Sunday, 31 August 2008

Arts NSW new funding program now released

NSW artists and arts organisations will be greatly relieved to know that Arts NSW's long-awaited new arts funding program guidelines for 2009 have finally been released, details here.

For those who haven't been following the extended saga of the Arts NSW funding policy changes, there was a grants review initiated by Arts NSW themselves in late 2007, with some 49 arts organisations contributing submissions to the report's writers. The report was publicly available in early 2008 (but seemed to disappear off the website in July), but didn't exactly have much attention drawn to it by the State Government. There have been great problems with the way the arts are supported in NSW, and the report of the Cultural Grants Review provided some clear answers to some of them.

The most significant recommendations of the Review were:

- to establish a ticketing company to operate on a cost recovery basis and stop so much arts funding being siphoned off to commercial ticketing agents that theatre artists in particular are almost always forced to do. (the report cites the example of the Sydney Writers Festival paying $70,000 of its box office income of $500,000 to a ticketing agent in 2007).

- to devolve funds to the Regional arts development boards so that funds for regional arts can be better allocated

- to expand the number of companies funded on a multi-year basis (eg. triennially), and to provide a clear pathway for entry to this category (an 'emerging key orgainsations' idea that aligns neatly with the Australia Council's 'Make it New' policy shift for 2008)

- to rethink the purpose of project grants. This will be the most contentious, as it'll make it even harder for newer artist teams and individuals to be funded by Arts NSW. However, the report's logic is that part of the increase in the number of multi-year funded companies will be to require them to support some of these sorts of activities, which to me makes much more sense that forcing a bunch of small companies to vigorously compete for tiny scraps of grants which are insufficient in size to actually make the projects work anyway. Anyone who's been funded by Arts NSW on a project grant that was 20% less than you asked for (a regular feature of the last five years) knows exactly what I mean. This will be painful, but I believe that its necessary.

- to enable artform managers to engage more in strategic planning and less in grant admin. This seems unbelievably obvious, and I don't know why we needed a review to tell us this.

There was more, including developing an Indigenous arts policy (unbelievably, this was absent), and developing stronger links with existing policies in the ares of education, innovation, and heritage. Its not a long read, but a fascinating one.

Many of us in the arts have been eagerly waiting for some indication from the state government as to which of the report's recommendations might be acted upon, and what implications this might have for the sector. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the absence of any sense of how things might change, for better or worse, has caused a large degree of anxiety amongst artists and companies. Six months after the release of the Cultural Grants Review, all that happened was vague promises that an interim grants structure for 2009 would be announced by the end of June. Then July passed, and August passed, and many of us turned blue from holding our breaths. Now we might yet be able to return some colour to our cheeks, and get on with the business of making art. Applications for the new arts grants program are due to Arts NSW on October 10.

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