Having sat and chatted with a number of senior colleagues working in the Govt and the Australia Council for the Arts, I thought I’d share my confusion.

The Australia Office For The Arts (OFTA) is a department of the Australian Government. It’s been setup by all of us – tax payers – to help maintain and direct a shared value of ART.

On 25 March 2013 the Prime Minister announced Tony Burke, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities will become Minister for the Arts in addition to his existing responsibilities.

“Here’s some money, go sort out that Art stuff.”
– Typical Aussie tax payer.

Do we want centralised management of culture? Would things be better if we took care of ‘culture’ on a street level basis ourselves? Is this even an issue for the average Australian? Do we care about Art?

To add to the confusion and bureaucracy, there is another government advisory body setup to deliver more than $160 million in funding – The Australia Council for the Arts. This organisation employs 120 full-time staff located in Sydney, they try to figure out where best to spend the cash.

What have you (OFTA) done for me lately?
This year OFTA have launched a new and improved Creative Australia – National Cultural Policy. I hear it’s a big step forward, it’s been over 20 yrs since we last did this. I can’t help but be skeptical. All I see is top down assumptions about ‘cultural value’ and big name progressive ‘partnerships’ to ensure ‘sustainability’.

To focus in on music. The average salary for Australian musicians is $7000. We currently have a measly 13,000 full time musicians employed across the country. These numbers and ideas don’t seem to stack up. I’m yet to read the full policy from start to finish. The big question I have is, if not artists, who is getting paid?

Our new policy addresses 5 key issues; Recognition, Money, Power and Direction, Implementation and Sustainability. Announced by (previous) Arts Minister Simon Crean after 2012 Budget, the funding includes $39.3 million over four years to expand the capacity of the national collecting institutions to open their programs and collections to even more people through online access, $12.8 million to bring the filming of The Wolverine to Australia and $3 million to boost contemporary music initiatives.

“Funding of $9.3 million will be allocated to six Major Performing Arts companies: Bangarra Dance Theatre (NSW); Belvoir (NSW); Black Swan State Theatre Company (WA); Malthouse Theatre (Vic); Circus Oz (Vic); and West Australian Ballet (WA), to ensure they continue to tell innovative and uniquely Australian stories.”
– Innovative Australian stories and content in digital and emerging platforms (Action Point 3).

These numbers are confusing. This is how I summaries things. We as a nation cast a vote to elect leaders who then spend lots of money on agreed Arts projects. We hand over 150 million dollars every year to Tony Burke so he can dish it out to Arts organisations.

“25% of Australians are highly interested in experiencing Bangarra.”
– Bangarra research.

The average Australian pays approx ~$20k in tax each year. Some of that money is redirected by The Office for the Arts and The Council for the Arts into certain projects. At least $1 million of that is allocated to Bangarra Dance Theatre so that tourists can come visit and see indigenous Australian’s dance in the Opera House. We too can go see them perform at ~$90 a ticket. Wait, didn’t we already pay something?

The elephant in the room is, of course, the possibility of a change of government in September. The Opposition has been noticeably silent on Creative Australia.

Given this environment, the very real support the creative sector is giving this policy is tempered by a deep skepticism about whether they have waited 20 years for a policy that will be consigned to the history books within a matter of months.

The sector is looking to the Office for the Arts and the Australia Council to do their best to drive implementation whatever the political environment.
– Deborah Stone. Arts Hub.

At least we can all agree on one thing. Music is the highest form of art, right?

The government is off gallivanting around with large sums of cash trying to do its best. Good for them. We elected them so, I guess that’s what we deserve. I’m excited about an alternative approach. A new wing of arts funding and opportunity. A grass roots independently funded decentralised system where locals support relevant music. I hope Musomap can us help make that a force to be reckoned with.