Regular readers or those following the arts policy priority debates that have been happening around the traps will have noticed that the Australia Council has responded to my graph of their 09/10 grants by art form with one of their own that you can see above or read about on their site. As you would expect a lot of people have asked why the two sets of numbers differ.
I appreciate the Australia Council have taken the time to provide some numbers of their own and I have asked the Australia Council for an actual breakdown of what goes into their numbers. They haven’t responded to that – I assume we may need to wait for their annual report before we see that. In the interim I’m going to have to do my best to explain why the two are different without access to that and they can correct me (i’m sure that they will!) if this explanation is wrong.
The main and most obvious difference is simply that we are looking at two different things. My original graph was entitled “Australia Council Grants 2009-10 financial year” and grants – as published on their web site – were literally what I have graphed. My original was a straight up graph of the published list of grants, how much they were and where they went to. If you do that yourself here you will get the numbers I have used and I don’t think the Australia Council are questioning that they are an accurate representation of those numbers.
The Australia Council graph above is titled “Australia Council Funding 2009 -10 Financial Year” and in the Australia Council’s words it “focuses on separate artform expenditure rather than just of artform boards, so the data also includes investments related to those artforms but from other Australia Council programs and initiatives beyond the boards.” In other words it includes a lot of stuff that isn’t on a “grants” list and that isn’t published in their “who we gave grants do” database. It also includes grants that weren’t divided by artform that i excluded. They, unlike me, have access to the resources and information to categorise them.
Without a breakdown its hard to tell what The Australia Council has included here. My guess is that they have included many things that are eminently reasonable to include but aren’t in the published grants on their web site because they weren’t approved in the last financial year. For example, funding to triennially funded organisations may have been approved last year and paid out this year would be a legitimate inclusion. Equally though it may include some more debatable figures such as funding that didn’t go to organisations that make art, administrative costs, marketing programs, conferences or any number of other things where a debate might be had about how to categorise them or whether to include them at all. I genuinely don’t know and wont judge that without the raw numbers.
Unfortunately, and slightly frustratingly, a quick comparison between the two graphs is a little tricky. The Australia Council has straight out removed two key categories that i have singled out for discussion. The “Inter-Arts” and “Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Arts” boards were both examples i gave of where forms that don’t fit into our classical Euro centric arts priorities are severely under-resourced. While those are both published grant categories on the Australia Council web site they have been subsumed into other categories here. The Australia Council explain on their site (in response to a query from me) is that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Board last financial year invested $1.9 million across all artforms and the total expenditure by Council in Indigenous arts (including ATSIA) was $7.8 million. I assume that they get to this number by double counting figures that are elsewhere in this graph and i look forward to a chance to actually examine that.
So where does that leave us? Well, I’m not retreating from my argument. It remains the case that Opera Australia last year did receive more funding than all the grants given out by the 6 major artform boards. Go to the web site and you can also confirm that. It is also true that the combined funding of the 781 separate projects, organisations and individuals funded by all of those boards and published on the Australia Council web site add up to less than one grant to Opera Australia.
But yes, as the Australia Council points out they do support organisations, artists, and key sector bodies in ways that are over and above just grants and ways that aren’t through the boards. I’ve never disputed that. I’ll save the discussion about the relative shift away from grants to artists to programs for organisations and major companies for another day although it is a contentious issue that is often raised.
Back to the core issue though: Even taking these Australia Council’s “official” numbers as a starting point, does this actually look like a reasonable mix in the 21st century? The point remains that this is a two track arts system that is heavily, heavily biased towards a small number of companies and forms. In purple are a very small number of companies who share in a budget that is much, much, much larger than all the other artists in Australia combined. Opera Australia alone still received more than either all the Visual Artists and artsworkers, all the dancers and dance people, all the writers and literature organisations, all the cross art form projects, or all the other music. As far as i can tell no one disputes that.
- Where Australia Council funding goes - 09/10 version (1.000)
- Updates from the world of arts policy (1.000)
- Where Australia's Arts funding goes (0.915)
- Evolution and Creation: Australia's Funding Bodies (Meanjin Essay) (0.689)
- What's so special about Opera? [My Festival of Dangerous Ideas Speech] (0.689)