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Business rejects art body merger
February 02, 2005
THE Australia Business Arts Foundation would lose its potency if it merged with the Australia Council, executive director Winsome McCaughey has warned.
Responding to a report in The Australian yesterday that the council has proposed taking over the foundation, Ms McCaughey said the proposal would receive little support from the business leaders who have signed on as AbaF councillors.
The Australia Council, the commonwealth's main grant-giving arts bureaucracy, proposed at its December board meeting that AbaF be brought under its umbrella, acting as a board of the council, with its executive director reporting to council chief executive Jennifer Bott.
'Our strength is that we're small, business-driven and highly responsive,' Ms McCaughey said. 'We're close to but not encumbered by the kind of government processes associated with the distribution of public funds.'
Set up by Paul Keating in 1995 and revamped by the Howard Government a few years later, AbaF's job is to foster greater private support of the arts - from companies and individuals, through sponsorship and philanthropy.
AbaF chair James Strong said the proposal had been rejected by the Government.
'It's a philosophical issue, the council is taking a broad organisational approach, but we think Abaf is very efficient and streamlined and that it is better to leave it that way,' he said.
'Every organisation will always have its critics, but we think we have a very clear track record for low-cost, efficient delivery of services.'
Australia Council chairman David Gonski said the proposal was a 'longer term' plan that had not yet been put to either AbaF or the Government. He rejected the suggestion that as an AbaF board member he had a conflict of interest in making the proposal.
'I am on the AbaF board representing the Australia Council, so there is no conflict for me,' he said.
A spokesman for Arts Minister Rod Kemp said the Government supported keeping AbaF and the council as separate organisations.
AbaF's West Australian manager Henry Boston said that being part of a grant-giving bureaucracy would hamper the organisation's ability to fulfill its brief.
Board changes irk artists
THE Australia Council's changes to funding for new media and community projects appear to be set in clay, if not in stone. But that hasn't stopped angry artists from raising their voices about the restructure.
At a public meeting in Sydney on Monday, about 150 artists and supporters turned up to vent their emotions and put the heat on Australia Council chief executive, Jennifer Bott.
The council announced its decision to scrap two arts funding boards, the New Media Arts Board and the Community Cultural Development Board - just before Christmas, critics say, so the changes would go unnoticed. They also suggest that political pressure from Canberra was behind the move, following official displeasure over a video game called Escape from Woomera, funded by the New Media Arts Board.
There are more compelling arguments. New media is a catch-all phrase embracing everything from video installations to experimental work with biological specimens, and Australians working in these fields are recognised internationally.
Artists say that scrapping the board that assesses and supports their work is a retrograde step.
Also, artists are....
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Jerril Rechte, Photo:Rebecca Hallas
Arts centre may close after shock cut in funding
By Rachel Wells
January 12, 2005
Jerril Rechter, director of the Footscray Community Arts Centre, says a crisis for the centre has been caused by a two-thirds cut in funding. She is seated in front of art work by Nursa Latif Qureshi and Jesus Macarena-Avila.
A community arts centre that has helped launch the careers of many artists from diverse ethnic backgrounds may be closed after a funding cut.
The Footscray Community Arts Centre has had its funding from the Australia Council cut by two-thirds. The centre's crisis comes despite assurances from the Australia Council's CEO, Jennifer Bott, that recent changes to the structure of the council would not affect local community arts programs.
Late last year, the Australia Council dissolved two of it's boards - the Community Cultural Development Board, which provides funding to the Footscray Community Arts Centre, and the New Media Arts Board.
In an opinion piece in The Age Ms Bott said: 'Despite the dissolution of two boards . . . we will continue to support the full range of activities and we will maintain our expertise and funding at present levels, with potential for greater funding.'
But the director of the Footscray Community Arts Centre, Jerril Rechter, yesterday said the changes were clearly not benefiting all community arts groups. 'We are a hand-to-mouth organisation as it is and to lose two-thirds of your funding really has serious implications for us and the local community,' she said. 'There is real potential for this place to go under.'
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January 10, 2005
Funding the arts in a world of rapid change
The Australia Council has adopted a new system of art support, writes Jennifer Bott.
Three decades ago, the chairman of the newly structured Australian Council for the Arts, Dr 'Nugget' Coombs, outlined his grand strategy, calling on the council to 'seek to ensure that, while the best is encouraged and those who produce it are given the greatest opportunity to achieve the highest quality of which they are capable, influences are (also) encouraged which run counter to the Establishment; that the new and experimental get effective opportunities'.
To many, these were lofty and even dangerous ideals, but Coombs' formula of quality, diversity and innovation set the pattern that the council, as Australia's main arts funding and advisory body, employs to this day. It was also a warning, from a leading public servant and great Australian, not to shy away from new ways of thinking.
Nugget Coombs was also a realist. He knew that publicly funded arts were ultimately reliant on proving their value to Australian taxpayers, and that the council needed to stay effective and relevant to contemporary needs. As we have seen recently, the challenge of finding that balance remains as great as ever.
Australians now spend $10 billion annually on arts goods; 85 per cent of Australian adults attend cultural events or performances; 78 per cent read for pleasure on most days; and close to 30 per cent of Australia's children are involved in after-school arts activities.
The environment for arts funding is especially dynamic and we need to build in the flexibility to change with it. There are increasing international opportunities for Australian arts; arts demand in our ageing population is growing rapidly; the arts are making inroads into areas as diverse as education, health and trade. All this builds a grid of new arts stakeholders whose needs must be considered by the Australia Council along with its more traditional areas of focus.
The arts develop qualities that are the building blocks of the new economies shaping the world. Demand for the arts is growing but, by and large, funding is not.
In 2004-05, the Australia Council has a budget of $147.5 million and employs 144 full-time equivalent staff. With these resources we handle about 5000 applications for funding every year; from these we make nearly 1900 grants. In a single year, about 40,000 art works are exhibited, performed or written with Australia Council support, including more than 7800 new Australian works. Our Major Performing Arts Board is the principal funder of 29 key companies, from Australia's symphony orchestras to the Bangarra Dance Theatre. Indigenous artists, overseas promotion and community engagement are also funding priorities.
We are faced with other financial pressures. Some Australian states are shifting their arts spending towards infrastructure projects, which results in more demand from artists and arts organisations for Australia Council grants; at the same time, partial indexation is reducing the value of our grants to artists and arts organisations in real terms. The slippage is continuous.
Six months ago the council embarked on a reform process to ensure its structure, processes and funds were being used to maximise impact and to drive arts innovation in this country. We believe the council can be more effective in meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse and complex arts sector. We also accepted that the council couldn't continue to fund more and more projects with smaller and smaller grants. That model helps no one and is ultimately self-defeating.
The proposals of the council's Future Planning Taskforce were endorsed by councillors last month and are now in the public arena. To reduce what is a substantial plan to the simplest terms, the taskforce model is designed to get the biggest impact possible for taxpayers' investment.
Under these changes, the Australia Council will have to be more than a central funding provider. It will drive improvements in the arts sector by building the capabilities of artists and arts organisations and looking for ways to increase support for the arts from all sources, both government and private. More organisational flexibility will make it an 'arts catalyst', able to target scarce resources to key areas such as arts in education, indigenous arts, and community initiatives.
The internal changes include enhanced leadership in our arts boards, increased investment in arts infrastructure, and the dissolution of two boards - the Community Cultural Development Board and the New Media Arts Board. In both these cases, we will continue to support the full range of activities and we will maintain our expertise and funding at present levels, with potential for greater funding. CCD practice remains one of our strengths and will be pursed with other arts activity in the community, and with youth and seniors, education and regional arts activities.
Not surprisingly, there are early critics of these plans; with so many stakeholders vying for relatively limited funds, there will unfortunately always be 'winners and losers' in the arts. We will incorporate any constructive views into our thinking in the coming months. We also accept that resistance to change is perennial: as with any organisation, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. But not to examine our role and structures in a rapidly changing environment would be irresponsible.
The Australia Council's last major internal review, in 1996, established an Audience and Market Development division that made great gains for Australian arts at home and overseas.
Nugget Coombs knew the arts were vital to Australia's future. They develop qualities - diversity, adaptability, an outward-looking mentality, risk taking and team playing, and innovation - that are the building blocks of the new economies shaping the world. The changes we're planning will ensure the council continues to play a central role in building Australia's unique cultural identity, and a wider embrace of the arts.
Jennifer Bott is CEO of the Australia Council.
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