, and a paucity of targeted initiatives to grow audiences and stimulate demand.

Of greater concern during this period is the absence of a demonstrated policy framework to guide government investment decisions. Effectively two federal arts funds competed to support worthwhile projects, compounded by an Australia Council decision to continue with a strategic plan rendered untenable by funding cuts. The time and effort wasted over the past twenty plus months, and the loss of momentum and activity is regrettable.

While we welcome the Minister’s decision to effectively ‘right the wrong’ without further prompt action it may be too little too late. We agree with Live Performance Australia that “significant damage has already been done”. The quiet announcement in February this year of yet another funding cut to the Australia Council suggests we are not out of the woods yet.

However, the arts sector has tremendous resilience. Music Australia is determined to forge ahead independently, as are most of our peers. But in many cases this will be at a reduced capacity or time limited. Now is the time for the Government to follow up, decisively, to underwrite sector capacity and growth.

So what to do?

We advocate two courses of action:

  1. the Government increase Australia Council funding to close the remaining gap and underwrite desired new investments such as Opera Review recommendations; we estimate a minimum of $3 – 5 million per annum is required. Also, exempt the Council from corrosive efficiency dividends, and solidly back the national arts agenda. Recent remarks by Minister Fifield reported by The Australian are encouraging, including a stated willingness to engage with the sector and a commitment to improved arts data.
  2. the Australia Council act swiftly to lay out clear sectoral frameworks to inform funding decisions, increase transparency, foster greater sector and cross-Government strategic partnerships, and invest in key sector capabilities. The useful 2012 Music Sector Plan was a great example, we urge the Council to produce another.

Time is of the essence here to maintain vital momentum, protect artist jobs, and stimulate audience growth so music can continue to strengthen its contribution to national life.

Australia Council 2016 Reductions in Funding to Music

Organisations no longer receiving program / multi year funding *

  • Australian Festival of Chamber Music (Townsville)
  • Black Arm Band (Melbourne)
  • Camerata of St Johns (Brisbane – chamber orchestra)
  • Gondwana Choirs (Sydney)
  • Music Australia (national)
  • Pro Musica (Canberra International Music Festival)
  • Queensland Music Festival
  • Southern Cross Soloists (Brisbane)
  • Synergy Percussion / Taikoz (Sydney)
  • Topology (Brisbane)
  • Wangaratta Jazz Festival

* May not be a definitive list, and some such as Synergy / Taikoz subsequently won Catalyst funding



  1. Berenice Harrison

    It is about time the same funding were given to ARTS as to SPORT – at least!
    The benefits to children especially in studying Music is so significant should be realised and acted on.
    This hasbeenneglected far too long.
    The damage to AusCouncil grantsis another matter ..and also needs to be rectified by restoring ALL the money wasted on the ” Catalyst” fiasco.

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