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Consultation suggests closer scrutiny of Major Performing Arts Framework funding

Consultation suggests closer scrutiny of Major Performing Arts Framework funding
October 16, 2018

A consultation paper from the Federal Department of Communication and the Arts has suggested that funding to major performing arts companies should be under contracts reviewed every four years rather than on an ongoing basis.

Suggesting the biggest shake-up to the Federal Government's $175 million performing arts budget since the aborted Catalyst program, the newly released consultation paper on potential enhancements to the Major Performing Arts (MPA) Framework closely coincides with the announcement of the appointment of a new Chief Executive at the Australia Council for the Arts.

Currently 28 major performing arts companies (MPAs) - in dance, theatre, circus, opera and orchestral and chamber music - receive 62% of Federal performing arts funding and the major share of state funding.

The consultation paper, produced after meetings with the MPAs and a public survey that garnered 8026 responses, applauded the MPA framework for the "certainty and stability" it gave its beneficiary companies.

This allowed them to take calculated risks and make long-term investments, which appear to have paid off at the box office, with the 28 companies achieving record combined turnover of $582.6 million in 2017, a compound annual growth rate of 5% over the past five years, even if their total employment has been static at around 10,000 over that time.

With their ranks barely changed since the MPA framework was introduced in 2001, and with 590 other performing arts companies fighting for just $53 million of one-off Australia Council grants in 2016/17, the consultation paper suggests guaranteeing funding only for contracted periods before reassessment is inevitable.

Commenting on the consultation, new Australia Council Chief Executive Adrian Collette, a former head of the biggest performing arts company of them all, Opera Australia, told the Australian Financial Review "I can understand how the MPAs appear to the rest of the sector as a closed shop."

Collette, who since leaving Opera Australia in 2013 has been Vice-Principal of Engagement at University of Melbourne, a role which oversees its museums, galleries and arts sector partnerships, added "I've got great respect for what the MPAs do, but the framework (is) nearly 20 years old and it's become rigid. We need to look more dynamically at how MPAs relate to the rest of the industry."

The consultation suggests that public want the MPA Framework strengthened to increase diversity on stage and in leadership, to make the companies more accessible and their shows more affordable, and for a broader range of repertoire with more Australian works, a summary of their survey responses in the consultation paper reveals.

While six symphony orchestras and four opera companies are guaranteed funding under the framework, there is no representation of electronic music or, as Australia Council Chairman Sam Walsh has recently highlight, emerging forms of immersive digital arts.

Collette suggests that one of the solutions to the art sector's problems would be nore Federal funding for the MPA pool.

However, with this not having been revised since 2008 Collette suggests that the Australia Council had to "keep getting better at making the case.”

Collette added “we have to get on the front foot and promote the arts as one of the most powerful engines for social cohesion we have, at a time where we're facing all sorts of challenges of diversity.”

Feedback from the arts sector to the consultation paper is now being sought, with the Australia Council will submit recommendations to a future meeting of federal and state cultural ministers.

Collette starts at the Australia Council in January.

Submissions on the consultation close at 5pm on Monday 26th November.

Click here for more information.

Image: Opera Australia's 2017 production of the Marriage of Figaro.

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18th March 2017 - Federal Government abolishes Catalyst arts fund: restores funds to Australia Council

25th October 2016 - Review of Australian Opera warns against use of Government funds for ‘commercial activities’

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22nd March 2016 - Peak cultural body calls on Prime Minister Turnbull to reverse arts funding cuts

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