Arts funding overhaul creates more opportunities in Canberra

Australia’s capital territory is increasingly focused on supporting artists and creatives.
Arts funding overhaul creates more opportunities in Canberra

Art not apart. Image supplied.

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A new vision for the arts in Canberra is driving a positive change in the creative life of Australia’s capital city and the artists who live there. 

The ACT Government developed an ACT Arts Funding Plan (the Plan) last year to improve support for the sector. The Plan outlines the support available for the arts through artsACT and is more responsive to the needs of artists and arts organisations by providing simpler processes, greater flexibility and better access to funding. 

The ACT Government has already delivered on a number of elements of the Plan, including launching the new Arts Activities Funding category last year, supporting artists and arts organisations through capacity building such as funding to Music ACT to enhance the live music scene in Canberra.

Alison Plevey, choreographer, performer and leader of the Australian Dance Party, said consultation and engagement has played a key role as artsACT has delivered these new initiatives to support of artists and arts organisations.

‘The Arts Minister, Gordon Ramsay, has set up a ministerial advisory body made up of artists from the community who directly advise the Minister,’ she explained.

‘There are now some good steps in place here in Canberra for independent artists and projects, but also for new companies.’ 

Flexibility in funding

The Arts Activities Fund is available for individual artists based in the ACT as well as organisations that provide the Canberra community with opportunities for arts engagement. Since the changes to the funding model, Plevey and others have benefited from the flexibility it invites.

Currently, there are two funding rounds each year, with applicants able to apply for amounts from $5000 to $50,000. Previously funding was only available once per year.

Another rapid-response funding stream allows artists to apply for up to $5,000 funding, with applications open all year round, and decisions made within six weeks.

Local independent artist Christopher Samuel Carroll from Bare Witness Theatre Co said the new model has improved access throughout the year.

‘The larger funding rounds being twice a year instead of only once a year works a lot better – the planning isn’t quite so bottle-necked, and it’s less of an “all-or-nothing” situation. I think it will help support artists in their planning, and lead to more art being produced, and spread out more evenly over the calendar.’

Carroll received a grant in the ‘up to $5,000’ category to tour his solo theatre show, Icarus, to Perth’s Fringe World Festival in January 2019. Icarus went on to win the Dance & Physical Theatre Award at Fringe World, before returning for a critically-acclaimed season at The Street Theatre in Canberra.

He said the new funding process has created more flexibility for artists. ‘Being able to apply for the smaller grants, all-year-round, with a quick turnaround (six weeks or less) is great for smaller projects or for developing projects from an idea stage towards full production – grants of up to $5,000 really can go a long way,’ he explained. 

Plevey agreed and explained how timing is important to the work Australian Dance Party creates. ‘We feel that is really vital because we’re trying to make work that is responsive to time and issues and place. The two rounds really enable that.’

This year, Australian Dance Party has received project funding from artsACT to create a new work, From the Vault, as well as an additional $5,000 to support the dance company’s practice. 

‘That [$5,000 funding] gives us time together on a more regular basis as a new organisation that doesn’t have program or key organisation funding,’ Plevey said.

‘Canberra is a young and creative city where there is opportunity and capacity. People want to collaborate and engage with the arts outside of just the arts, and that’s what we’ve tried to do as well. We’re actively trying to make work that engages across fields and across portfolios of government, and we’ve received funding from the Environment [Department] and sustainability funding too. 

‘I feel like there is scope here in the ACT for the arts to intersect with other fields, and that is really exciting.’

The next round opens on 1 June 2019 and closes on 31 July 2019 for activities starting after 1 December 2019. Learn more about artsACT’s funding programs at arts.act.gov.au.

Brooke Boland

Thursday 2 May, 2019

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.