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Australia Council: some observations

Page history last edited by Alison Croggon 16 years, 1 month ago

Some Observations


Over the past 5-10 years, the Australia Council for the Arts seems to have shifted its strategic position from that of the Federal Arts Funding body to the Federal Arts Advocacy body. 


To an outside observer, this has felt like a submission to an inability to unlock increased federal funds to appropriately support the sector.  (NB: The funding increase last year (prior to the election) was very welcome and was a testament to the persistence of many who have lobbied for this result.)

The shift from funding body to advocate has been evidenced by:


- comments by the former CEO, Jennifer Bott, that Ozco should not be viewed as an ATM during the restructure forums of 2005;

- increasing emphasis on training and advocacy programs that range from audience development, marketing initiatives and international touring ‘showcases’;

- development of Art Support.


From the sector, it sometimes feels that these initiatives lack a strategic and structural overview.


This is evidenced by a review of the organisational structure:


ARTS DEVELOPMENT – which features 6 art form board and the interarts office, which was previously the New Media Board.  How these Boards distribute funds is a fascinating discussion and one that should take place regularly.  The Theatre Board’s recent Make It New Proposal has triggered some interesting discussion in the sector which has been exciting to participate in and observe.


Arts Development has a Key Organisations office, which looks at the sector from a size/status perspective akin to the Major Performing Arts Board, in which case why does it not have the same status?


ATSIA – which looks at Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island arts forms.  Is this not arts development? 


COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS – this amalgamates community arts practise and projects with audience development, marketing and international initiatives. 

Community Arts was once recognised as a practise in its own right and seen as art form development, art form development that often prioritised the social inclusion areas listed: youth, disability, education and regional development. 


The program guideline for the six year funding agreements offered by community partnerships appears to prioritise strategic social change objectives over artistic ones – if the federal arts advocacy body is no longer investing in and advocating for artistic objectives than who is? 

My interest in community arts comes from an interest in the art produced in these exchanges.  I also believe that art can be a valuable tool for social change in disadvantaged communities but this is a different practise.  Both are equally valuable.  I would simply argue that the Federal Arts Funding Body should prioritise the artistic outcomes first.


MAJOR PERFORMING ARTS BOARD – a separate section for multi-artform companies with large turnovers that meet a criteria as international, national, state or special significance.  This offers a view of the sector from a size point of view.  How does this relate to ARTS DEVELOPMENT and KEY ORGANISATIONS?

ARTS SUPPORT – recently established to support philanthropic giving and receiving.  Arts Support has its own tax deductible donations fund and seeks its own sponsors – is it now in competition to the sector for these funds?


There are two resource areas:





Although, you could include OPERATIONS here which currently sits under ARTS DEVELOPMENT.


The point I am making here is that the organisational structure doesn’t make sense from an outside view – there is no obvious rationale for ARTS DEVELOPMENT categories vs say MAJOR PERFORMING ARTS BOARD.  I would argue for 3 key areas:


– ARTS DEVELOPMENT which is about practise and getting money to the sector for art via artform boards/committees/offices (whatever you want to call them) and here I would include ATSIA, community arts practise, interarts/new media, MPAB and Key Organisations;


- Arts Support for audience development, marketing, special initiatives (like the international showcases) and cross-government strategic negotiations;

- OPERATIONAL / RESOURCES – operations, governance, government, etc.


I point this out only because I believe that:


- OZCO is vital to the arts in Australia – it must be valued and valuable; 


- OZCO’s core responsibility is funding the arts.  Artists and arts workers are skilled advocates for their work.  Whilst they have expertise, by and large they do not have resources (usually financial) to make work.  It’s Ozco’s ability to get financial resources from government to the sector in a transparent way that makes it most valuable to the arts in Australia.  If you accept that art is a public good, then the OzCo is the mechanism for distributing funds.  This is its primary role.


- I think that ARMS LENGTH, PEER ASSESSMENT should be protected as a CORNER-STONE OF ALL FEDERAL ARTS FUNDING in Australia.


- all arts funding should go through the Australia Council for the Arts (as opposed to the previous government’s habit of putting funding initiatives through DIMA or DOCITA where it was difficult to access information about applications and decision-making processes, eg regional festivals initiative);


- Minister’s discretionary decision-making on arts funding that is then managed by DOCITA or pushed through OZCO should have to be made public;


- Whilst many of Australia Council’s advocacy initiatives have been very successful (eg international touring initiatives seem to have stimulated significant activity across the entire depth of the sector) these should be undertaken as support to making work, not instead of making work.  For example, the 2006 marketing seminars for key organisations included discussions (ticketing and databases) beyond the resources of many of the companies attending.  Attendees seemed to feel the opportunity to connect with other organisations was the most useful aspect – this is often the informal feedback re these training sessions/forums.


I am not interested in discussions regarding the salaries of OZCO staff.  I believe they should be paid appropriately for their expertise.  I also believe that artists should be paid appropriately.


I do think it would be interesting to review the tiers of management at OZCO if funding the arts was placed as the central role of the organisation.




Arts & education has been a key area of discussion at levels of government for the past decade, yet few practical initiatives have been established to assist artists to work in schools in a meaningful way.  Those projects that do happen are usually initiated by artists and supportive schools/teachers at a grass roots level. 


Two projects I have been involved with which were down to the dedication of artists and schools were Stand Your Ground (2001, 2002, 2003) PACT Theatre, Sydney, and COME HOME, (2007) Townsville QLD.  During both projects, we were advised to be careful about how we structured funding proposals as arts bodies wouldn’t pay for educational outcomes and education would not fund artistic outcomes.  Yet the opportunity for collaboration to achieve interesting

outcomes on both is vital.


In Queensland, Arts and Education are the same department, under the same minister, though this doesn’t seem to have translated into strategic initiatives in this area as yet.  Arts Victoria’s Artists in Schools program is a strong, pragmatic approach to these collaborations.


The UK’s Creative Partnerships program has spawned some really exciting collaborations between artists and schools across syllabus and social skilling areas.  It represents a serious investment by the UK government.  It has resulted in programs such as the Room 13 Project which has been quite exciting.







ABAF’s most essential functions are:


-    receiving donations on behalf of individuals and small companies without DGR status

-    board bank


I would be interested to know if the sector (small & large) believes that it has been successful in its core objectives of promoting business and arts links.  Have these links increased due to ABAF activity or are they just marketed better?




A range of performance projects are now being developed with writers and directors in a creative development with performers who generate material from the floor.  The traditional job descriptions of writer, director, actor, morph on these projects.  As this increasingly becomes a practise, the sector needs to condiser how it values the contributions of performers in this process.  Should performers be offered a royalty from these processes like writers and directors, should they be offered first right of refusal if the project makes it to presentation? 


Increasingly, this will become an issue for performers who are often at the bottom of the food chain in the arts. 


Lucy Evans

Accountant, Arts Manager & Producer.


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