Cultural ministers from the federal and State governments have released a Consultation Paper that is looking to overhaul the current model by which Australia’s 28 Major Performing Arts (MPA) companies are funded.
That model, known as the MPA Framework, is a 20 year-old arrangement between both tiers of government that decides how public funding to these companies is split and managed. Under its purview is a music sector comprising nine national and state-based orchestras, four opera companies and one concert presenter company, Musica Viva Australia. Victorian Opera is due to enter the fold in 2019.
The newly released Major Performing Arts Framework Consultation Paper is a 24-page document that sets the scene for a range of improvements to the MPA Framework. It compiles responses from a survey that was conducted on the MPA sector in July and August in which stakeholders and the public were able to contribute views on how the MPA sector and its relationship within wider arts sector can be enhanced.
That survey elicited 8,026 responses. The MPA Consultation Paper says that what emerged in these responses was “a strong sense that transparency and accountability are critical in the allocation of public funding”. Consequently, it is asking for views on a number of specific areas with a view to improving the MPA Framework.
These include introducing certainty and transparency in the funding process, and allowing greater flexibility for companies to respond to “opportunities, unforeseen issues and changing environments”.
“Respondents also expressed support for increased funding for the arts, particularly for the small to medium sector,” the Paper says.
It poses a series of questions about how a remodelled MPA Framework could work. Anyone can submit views, either by making a submission online by 26 November or by attending a series of forums underway across the country in October and November. Find details here.
The cultural ministers will consider proposed changes to the Framework in early 2019.
What promises to come out of this consultation process is a more rigorous, responsive and accountable MPA Framework that moves on from the loosely formed legacy of arrangements that were established under the 1999 Major Performing Arts Inquiry.
To this end the Consultation Paper discusses at length a principle of delivering “funding certainty without perpetuity”. Instead of funding being guaranteed to MPA companies, this would see each having to meet key performance indicators after their initial funding contract expires in order to have their funding renewed.
Such a process, it suggests, “could be light-touch for companies that have met expectations and would not involve a full submission and assessment process”. But for companies that fall short of meeting KPIs over their initial contract period, “governments would have the flexibility to renegotiate the contract’s terms (including in relation to funding levels and KPIs) rather than simply extending on the previous terms.”
The Paper mentions in several places the importance of supporting Australia’s arts ecology. For instance, it says the responses it received in the July and August survey “contributed to the identification of opportunities to create an enhanced framework to better support Australia’s arts ecology.”
The small-to-medium sector is an important part of this ecology that the Paper tacitly recognises but does not discuss. What no doubt needs thinking through are the strong relationships that the Major Performing Arts companies form with this sector through collaboration. These relationships and the implications for funding that grow out of them for both sectors need articulating.
Consistent with the ecological model, a holistic, multi-sectoral reappraisal of arts funding in this country is probably needed at some future point. The Paper mentions how MPA companies have enjoyed “certainty and stability” for a long time under the Framework. This is obviously far less the case with small-to-medium companies, which has been operating in an unpredictable funding environment of late. As has been widely reported, significant funds have been diverted away from this sector through ministerial interventions at both the federal and state levels.