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Latest Australia Council funding announcements sees key organisations overlooked
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.
23rd March 2020 - LPA seeks targeted financial stimulus for live performance industry
17th March 2020 - LPA calls for $850 million live performance support and stimulus package
19th February 2020 - Alice Nash appointed as the Australia Council Executive Director of Arts Investment
18th February 2020 - Queensland performing arts celebrated at 2019 Matilda Awards
16th January 2020 - Health and wellbeing feature in latest Australia Council grants
19th December 2019 - Australia Council reveals new opportunities for contemporary music touring
21st November 2019 - Rebuilding of La Mama Theatre commences
25th October 2019 - Western Australian arts organisations secure significant funding
6th May 2019 - Theatre Network NSW considers options for its survival
29th April 2019 - La Mama Artistic Director Liz Jones to receive Sue Nattrass Award
12th February 2018 - Time to listen to young people in theatre
7th September 2017 - NAVA announces Esther Anatolitis as its next Executive Director
31st May 2016 - State Theatre of WA the new home of Barking Gecko
14th December 2015 - Australia Council steps away from supporting youth theatre
28th July 2015 - And the 2015 Helpmann Award goes to …
13th February 2015 - Australia Council announces dates for Australian Performing Arts Market 2016
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