Rethinking NSW Arts Funding to put the sector first

Responding to feedback from the sector, the NSW Minister for the Arts has reworked how grants are assessed and delivered, including an opportunity for arts leaders to be involved.
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Tyrel Dulvarie and Rika Hamaguchi in Bangarra: 30 years of sixty five thousand. Image Daniel Boud

NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin, has today announced a revamp to the way that NSW arts funding will be applied for, assessed and delivered to the sector – an overhaul he described as necessary.

‘We are taking a complex funding model and simplifying it for the good of the talented artists across our State that want certainty, and transparency, around funding,’ the Minister said.

The new look Arts and Cultural Funding Program is steered by three major shifts that tap right into the core concerns expressed by the sector, and recalibrates the culture of grant funding so that it is more attuned to the needs of artists and arts organisations. It will include:

  • A new streamlined approach that consolidates the existing 14 funding rounds into two annual calls for funding with greater clarity around notification dates.
  • The assessment criteria for funding applications have been significantly reduced and rethought, transforming the current hurdle of 26 checkpoints to three elements for consideration, allowing applicants to better present the strengths of their project outcomes.
  • The cross-sector peer review panels will be replaced with ten new Create NSW Artform Assessment Boards. These Boards will broadly reflect each artform’s ecology and, chaired by respected artform leaders, make funding and sector recommendations to the Minister.

Minister Harwin told ArtsHub: ‘I am absolutely convinced this new approach, from a NSW Government perspective, will help the sector to flourish.’

A grant program that’s responsive to sector feedback

The changes announced today have been led by feedback from the sector according to the Minister. ‘It has been absolutely critical,’ Harwin said.

The Minister said the findings of the 2018 NSW Arts Summit, Arts 2025, seeded many of the changes.

‘One of the clearest messages to my office was that the sector wanted simpler guidelines for funding. We have heard that message, and we have restructured the assessment criteria from 26 down to three key considerations.

‘We also heard from the sector that the previous guidelines and eligibility criteria were excluding too many projects and organisations, especially in annual organisation funding,’ the Minister reported.

Previously an organisation had to receive project funding for three consecutive years in order to qualify for annual organisation funding.

‘We have removed this barrier,’ said Harwin. ‘There are some really outstanding arts organisations out there that are excluded at present – they shouldn’t have to wait three years to apply.’

The Minister continued: ‘I am pleased to be able to announce that we will also publish, for the first time, long-lead funding notification dates that will allow applicants to submit proposals with confidence, knowing when they will receive results and when they can confirm employment, presentation dates and other funding sources.’

Information about the new guidelines for Project, Creative Koori Projects and Annual Organisations funding is available at the Create NSW website.

NSW Minister for the Arts Don Harwin is convinced the new approach will help the sector to flourish; image supplied.

Advantages of Artform Assessment Boards

Key to this new roll out, ten new Create NSW Artform Assessment Boards will be convened to prepare recommendations for funding across artforms.

Minister Harwin explained: ‘These will be assessment boards but also advisory boards – they will advise the Government on the things their artforms needs, and also have a role in review processes. This will be absolutely key in helping me deliver this Ministry.’

What this means is that artform leaders can play an integral role not only in assessing annual grant rounds, but in advising Government on what their artform needs to flourish, according to the Minister.

The following Artform Assessment Boards will be established:

  • Aboriginal Arts and Culture Board
  • Classical Music Board (including Ensembles and Chamber Music)
  • Contemporary Music Board
  • Dance and Physical Theatre Board (including Ballet)
  • Opera, Musical Theatre and Chorus Board
  • Literature Board
  • Multi-arts and Festivals Board
  • Museums Board
  • Theatre Board
  • Visual Arts Board

‘I will choose Chairs, and the Chairs and I will select the artform members. There will be no fewer than six and no more than ten members on each Board,’ explained Harwin. ‘These Boards will provide strong direction, and importantly, will help to nurture and develop the extraordinary talent we have here in NSW.’

Harwin continued: ‘I met with a broad range of people before I decided to do this and asked them, “Is this the best way forward for you?”’

The Expressions of Interest (EOI) process starts immediately, and applications are open until 5pm, Friday 19 July 2019.

The Minister told ArtsHub that he is hoping to deliver an announcement of Board members within six weeks.  

How to submit your Expression of Interest to one of the Create NSW Artform Assessment Boards, visit Create NSW.

Board applicants need to demonstrate that they have specific artform knowledge, broad experience and ecology perspective. Diversity is a key consideration when selecting these Boards.

‘Large or small, I’m asking the sector to come forward to help us create inclusive artform-specific boards of leaders that, together with chairs from major NSW arts and cultural organisations, will head recommendations for funding,’ Harwin said.

Create NSW Executive Director, Elizabeth W Scott added: ‘While these new Boards will now reflect major State organisations, there is also a keen commitment that the panels reflect the diversity of artforms in total. For example, with visual arts, important stakeholders range from small to medium exhibition spaces, independent artist-led spaces, artists themselves through to commercial and major galleries and art museums. We will aim to have that diversity of perspective represented.’

Streamlining assessment

Minister Harwin today also unveiled simpler guidelines for its Arts and Cultural Funding Program, which reduces assessment criteria from 26 categories down to three key elements.

Those three criteria put simply are the what, the how and the why: Project Merit – what is the artistic excellence, the innovation proposed for funding in a project; Project Viability – how is it viable, financially and logistically; and Project Impact – why should it be funded, the cultural, organisational and audience impact the funding will have.

Create NSW told ArtsHub that it is not just about streamlining; it is about listening.

‘These changes are about making it less complicated to do business with the State. Rather than numerous strict hoops to jump through, applicants can self-select how that funding will have an impact. They tell us how they will deliver strong outcomes,’ explained Scott.

The new structure is designed to allow some nimbleness, both for the applicant, but also in decision making, so that funding decisions can align with Government priorities.

To make it simpler and easier to apply, Create NSW has consolidated the process into two open rounds per year which includes Project Funding, Creative Koori Projects and Annual Organisation Funding.

Funding limits for these categories have been removed, which means there is no upper limit to the amounts applicants can apply for.

Greater transparency on deadlines means secure planning timelines

One of the greatest wins in the funding program restructure will be a more transparent and clearly articulated timeline for application and delivery. In a first, Create NSW will publish long-lead notification dates for its funding rounds, allowing greater confidence for applicants to plan around employment, presentation dates and other funding resources in the event that they are successful.

‘Whether an application receives a grant or not, it is terribly important to have that security of knowledge to best plan,’ says Scott.

‘Any process for assessment is scrutinised, and the Minister welcomes that,’ continued Scott. ‘He has undertaken consultation to get advice on how to best implement the new Boards and to maximise what he hopes to achieve.’

Under the new approach, there will be two open rounds for Arts and Cultural Funding Program 2019/20:

Round One will open 5 August 2019 and close 2 September 2019 with notification of decisions on Friday, 6 December 2019, with the exception of touring (performing arts) projects, which will be notified on Friday, 31 October 2019.

All successful Round 1 projects can start from 31 January 2020.

Round Two will open 3 February 2020 and close 2 March 2020, with notifications delivered on Friday 19 June 2020.

All successful Round 2 projects can start after 1 August 2020.

For more information on Create NSW’s new Arts and Cultural Funding Program.

Detailed Multi-year Organisation Funding Guidelines will be released in August 2019 to give relevant organisations adequate notice to plan.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina