It was a pre-election promise made by the Coalition, but something yet to be delivered by the new Government, which has many in the sector anxious about when they will see this extra $20 million installment of RISE.
The RISE COVID recovery program has so far been a salvation for many in the arts, saving countless organisations from folding when their revenues went into freefall as a result of the pandemic.
Reflecting on what it’s achieved so far reveals $200 million has been spent on approximately 500 arts projects – dispersed over seven rounds, with around 60 successful applicants sharing about $20 million each round.
Notable exceptions to this were RISE rounds one and seven. In round one (released November 2020), $60 million went to 115 recipients, reflecting the dire need for support in these early days of the pandemic.
In round seven (March 2022) – perhaps its most contentious round – 90 organisations shared in $20 million, though some recipients were awarded only partial funding (typically half of what they asked for), which adversely affected their projects and led some to question the logic behind those decisions.
A promise is a promise – no matter who made it
So, where is the sector at now? Two and half years on from COVID’s arrival, and after $200 million in recovery project funding?
At this point, much of the industry is still building back from the pandemic’s abyss. While they are cautiously optimistic about the future, they are still far from being at pre-pandemic levels.
Additionally – and unexpectedly – any pent-up demand the sector may have hoped for at this time is being dampened by ongoing COVID waves and the new financial pressures burning holes through everyone’s pockets.
It’s in this mixed picture that many in the arts are patiently waiting for the final $20 million round of RISE to open, and are seeking more action from Government in these still precarious times.
Peter Choraziak is the Director of Hobart’s Festival of Voices, and received final round RISE funding to assist the companies’ July 2022 festival.
He said that delivering the final round of RISE is important, not just in dollar terms, but as a sign of the Labor Government’s integrity and commitment to the sector.
‘I do understand that when you’re the incoming government, you’ve got to sort through the books and get on top of everything, and that will take a bit of time,’ Choraziak said.
‘But I also think that if that promise has been made, regardless of who made it, then I think it has got to come through.’
Government support still crucial to sector rebuild
While feeling optimistic that RISE’s final round will be delivered, Choraziak also says the Labor Government should be looking to make a bigger impact in the arts long-term.
‘We understand the trillion dollar debt factor,’ he said. ‘But at the end of the day, funding for cultural activities is a prevention strategy for health and wellbeing.
‘If we as a society don’t have a thriving cultural sector, we don’t have a thriving society,’ he continued.
‘I just hope the red team gets that more than the blue team did.’
When ArtsHub contacted the Arts Minister’s Department for the latest advice on RISE, a spokesperson for Minister Burke could offer no concrete advice about round eight’s opening details.
Instead, they said, ‘As part of developing its landmark National Cultural Policy, the Australian Government continues to consult with the sector before making a decision on the best way to support the sector into the future.’
For Michelle Wright, General Manager of Arts Margaret River – who also received RISE funding in the latest March 2022 – focusing on the new National Cultural Policy at the expense of the sectors’ immediate needs is concerning.
‘The National Cultural is awesome,’ she said. ‘But it’s not going to help is in the next 12 months.’
For Wright, the RISE program has been a vital quick-response support measure that many small to medium arts organisations like hers require to stay afloat during these still challenging times.
‘The RISE funding we received [in March 2022] has been a lifeline for Arts Margaret River,’ she told ArtsHub.
‘It will ensure we can keep our doors open for another year, ensure we can keep making the arts accessible for all and ensure we can keep creating, presenting and supporting the arts in our South West region of WA.
‘The hard truth is there is just not enough funding to go around, and there are so many desperately in need of financial support,’ she said.
If not RISE, what else?
But as the months roll on with no clear direction on RISE, some in the sector are wondering whether the final grant round will happen at all.
Katherine Connor, Executive Director, PAC Australia – the national peak body supporting performing arts presenters and producers – thinks that if the Government is considering reallocating the $20 million, she would suggest a new matched funding program as another effective mechanism for some arts companies facing stagnancy since COVID.
As Connor explained: ‘Predominantly, performing arts touring happens due to the investment of Local Governments who fund presenting organisations like performing arts centres and festivals.
‘However, the accumulated losses from programming incurred by venues and producers during the pandemic, alongside increasing performance fees and a decreased appetite for risk is resulting in a downturn of this investment.’
Connor says a scheme where Local Government funding could be matched by the Federal Government could help incentivising Local Governments to maintain and even increase their investment in quality arts programming, and increase artists’ confidence to keep making new work in risk-laden environments.
‘Such a scheme would increase the volume of work that can be presented annually, and enhance employment opportunities for artists, touring crew, venue staff and surrounding hospitality businesses,’ Connor said.
Ultimately, there seems consensus through the sector that COVID pains are far from over, and many artists and organisations are still desperate for grant funding to help them stay afloat.
‘We sincerely hope that a new round of funding will open this year and that the fund will be able to support many more community based organisations,’ Wright from Arts Margaret River said.
‘What we need to see is a more collaborative approach to funding with a shared and agreed language around outcomes and deliverables, and a process that is easy and accessible to all in the arts sector,’ she concluded.
Recapping the RISE program:
- Orgs in the dark about RISE results as Minister announces first tranche of $60 million (Nov 2020)
- $135m in RISE funding top up, but is it too late? (March 2021)
- Latest batch of RISE funding allocates $25 million across the nation (May 2021)
- Fourth RISE round announced: $40 million to 82 orgs (July 2021)
- 63 orgs share $20M in latest RISE round (Sept 2021)
- Final round RISE winners announced (March 2022)