Open Letter to Ministers regarding the state of the Australian independent arts sector
Dear IETM Friends,
This Friday October 11th, there will be a meeting of Federal, State and Territory Ministers for the Arts in Australia. They will decide whether to endorse a revised version of a 20-year old Framework that ring-fences funding for 29 major performing arts organisations. Whilst it may allow for the elevation of one or two small-medium companies, it largely protects most of these 29 companies from sector-wide competition. And it is likley that it will take another 20 years until the enxt review. In my experience, many of the issues that we face in this respect in Australia resonate with our European colleagues.
This Open Letter will be published in the public domain this Thursday October 10th, the day before this Meeting of Cultural Ministers, the mechanism which decides whether or not to accept the revised Framework. If you would like to support your colleagues in Australia, please log in here
If technical glitches obstruct you from doing so, feel free to email me and I will add your name to the list:
with your name, occupation and country.
FYI, we have been overwhelmed by the national support from the community. After 48 hours we have received and moderated over 400 signatures and counting.
I have attached a copy of the Open Letter as a pdf.
Many thanks for your support
Open Letter to the Federal, State and Territory Ministers for the Arts in Australia.
We write to you as independent Australian artists and arts workers across all art-forms with an urgent request to withhold your endorsement of the revised MPA Framework at your Meeting of Cultural Ministers on Friday October 11th as a first step to dismantling the Framework altogether.
We urge you respectfully to consider our request in the context of these arguments regarding sector diversity, financial inequity, economic investment and sustainability.
Diversity – The Australia Council is bound by its legislation to reflect diversity in its vision, processes and priorities, identified as: First Nations Peoples; children and young people; older people; people with disability; regional and remote Australia. Of the 29 MPAs, only one is a First Nations company. None are led by or cater specifically to people with disability or young people. Nor are any located in, or orient their core work to, regional and remote Australia. Only three have female artistic leaders, and less than 10% of artistic directors come from culturally diverse backgrounds. These priorities are almost exclusively met by the independent and small-medium sector.
Inequity – The small-medium and independent sector attracts double the total audience of the MPAs (6.87 million as against 3.37 million in 2014). It also undertakes the vast bulk of national touring and 82% of international touring. In 2017-2018, it received 16% of the Australia Council’s grants budget which is around one quarter of the funds received by the MPAs.
Economic investment – Economic data, tabled at the 2015 Senate Inquiry into the Arts, proved MPAs collectively received a subsidy of $31.50 per audience member whereas the small-to-medium and independent sector receives a subsidy of $3.36 per audience member. This means that the MPAs receive nine times the subsidy of the small-to-medium and independent sector which receives around a quarter of their funding but delivers twice the audience numbers.
Sustainability – Direct funding for individual artists in Australia fell by a third in the twenty years to 2010. By 2016, the number of Australia Council grants to individual artists and projects had decreased 70% on the previous two years. The Australia Council’s own research has tracked reductions in artist-populations and the ever-increasing precarity of the artist’s life.
Across all measures, the independent and small-medium sector is the lifeblood of the national arts ecology. This sector on which Australian culture depends for its productivity, efficiency and international reputation is on the verge of collapse.
The MPA Framework is a roadblock to Australian culture’s growth and survival. Currently, MPA funding constitutes 59% of Australia Council grants, a proportion that is ‘ring-fenced’. The direct consequence of this is severely diminished discretionary funds available to independent artists.
We fully support any increase to the Australia Council’s budget and specifically the targeted increase recommended by Theatre Network Australia to the small-medium and independent sector, but our immediate concern is the fairer distribution of current funding across the sector in a genuinely competitive manner.
We firmly believe that without this significant, structural change involving the MPA Framework, the small-medium and independent sector will collapse precipitating a crisis in the national arts ecology.