marcus westbury

my life. on the internets.

marcus westbury header image 2

Where Australia’s Arts funding goes

November 6th, 2009 by marcus


There is now an updated 2009-10 version of this data here.

I’m basically just posting this here so i can link to it from this discussion over at Larvatus Prodeo. But it’s a reminder though that I’m involved in many debates and discussions about arts funding and policy priorities in Australia at the moment (most recently here and here) and too easily forget that most people don’t have much an idea of what i’m on about most of the time. Posting this graph from the Australia Council’s 2006/07 annual report provides a bit of context to my critique of current funding priorities.

If you are interest in engaging in any of these issues, the Federal Government is currently developing a National Cultural Policy and is seeking input on it via web forum or formal submission here. Regardless of your views i’d encourage you to engage with the process.

Similar Posts:

Tags:   · · · · · · · · · 21 Comments

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter

Leave A Comment

21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marlene Sarroff Nov 6, 2009 at 11:40 am

    That graph reveals an enormous unbalance in funding. As a visual artist I want to see more funding directed to the visual arts. Visual arts today is a multi- faceted arena, encompassing many new and cutting edge disciplines of which, new media, technical advancement and science will provide a stimulating contribution for the future. Funding is required in the areas that reflect the exciting times we live in , and the contribution that is made to the visual arts, will contribute to a vibrant arts community and and a forward looking country.

  • 2 Andrew Frost Nov 6, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Hi Marcus – is there a breakdown of the spending within the visual arts per form? Are there details on new media as opposed to painting etc?

  • 3 Michael Parry Nov 6, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    You are quoting figures from FY06-07. Annual reports are available for all the years since, include the last. Comparing FY0809 and FY0607, Orchestra funding has been slashed by 25% (down to 47.1m) and moved to fund other forms like cross-arts (increased 117% to 16.9m). The boat is turning, albeit slowly, and only presenting one year of figures (and outdated figures at that) is a little misleading.

  • 4 marcus Nov 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    @Andrew I have never seen a break down of visual arts money by form. Not sure if one exists. I have seen useful breakdowns by recipient which would hint at that but not necesarily provide the information. Other factors to look at is the relative spending on artists as opposed to organisations, events, etc. Historically, and in part because of the nature of the form, the visual arts have been far less top heavy in their funding patterns than the performing arts.

    @Michael. Fair point. It wasn’t my intention to be misleading, i’m just lazy and was in a mad hurry this morning. Someone asked about this this morning and this was the most recent version i had on my hard drive — from memory i saved it around the time of the 2020 summit. I’m getting married tomorrow so searching for more recent data wasn’t priority number 1 for the day! I will make an effort when i get a chance to update it.

    Annual reports are here if you want to do some digging.

  • 5 Dan Monceaux Nov 8, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Opera and Orchestras can eat my ****. If they can’t sustain themselves via subscriptions, philanthropy, ticket sales and through broadening their cloistered, wealthy audiences they don’t deserve such a ridiculous degree of over-compensation. Level the playing field for funding across all artforms and I’ll get off my soapbox!

    Thanks for sharing this shocking abuse of tax-payers’ involuntary contributions to closeted culture.

  • 6 Tax Payer Nov 8, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I’d be really interested to see breakdown of earned income as well. Is it not true that orchestras also have the greatest level of earned income? Also unionised performers?

  • 7 Mr Pastry Nov 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Orchestras and Operas should stand by themselves and compete with other forms of music that do not receive such generous funding. The impact of the funding is that the audience enjoys subsidised ticket costs and the audience is usually from the higher socioeconimic groups so they really do not need this type of government handout. Should Briteney Spears tickets be subsided? no a ludicrous thought so why do it with Operea and Orchestras. If they cannot put bums on seats without funding then they do not need to be around.

  • 8 Ian Rogers Nov 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    The reason orchestras come out looking like the big winners is that, unlike other costly things such as the NGA, Australian Museum etc, they have to get their government funding through the Australia Council. In reality, the main symphony orchestras in Australia are not too different from the major state-owned institutions – it is a matter of Government policy that we should have them. However, when they were separated from the ABC, they were set up as corporations. So unlike the NGA etc that get their Government funds directly through a Federal budget. appropriation, these bodies need to “apply” for Oz Co and State arts grant funding. To get a fair picture of where Oz Co funding goes, either add in the budget funds to NGA, NLA, Australian Museum etc – or – take out the funding provided to each State Symphony Orchestra. If you wanted to look at State arts budgets, you would need to do the same thing. Each state will support some of its big institutions directly through their budgets while other “institutions” like state operas and orchestras need to get their funding as grants through the State arts funding body.

  • 9 marcus Nov 9, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    @Ian. You’re partially right, although the major visual arts organisations, libraries and museums do not receive major funding from the Australia Council — they are mostly state government funded or occasionally through other parts of the Federal Government.

    However, my larger argument — which is that administratively heavy heritage arts are disproportionately favoured over the new, the low cost and the innovative — is actually even more obvious when the you start to include the major collecting instituions.

    Last time i looked, the NGV recieved funding levels that were greater than pretty much ALL of the initiatives for living artists in Victoria COMBINED — regardless of artform.

    My point is not to specfically criticise Orchestras and Opera, but rather to argue that funding patterns have become self reinforcing — creating bad fedback loops. Beauracracies that are large enough to be funded are learge enough to lobby for more funding and have been very successful at doing so. The atomised world where people actually make stuff has simply drifted off the radar and is rarely funded or even invited to participate in the policy process.

    If you want to see the argument articulated in more detail, check out the Meanjin essay linked to above.

  • […] at Marcus Westbury’s blog, he’s posted a graph breakdown of the Australia Council’s funding by artform category, […]

  • 11 john Nov 25, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Such is the worrying complexity of management of the funded visual arts sector it is is near impossible to say : where the money actually gos to or how much money, in total, is involved.
    One visible truth is ; the funded sector produces a lot of consultations, a lot of reports , a lot of recommendations for more funding-for….. more….., To little visible result.

    There is quite a lot of federal money going around in the funded visual arts sector but a lot of of it ,about 10 to 1, gos to the costs of the worrying costs of the complexity of Organisations in the field. To give one example;The Myer report resulted in the allocation of a fair bit of funding through the VACS program . But typically ,of its roughly $15 million total per/annum ,$13 million is paid to Organisations. Some organisations do a good job but the organisation sector has over the past decade bred to about the limit of avaliable resources and in the process has damaged the carrying capacity of the land. There are an awful lot of organisations out there .

    I think this has happened because the Question :
    What exactly is public art funding for— what is its purpose? Has for decades, been a very conflicted question.
    Without clarity as to purpose, good design is impossible- it inevitably will go round in circles attempting the instrumental implementation of purposes that are fatally contradictory and thus impossible to make real .

    The history of Art is in many ways the history of the audiences.

    I think the conflicting positions as to the purpose of public arts funding policy are something like this
    The purpose of funding is to create new art/artforms by creating a demand; a audience that otherwise would not exist , an sort of modern day aristocratic patron?
    Is it’s purpose to improve and instruct the publics taste,– is it aimed at producing education so as to create new audiences that currently don’t exist .. ‘audience development’?
    is its purpose one of a follower of both art and audiences- helper/augmentor and not a leader at all?

    I would put the basic conflict about purpose as something like this;
    Is the purpose of arts funding that of leadership :setting directions and standards?
    Is its role to be one of follower of art & audiences, a role of helping/ augmenting the development of artforms that to some degree already have audiences that are really independent of the funded field?

    This conflict gos right back to the 80s and the beginnings of ‘art industry’ policy. It got very hot in the 90s and has gone on ever since.
    It obviously has a ideological base, the mainstream of Australian poltical culture is freemarket .
    On the otherhand many in the funded field see their role as one of supplying leadership setting standards and educating the public about advanced art.
    This conflict as to primary purpose has been going around in circles for decades and has resulted in it doing neither purpose well.

  • 12 john Nov 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    just a wee bit more,
    a scheme where the money invested in it is the scheme’s only income is a Ponzi scheme.
    Any art scheme where people are effectively paid to be the audience supplying support /income to the scheme is as unsustainable as any other sort of ponzi scheme

  • 13 john Nov 25, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    The comments above should really have gone under

    Crowdsourcing a cultural policy? –Meee culpa

  • […] now through forums like facebook and Peter Garrett’s recent National Cultural Policy website. Marcus Westbury’s been not-so-quietly questioning our cultural priorities for a while now, but many of the current […]

  • 15 john walker Mar 19, 2010 at 10:29 am

    The way spending is ‘reported’ is a big issue , under the bonnet of the OZCO (& other funded Organisations) field.
    We just came across a very small( $1 thou) 2 week funded ‘artist residency’ , that actually is a two week job for somebody to provide advice and consult services to the management of the program. This sort of thing is more common than it should be.
    Payments to Management costs & payments to ‘art’ are often confused in the same entry in the book keeping of the funded field.

    The OZCO is paid a lot to: manage the distribution of public funds to ‘art’ . Often what OZCO actually dos is pass this money(minus the OZCOs management ‘fee’) onto another management body to distribute. The total management costs of the funded field are much higher than reported.

    The public Gallery System is seriously under funded , without private philanthropy & donations , most would have no collection budgets at all.

    Without the self starting initiative of people like your self et all ,there would be bugger all happening.

    When I was young people like Mollison had the budgets (and a genuine interest in the new) to be able to turn up in lots of then alternative new ‘spaces’ and buy; Pay young artists some money for the labour of making ‘art’, they then could then go and make some more stuff.
    The technologies mediums ect change but ‘art takes time to make , every body needs to be able to at the least buy the time, no?

  • 16 john walker Aug 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    In june 08 NAVA was publicly sacked from the indigenous code of conduct by the cultural minsters council and Mr Garret.
    NAVAs version of this event was that- “NAVA agreed to license the completion of the code of conduct to the Australia council” .

    I have just obtained a copy of NAVAs 09 year fin statement.
    NAVA had a gross income of $720k.
    $530 was in the form direct payments from the Australia council, an increase of about 40 thou on the previous year.
    Only 97 thousand of its total income was in the form of member contributions = %13 of its total income.
    Its member contributions have actually declined %25 (from about 120 thou) in the past 5 years and are actually less than member contributions were worth ten years ago.

    The management of the funded arts sector is ;Answerable to no one.

  • 17 john Feb 22, 2011 at 9:49 am


    The OZCO peer review board world is very skewed towards career academics and it has a lot of influence over the awarding of ARC grants. These ARC grants are in monetary terms often very large. Being ‘research grants’ they are not accounted for as funding of the arts sector.
    The following is a SMH report of a bizarre piece of contemporary arts kitsch that received 1 million dollars in ARC ‘research’ funding.

    1 million dollars is equivalent to about 25% of The OZCOS total, publicly declared, direct Visual arts funding.

    Suggest that the funded contemporary arts sector makes the funding of opera look both uncontroversial and properly accounted for . The reason everybody talks about the opera is because nobody knows what is really going down.

  • […] Where Australian arts funding goes […]

  • 19 Tim Austin Dec 1, 2011 at 10:39 am

    I was present at your illuminating presentation of the facts around funding during your Festival of Dangerous Ideas session. Having been lucky enough myself to have worked in the arts for the last 25 years across many genres of live entertainment as a sound engineer. It reinforced my belief that the focus on contemporary music is barely supported by the various funding bodies in Australia. Indeed “pop culture” through the 80’s, 90’s, naughties, and the current crop of artists have had to rely on private enterprise for survival & promotion. When poker machines came along it almost killed off a whole “circuit of venues” that this business relied on and in so doing ended a lot of opportunity for budding musicians. When I consider the various taxes raised by the Government directly related to the music business it is plain to see how much unbalance there is. Where the government could step in would be to build performing arts buildings that cater specifically for this genre of music. This would help all the people who are trying to make a living in this business. Just my 2c

  • 20 Tim Austin Dec 1, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    With pokies almost killing off the smaller venues in the live music industry for musicians, it would be good to see government offer more funding either in direct support to musicians in an improved grant scheme or by forming a “supergoverning body” (with funding) with a makeup of the already existing (potential) organisations like ABC, Ausmusic, Amcos, Apra etc, that are dedicated to relevant contemporary Art Forms & support industries (selected by this new panel).

    They would also co-ordinate & utilize the hundreds of council/state & national venues (Scout halls, Town Halls, Civic Centres, Regional Arts Centres) and coordinate realworld training & employment in these & other venues. Festivals could also be co-ordinated in this “arts” initiative and would also receive funding. Assist in improving the contemporary live scene so there is a career path for musicians, technicians, and the mirade of support industries.

    Better utilise all the current assets & potential venues around the country and make Australian Contemporary Music an industry the government support nationally & internationally. They do and have since the seventies received a lot of income from it. There is a need for a co-ordinated approach. I would expect people like Gadinski, Chugg, Harry M Miller, Steve Pav and other relevant business people with a proven track record to champion the cause.

    Training providers would also be involved as they could start to actually place students in jobs.

    The WEB/NBN future presents exciting opportunities for many contemporary art genres. Music, Video, Film, Web based productions etc. and will connect this country even more (if you’re not happy with current connection technology)

    One of the fantastic things that will happen out of that is more people will make a living out of the industry.

    Many are passionate about it and have spent years of their time and their money incurring large HECS fees and business costs striving to achieve this outcome. It is a job creation sector just waiting to be tapped.

  • 21 john walker Dec 3, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Tim the sort of German taxes that you refer to are called hypothecated taxes , and in Australia such things are constitutionally and legislatively not on.

    And the generaly very high levels of funded government intervention in ‘culture’ that were common in the EU are over, they are broke.