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Policy gives arts a leg-up

Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean has unveiled a policy framework that underscores the economic and social impact of the cultural sector, aimed at lifting the federal government’s $740 million annual arts spending as part of the next budget round.

A government-private sector fund-matching scheme, and the integration of the arts and their funding across other portfolios, are also under consideration following the release of the national cultural policy discussion paper yesterday.

Billed as the first since Labor’s 1994 Creative Nation statement, the cultural policy was a 2010 election promise by then arts minister Peter Garrett. It covers all federally funded arts companies, film bodies, galleries and other cultural institutions.

Subsidiary reviews ranging from Harold Mitchell’s philanthropy review to the classification, curriculum and major performing arts company reviews come under its umbrella.

While it was too early to put a dollar figure on any package that might result, Mr Crean said he was “looking for a national cultural policy that has to have substance behind it”.

“Obviously this has to be considered in the budget cycle and we are facing tough fiscal conditions,” he said yesterday.

“I want a groundswell of understanding that this is an important opportunity for the nation because in terms of competing budgetary pressures, it’s the good initiatives with [economic and social] spin-offs down the track that will stand in their own right. Simply to say we want more money for the arts isn’t going to cut it.”

An inter-departmental committee (including the education, community services and industry and innovation departments) is understood to have worked on the policy, potentially easing its path.

Asked if increased funds might come from those portfolios, Mr Crean said: “This is about joining the dots better to understand the connectivity, let’s be creative about how the creative industries and other portfolios can be connected.”

As for the sort of government-private sector funds-matching scheme introduced in the United Kingdom, Mr Crean said he would wait of the Mitchell review. “What I am interested in is what mechanisms can help us lift funding for the arts,” he said.

Australian Major Performing Arts Group head Sue Donnelly welcomed the paper. “It means there’s not the policy vacuum as to where arts and culture sit in the government agenda that there has been in the past,” she said.

“It also points out that we are living in a prosperous society with a gross domestic product of just over $1 trillion, of which 0.074 per cent is spent on the arts federally.

“Given that it underlines the importance of creative industries to society and the economy, you’d hope it might increase to 0.01 per cent*.”

Mr Crean said: “What we have to demonstrate is why it’s important to find new ways … of resourcing our creative industries because they do return a dividend for the nation. They produce more empowered individuals, a better citizenry and underpin values that are about expression, tolerance, understanding. And a creative society is a more productive one.”

*Sue actually suggested 0.1 per cent of GDP

Brook Turner
12 August 2011
Australian Financial Review