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Latest Australia Council funding announcements sees key organisations overlooked

Latest Australia Council funding announcements sees key organisations overlooked
April 3, 2020

The Australia Council's latest funding announcement has seen companies and events including Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre and the Sydney Writers' Festival lose out on financial backing.

With the sector already impacted by shutdowns due to the Coronavirus, 49 arts companies will lose out on Federal funding – a move that is likely to have a significant impact on their operations, with some potentially forced to cease operations.

Theatre Network Australia Executive Director Nicole Beyer said the sector was "devastated and shocked so many companies have lost funding".

Beyer told the ABC “this has happened because the Australia Council's funding has been frozen since 2013 - in fact it's been chipped away at by about $6 million a year.”

Beyer said the loss of key funding would result in the closure of some smaller companies, while larger organisations would need to scale back their activities, cancel some programs or make up the money from elsewhere, adding “the problem is, with the impact of COVID-19 as well, there's nowhere for them to get extra funding from.”

Those missing out include La Mama, the tiny 53-year-old company recognised as the birthplace of Australian theatre, high-profile troupes for young people including the St Martins and Polyglot theatres in Melbourne and the Barking Gecko in Perth.

Sydney's Australian Theatre for Young People, which counts Nicole Kidman, Baz Luhrmann and Rebel Wilson among its alumni also failed to secure funding, as did the Sydney Writers' Festival and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Australia Council funding is awarded every four years via a competitive application process, and organisations must reapply at the end of the funding cycle. The Federal Government arts funding agency had flagged these cuts last year, when, faced with limited funding, it decided to fund fewer companies, but give them more money.

95 organisations, including Indigenous companies Ilbijerri and Yirra Yaakin, were successful in securing funding and will receive up to $500,000 a year for four years from 2021.

La Mama Chairman Richard Watts said it was the second blow for the theatre company in a year and a half, after its theatre was burned down by an electrical fire.

La Mama relies on the Australia Council for a significant proportion of its funding, but Watts said the loss would not spell the end of the company, which has at different times been home to artists including Cate Blanchett, Jack Hibberd, Graeme Blundell, Judith Lucy and Julia Zemiro.

In recent days the Australia Council has attempted to ease the pain of the almost-complete shutdown of the performing and visual arts sectors.

It redirected $5 million in funding towards a Resilience Fund immediately accessible to the sector, and it delayed the announcement of the four-year funding by a week while it sought to soften the blow.

It has done that by continuing some funding for an extra year, until 2022.

That means the 49 companies whose funding will ultimately be discontinued will receive a lifeline, in the form of a smaller amount of funding, for 2021.

The Australia Council funded this stop-gap with an additional $4 million saved from other activities and by asking the successful companies to absorb a 30% reduction in their grant for 2021.

Advising that arts organisations needed their funding boosted rather than cut, National Association for Visual Arts Executive Director, Esther Anatolitis stated “despite unprecedented whole-of-industry collaboration in outlining urgent needs for stimulus to prevent industry collapse, I am deeply concerned that those specific needs are not understood.”

"At this perilous time we should be increasing funding for the organisations that power the industry, not undermining their capacities."

Explaining that the arts had been dealt a particularly bad blow with the COVID-19 shut down, and they one-year stop-gap funding was an acknowledgement of that, Australia Council Chief Executive, Adrian Collette commented “we were working with the Government on a package that might have meant more for four-year funding, but in these circumstances (COVID-19) that was a conversation that really did get overwhelmed."

Acknowledging that some companies would struggle to continue, Collette added “there will certainly be some (companies) that will face insolvency and they're the ones we really have to focus on during the next three months or so.”

Images: The architect's concept for the rebuilding of Melbourne's La Mama theatre (top) and the Australian Theatre for Young People (below).

Article amended 9th April 2020, to remove a reference to Melbourne's Wheeler Centre for Books and Writing.

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