These are depressing days for the arts and cultural sector in Australia, despite the commitment to greater access, participation and diversity in the political party's manifestos.
The current federal Coalition government's strategy is to officially reduce the deficit and this is being pursued primarily through reductions in public expenditure. It is strangling Australia's creative industries with 'austerity' style spending cuts, without having any clear funding strategy for the sector's long term future. There is a marked failure to think long term and a failure to invest in our public spaces and cultural education. Instead there is a hostile political environment that expresses a deep contempt for the knowledge industries (including the sciences).
The Australia Council, our principal arts funding body, has just defunded about 65 art organisations across the nation. The reason is that it was not given enough money in the Coalition's Federal Budget 2016 for the Australia Council to properly achieve its mission of enabling a culturally ambitious nation and a richer and more meaningful life for Australians. The decline in the number of organisations funded is a result of the loss of $300 million in public investment in the arts sector since 2013.
So the National Association for the Visual Arts, the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Melbourne), the Australian Centre for Photography (Sydney), the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) and the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF), which is based in Adelaide, have all been defunded. Now there was a restructuring designed to bring new blood into the funding system --eg., 17 organisations working in Indigenous arts have emerged with new, long-term support---and this meant that the status quo was rejected apart from protecting the small coterie of large performing arts companies.
However, the Coalition cuts funding to thriving small to medium arts organisations and to individual artists-and projects (a reduction in funding to both in the order of 70%) to create a space for new art organisations. That is a savage decline in the funding to individual writers and visual artists who mostly work alone by the Coalition is a hacking into the grassroots provision (seed-beds of start-ups necessary for the generation of “innovation” ), which leads to the discovery and nurturing of talent and expressive ability. This hacking into those who make the art and write the books is more than the belt-tightening or "efficiency dividends" of austerity politics.
An indication of this 'more than' is that though the economic impact of the creative industries (around $50 billion per annum for an investment $7 billion), there is the deep reluctance by the political elite (Labor and Liberal) to provide more reasonable support arts and culture. There Coaltiion's slashing the funding to the small to medium sector and individual artists runs counter to its political rhetoric about an innovative, clever nation, an 'ideas boom', or their vision of Australia's ‘future built on innovation’, ‘agility’, and ‘excitement’.
The implication is that our political elite do not accept that the arts and culture are the great engines of creative thinking, nor can they help to transition and invigorate our economy after the collapse of the mining boom.