Submissions Condemn Arts Funding Cuts
23 July 2015 at 11:27 am
The Australian arts community has roundly condemned the Federal Government in submissions to a Senate inquiry on the impact of Budget cuts to arts funding.
The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry is investigating the suitability and appropriateness of establishing a National Program for Excellence in the Arts, to be administered by the Ministry for the Arts Senator George Brandis.
In May, Senator Brandis announced the diversion of more than $104 million from the Australia Council for the Arts – which funds artists and arts organisations through an independent, peer review process – to a new National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) fund administered by his Ministry.
In addition, the Australia Council was ordered to find efficiency savings of $7.3 million this financial year. The 2014 Budget had previously made cuts of $28.3 million over four years.
Associate Professor Les Blakebrough AM, from the Tasmanian School of Art in Hobart, said in a submission to the inquiry that the new program initiative proposed by Senator Brandis is on the basis that the Minister believes the Australia Council has been reduced to a funding body for “mediocrity”.
“As a consequence, Senator Brandis has decided to withdraw a substantial portion of its funds and establish an alternative body that will be directed from his ministry,” Associate Professor Blakebrough said in his submission.
“The characterisation of ‘mediocrity’ also implies an allegation of either corruption or incompetence. However, no evidence has been presented. I find this unprofessional and demeaning.
“I have had the opportunity to work in the arts sector for my whole career. In my direct experience the professionalism of the Australia Council has never been in doubt and I cannot see any justification for this allegation. It should be withdrawn and an apology issued.
“The alternative to be set up by the Minister appears open to political pressure and ensures a biased appraisal of its determinations. It appears far from a balanced view and cannot inspire confidence.”
Professor Nikos Papastergiadis, the Director of the Research Unit in Public Cultures at the University of Melbourne, said in his submission that he rejected the smears that have been launched against the Australia Council.
“I am appalled by the disregard of the existing mechanisms for artistic evaluation and cultural production, and I am unable to see the value of creating an alternate stream of funding, I therefore strongly oppose the introduction of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts,” Professor Papastergiadis said.
Monika McInerney from Community Cultural Development (CCD) said a move towards a dictatorial approach can only eliminate the arts sector’s capacity to flourish and participate in the local let alone world market place.
“This extraordinary act of ill-considered arrogance on the part of the George Brandis clearly demonstrates his utter absence of understanding or appreciation how the arts sector contributes to the vitality or vibrancy of the Australian way of life,” McInerney’s submission said.
“It is indeed a worry that such an individual would be charged with the establishment of his ‘National Program of Excellence in the Arts’ when he demonstrates such a high level of ignorance as to how the sector operates, generates work, let alone now to determine what excellence is.
“Australia celebrates the sector it has due to its past investment into our small/medium arts organisations; its’ young, emerging and established artists alongside the well-established larger companies.
“The Australia Council through its peer process of assessment has been instrumental in supporting the realisation of many creative initiatives, collaborations, programs; opportunities and enabled the generation of new work across Australia. It has always provided a healthy competitive environment, but it has always provided a well-informed panel of peers to make those decisions. It has not been driven by personal agenda or taste.”
The inquiry website shows 105 submissions have been published however it has been reported that there are more than 2000 submissions, including a submission from donor peak body Philanthropy Australia.
The Chair of inquiry is former Palmer Party and now independent Senator Glenn Lazarus. The inquiry is due to report to Parliament by September 15, 2015.