Last week’s budget announcements were predictably depressing for the arts industry. But if we can shake up traditional ways of thinking about arts funding, there could be a light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Nina Levy investigates.
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Unsurprisingly, last week’s Federal and West Australian State budgets didn’t provide much hope for the local arts industry.
In spite of the industry being one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Morrison Coalition Government’s 2020-21 Budget cut funding to 6 of 13 national arts agencies.
Though the Australia Council received a small increase, according to the Australia Council’s annual reports, income from government remains 1.5% or $3.153 million below 2014 figures, before the 2015 cuts instituted by former Coalition Arts Minister George Brandis.
Closer to home in WA, most of the State Budget’s arts funding measures had already been announced with August’s $76 million Recovery Package for arts and culture. As Chamber of Arts and Culture Western Australia (CACWA) executive director Shelagh Magadza pointed out in a letter to CACWA’s members, that package was dominated by investment in infrastructure, including a $30 million upgrade and investment for Perth Concert Hall and $15 million towards further upgrades and restoration work at His Majesty’s Theatre. Lotterywest’s COVID-19 Relief Fund package for arts has already provided $7.4 million and will continue to support the sector through 2020-21.
Lotterywest support has been a lifeline to many WA arts companies and organisations but Magadza expressed concern over the reliance of the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) on this income source. Currently the DLGSC receives a percentage of Lotterywest’s profits, so if Lotterywest’s revenue drops, so does funding for the arts in WA.
“The Chamber has long argued that this funding mechanism does not support a sustainable sector and undermines long term planning,” Magadza said.
“The Budget predicts a drop of over $3 million in the Department’s income for arts and culture this year, with similarly low predictions for the following two years. The implications of such a fall in income on the funds available to the sector via the DLGSC was alarming”, she said.
The solution, she suggested, is to stabilise funding for the arts by allocating money from the Government’s coffers, as occurs with other areas of government spending such as transport, education and health.
“The Government must act to stabilise funding with an allocation from consolidated revenue in future budgets,” Magadza said. It’s an issue that CACWA will be raising in the lead-up to next year’s State election.
And where will the dollars come from?
That solution could come from a massive shift in the way we think about the arts in relation to areas such as health. There has been a substantial increase in funding for mental health, for example, and that’s an area in which arts and science meet, Magadza said. She pointed out that although the mental health benefits of engagement with arts and culture have been repeatedly demonstrated by scientific research, currently there is no dedicated funding allocated to developing programs to reap these benefits.
“This is just one example of how the Government could be supporting employment outcomes for a sector that has been one of the hardest-hit by the COVID 19 pandemic.”
Creating such cross-sector collaboration would be a timely innovation, with attendance figures at cultural venues expected to be low in the budget period.
“We need to think beyond the short-term and start investing in the creative industries in a way that will bring long term benefits both to the economy of WA and the wellbeing of our community,” she concluded. “There is no doubt that this disruption will reshape our sector but within this there are huge opportunities to build a clearer, more purposeful vision for arts and culture in WA”.
Pictured top is His Majesty’s Theatre, which has received $15 million towards further upgrades and restoration. Photo: Robert Garvey