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Australia Council for the arts funding result

16/05/2016

Dear Umbrella members,

As you have probably heard, the results for the Australia Council four year funding round have been announced, and Umbrella is not one of the recipients. This is a disappointment, however, we are fast to remind ourselves, and you, that we will survive this cut. We would like to thank all of you that have called and emailed (and texted) to check in after the news, and I would like to assure you that it will take more than this to knock us down.

Sadly, there are many other organizations that may not be able to, and for this reason we should be angry, not at Australia Council, but the Australian Federal Government, who made these cuts in the first place. In a time that our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, largely thought of as an intelligent man sympathetic with the arts (he is married to Robert Hughes’ niece), has been talking the talk of innovation, but as we can see, there is little walking the walk. Turnbull is clearly bound by the rhetoric of the trio of politicians who made these cuts in the 2015 budget- former PM Tony Abbott, former Treasurer Joe Hockey and former arts minister George Brandis. Let’s just take a moment and remember that the 2015 budget was a political disaster that virtually ended their careers, and any shred of political credibility. But we are still dealing with their mistakes.

The list of successful Australia Council recipients reveals only four Visual Arts org recipients in Queensland, all of which are in Brisbane. The list of successful Catalyst recipients reveals only four orgs in all of Queensland, across all art forms. This clearly signals not only a prioritization of  the cities over the regional centers, but a general disdain for the State of Queensland.

While this is a difficult period of time to lose funding, remember that Umbrella is the proud recipient of funding from various other bodies, including Arts Queensland, and the Townsville City Council. In this way, it is fortunate that we have had to rely on different funding bodies, as we do not rely upon one funding stream, and thus, if one thread is cut, we can rely on others (to a point). These cuts will mean, however, that many other organizations such as ours may go under. I don’t want to make public the many conversations I have already had with organizations that will be working on a shoestring for the foreseeable future, or simply closing up shop, but you will hear sad stories of organizations that have been running for decades, organizations that have affected you personally, ceasing to exist. Arts Organizations going under will change the day to day operation of Umbrella in a very real way, as we all support each other. This means that organizations such as ours are expected to take on more work with less staff, and therefore report on worse and worse outcomes, and therefore risk future funding. In other words, the current federal arts strategy is to run it into the ground and blame it on mismanagement. Our friends at AFCM, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, KickArts and a variety of other local organizations and institutions have been denied Australia Council and/or Catalyst funding.

The cruel irony of this particular arts cut is that it is so easily dwarfed by massive boosts to spending in other areas, particularly the defense budget. In the 2015  budget, cutting the Australia Council budget last year by $100 million is bookended by defense increases of $450 million to the ambiguous ‘intelligence’, $131 to metadata retention, $22 million to ‘combat terrorist propaganda […] especially over the internet and social media’, and Increases of $75 million of defence infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan. Note, also, that these increases are on top of the existing $32+ billion defence budget (let us not forget the extra $50bn recently committed to French submarines).  Which seems to indicate that is wasn’t the cuts themselves to the arts budget that were important, but being seen to make these cuts. $100 million won’t build much military hardware, but it will create jobs, culture, tourism and activity nationwide. A small price to pay.

We can all do our part in changing this damaging mindset by demanding change of our federal government. The ALP has already vowed to restore all Australia Council funding if they are elected this year (which, sadly, has been largely overlooked in the media), and the LNP needs to be made to understand that, while this funding is small potatoes to the government, it makes a huge difference to us. The arts consistently generates between 2 and 4 billion dollars per year. For the $100m the government cut from Australia Council that this is a pretty good deal. It is time to say enough is enough. To fight this most recent attack on our vocation,  value your practice and charge for your services, just like a worker in any other industry. No more freebies, no more handouts. Stay informed. If somebody asks you to do something ‘for the exposure’, laugh in their face.

As you may know, I have written an open letter to Malcolm Turnbull, which was published in yesterday’s Townsville Bulletin (he was in Townsville yesterday, and actually visited the Bulletin, so hopefully he gave it a read). If anybody would like this, email me at director@umbrella.org.au and I will send you a PDF copy.

I have also spoken with our local member Mr Ewen Jones, as have many other arts organizations and institutions in Townsville, and he is taking our grievances to Canberra. Please take this opportunity to write to Mr Jones and voice your support for his actions. He is well aware of the importance of the arts in regional Queensland, and I am sure he and his staff would appreciate your support in this matter.

Other things that can be done are to support NAVA, who did not receive funding themselves, which is a big problem. NAVA is about the closest thing artists have to a union in this country, and they have fought tirelessly for our rights and provided a variety of resources for our sector. I know my own membership is overdue for renewal!

Remember to keep informed. ArtsHub have been writing very well-researched articles keeping up to date with all of these issues, as have the Guardian and Crikey- I strongly recommend you arming yourselves with the most up-to-date information. And, of course, don’t forget the budget itself, and the government’s own reportings on each sector, which, ironically, is our best ammunition. These cuts are self-sabotage for the economy, and for our livelihoods.

Dr Jonathan McBurnie
Director

  1. Thanks Jonathon, well said.