The Australia Council’s role in public investment in Australian arts and culture always generates passionate debate across the spectrum. Too conservative, too radical, too risk averse, too edgy and out of touch. It all comes with the territory when managing public investment in arts and culture.
While perspectives will vary, and quite rightly so, I offer these thoughts in the interests of a better informed discussion following some recent contributions to ArtsHub.
Guiding these observations is an unwavering commitment to the value of public investment in arts and culture, along with the responsibility of accountability and transparency in our decision-making and the outcomes delivered on behalf of taxpayers.
One of the bigger conversation starters as we’ve grappled with the impact of COVID-19 has been the Australia Council’s role in the delivery of pandemic support measures for our arts and cultural sector.
The $200 million RISE fund has done a terrific job in delivering much needed stimulus support for the arts and entertainment industry, helping get artists and performers back in front of audiences and supporting jobs and economic activity.
The acronym is the point: Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand. RISE has delivered a critical injection of funding support at a time of unprecedented upheaval and disruption.
The benefits of RISE will continue to play out over many months to come as more projects are delivered with the widespread removal of public health restrictions across the country.
While final decisions on RISE projects are a matter for the Minister, the Australia Council has been extensively consulted and has advised on many of the hundreds of projects that have been supported through RISE, drawing on our extensive industry knowledge and experience.
The same can be said for the $59 million Sustainability Fund. Indeed, our advice has been even more critical to this program which has ensured that publicly-funded organisations, large and small, stay in business to support the jobs and creative skills which are the foundations of a vibrant and diverse arts and cultural sector.
While RISE and the Sustainability Fund are targeted and highly effective responses to the challenges of our pandemic-affected times, the Australia Council also has the responsibility to deliver on its legislated functions, which involves a longer term view of what is needed to sustain and strengthen Australian arts and culture.
This includes our support of 128 critically important organisations across Australia, including investments via the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework (with eight new entrants from regional and remote areas), the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy and the Four Year Funding program.
Between them, these organisations provide important career pathways and skills development, which are essential to the future of the arts and the broader creative sector in Australia. And many of them also act as incubators of our emerging talent as they invest in innovation and experimentation for both Australian and international audiences.
They are also among our leaders in growing and connecting with audiences and diversifying arts practice, from our largest cities through to our most remote communities.
This is not to overlook the essential role of our independent artists or smaller projects which are also funded through the Australia Council’s grants and initiatives.
Since August 2020, the Council has invested more than $42 million across 2,179 different artists and projects. Along the way, we have approved more than 1500 contract variations to funded projects and have worked closely with our investment recipients to help manage their response to COVID-19.
These are artists and projects that would not have been eligible for funding through programs such as RISE. Indeed, it is through these investments that the Australia Council supports much of the individual practice and experimentation that helps to generate the new ideas and creativity which are critical to a vibrant artistic and cultural landscape that variously engages, challenges or entertains a diversity of Australian audiences.
There will always be more that can and should be done to support Australian creativity, and the Australia Council will always be a champion for our artists and creators and their contribution to our social, cultural and economic wellbeing.
COVID-19 has highlighted just how important connection through creativity is to our national well-being, along with the highly interconnected nature of our cultural and creative industries. As we rebuild for the future, the Australia Council looks forward to playing a leadership role in this conversation.