Australia Council criticised for refusing four-year funding to arts organisations

$31.7million will be shared among 144 organisations in 2021

Multiple arts organisations and commentators have expressed their disappointment over the weekend, following Australia Council’s decision to not renew four-year funding to a number of reputable organisations amid financial uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

On April 3, the arts funding body released the list of 95 organisations that would benefit from its four-year funding program between 2021 and 2024. These groups will receive up to $500,000 a year, with the first year offered at a reduced level in order to fund more organisations. Successful music groups include MusicNT, Skinnyfish Music and QMusic – the organisation behind the annual BIGSOUND conference. The full list can be found here.

The Australia Council also shared a list of 49 organisations that are receiving funding between 2017 and 2020, but failed to renew their four-year funding up until 2024. Notable names on this list include Sydney Writers Festival, La Mama Theatre, Electronic Music Conference and the Australian Theatre for Young People. Instead, these organisations will receive a year of funding in 2021 at a reduced level in order to soften the blow and help them plan for the future. Altogether, $31.7million will be shared among the 144 organisations in 2021.

Advertisement

Many of the organisations that missed out on funding on April 3 were previously invited to apply for four-year funding through an expression of interest round. In a statement, Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette said arts organisations who missed out on four-year funding should apply for the federal government’s new JobKeeper scheme if they’re eligible to do so.

“In the light of COVID-19, it has been essential to revise this round of Four Year Funding to provide support for the greatest possible number of small to medium arts organisations,” Collette said.

The government’s lack of direct action to bail out the arts industry has been criticised in press statements and publications over the past three days. Taking to Guardian Australia today (April 6), arts journalist Ben Eltham wrote the government does have the power to fund the arts more, but it suffers from a “failure of imagination”.

“The coronavirus outbreak has heralded wrenching changes to all sectors of our economy. But with the possible exception of aviation, no sector has fared worse than culture,” he said.

“COVID-19 is an opportunity to ask ourselves as a nation why we take our artists and cultural organisations for granted. Why, even in an emergency, can’t we find the money to fund a couple of hundred of the most important arts organisations in the country properly?”

La Mama Theatre, one of the organisations that failed to renew their four-year funding, said they were previously advised they were in the top 30 per cent of applications following the 2019 expression of interest process. The organisation has been around for five decades and often acts as an incubator for young theatre-makers.

Advertisement

“La Mama received no warning that our funding was under threat – indeed, we believe we were over-delivering in terms of our obligations to the Australian arts community and as regards the taxpayer-funded support we have previously received from the Australia Council,” a statement from the theatre read.

“We fear that cutting the funding of a company whose sole aim is to ‘to remove financial barriers for artists in order to foster, nurture and facilitate the creation of new Australian work’ may be a grave error of judgement, provoking a ripple that will be felt well beyond the walls of La Mama.”

Other organisations who have spoken up about missing out on four-year funding include Perth’s Blue Room Theatre and Melbourne’s Polyglot Theatre.

Changes to the four-year funding program were forewarned late last month. On March 31, the Australia Council established a $5million Resilience Fund to support artists and organisations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Advertisement
Advertisement