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Federal Government to restore Australia Council funding?

Federal Government to restore Australia Council funding?
October 6, 2016

Federal Minister for the Arts Mitch Fifield is reportedely ready to restore most, if not all, the funding to the Australia Council for the Arts plundered by the previous Arts Minister Senator George Brandis.

The Daily Review has reported that Senator Fifield is working with other agencies and arts bodies to dismantle most of the effects of Senator Brandis’ funding grab in the 2015 Federal Budget which saw $104 million taken from the Australia Council to fund The National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).

The Daily Review reports that while Catalyst funding is apparently favoured with some arts bodies in Queensland (Senator Brandis’ home state) and Western Australia, the program might remain in name but its funds will be substantially wound back and reallocated to the Australia Council.

Senator Brandis’ NPEA, later rebranded as Catalyst by Senator Fifield after taking on the arts portfolio, saw funds allocated not by the Australia Council’s peer review process but by Ministerial whim.

Dubbed a ‘slush fund’ by opponents, controversial Catalyst projects saw $485,000 allocated to a Queensland art dealer to stage a show of indigenous art at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco while  $1 million was allocated for the purchase and maintenance of the Adelaide Hills home of landscape painter Hans Heysen, who died in 1968.

Meanwhile, with a reduced budget the Australia Council was forced to end funding for many small and medium-sized arts organisations.

Since his appointment as Arts Minister in September last year, Senator Fifield has attempted to mend fences with the arts sector, returning a third of the NPEA funds to the Australia Council as of November 2015.

However, the Daily Review suggests that “while the Brandis debacle has caused incalculable damage to many within the small to medium sector, it has ironically united many and compelled them to articulate the value and importance of the arts to this country.”

It would also appear that Arts Ministry staff have been ‘overwhelmed’ by the additional work required to oversee the Catalyst program.

Following the Daily Review’s story, the arts sector has cautiously welcomed the news.

In a joint statement, the seven-member Executive of ArtsPeak (the confederation of Australian national peak arts bodies) said their organisation strongly supported the return of Catalyst funds to the Australia Council.

A statement for ArtsPeak advised “we have consistently pushed for the return of these funds on the basis that the Australia Council is an expert granting agency which uses a peer assessment process, ensuring that funding decisions are made at arms-length from the Minister of the day.

“We have yet to hear confirmation from Minister Fifield’s office, but we are heartened that the Minister has been listening to artists and companies around the country, and has taken on board the sector’s concerns.

“Our assessment of the Catalyst grants shows that approximately 80% of them have gone to recipients who have also received Australia Council funding. This means that one of the key rationales for the introduction of a new fund - to increase contestability - is unrealised. We also know that the administration duplication, for applicants and for the Australia Council and the Ministry, is a major issue, and has not been resolved.

“We would welcome an announcement from the Minister’s office confirming the return of the funds to the Australia Council. If it is confirmed, we will be looking at the detail of the transition: what it will mean for current Catalyst recipients and applicants; what are the timelines; how much will be returned to the Australia Council.”

Images: The Australia Council ended funding of quarterly literary publication Meanjin earlier this year (top) and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield (below).

3rd May 2016 - GOVERNMENT’S CATALYST ARTS FUND MAKES ALLOCATIONS ON EVE OF FEDERAL BUDGET

20th November 2015 - FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RETHINKS ARTS FUNDING WITH CHANGES TO UNPOPULAR NPEA INITIATIVE

12th November 2015 - ARTS MINISTER MITCH FIFIELD LOOKS AT NPEA REVISION

2nd July 2015 - ARTS MINISTER BRANDIS TO HAVE FINAL SAY ON NATIONAL PROGRAM FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE ARTS FUNDING


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