marcus westbury

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Australia Council arts breakdown

September 28th, 2010 by marcus

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.

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 john walker Sep 29, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I do dispute ‘that’ — The total amount of money going into Opera is a known.
    The total amount of money going into the other areas is not known. The fact that little money comes out the ‘other end’ is no evidence as to how much money gos in.

    The Correct term for this sort of management system is : rent seeking .
    There is a simple test for rent seeking behavior : Reverse efficiency’s of scale– As gross income increases, management expenses increase at a even faster rate.
    By now management consumes virtually all of the money, and increasing the allocation will only further increase the costs.
    The principle activity is management and its particular favored art form is , reports delivered at Conferences of Organisations.

    As to the merits of various artforms that should be a matter for the tax paying public to decide, No? Is either New OR Old a moral quality?

  • 2 marcus Sep 29, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Sorry John but you’ve lost me with that one. You are suggesting that the total amount of Australia Council money going into Visual Arts might be *more* than the Australia Council claims it is and therefore *more* than Opera Australia receives? How and why might that be the case?

    I understand your argument that once management costs are removed from the vis arts money (the $9.4m going into vis arts orgs in particular based on these numbers) the amounts of money actually going to artists could be considerably less but i don’t see how they could more and therefore more than is paid to Opera Australia.

    As for the relative merits of various art forms. The issue isn’t really form per se – it is the values, rationale, and the reasoning behind funding the arts. The mix of forms from my point of view is an indicator of the values that are in play. It is a matter for the public, the government, the policy makers, the taxpayers and everyone to debate, discuss and healthily mull over and contest those values. There is no definitive answer to that question but the process of discussing it is, in my opinion, a healthy one.

  • 3 john walker Sep 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm


    The council states that it has paid 9.4 million to visual arts organisations .
    According to financial statements lodged with ASIC -NAVA in 08-09 received $520K , this was made up of $140K in VACS funding, $170K in VAB funding and $ 200K in projects funding. Do the Council figures give this as $520K paid to a organisation or is it spread over two or three separate entries?

    The Australia Council is not to whole picture.

    As best as I can work out VACS is separate to the council and additional funding . VACS funding totals about 15 million and all but about 2.5 million of the VACS funding is paid to organisations.
    are VACS payments included in the Council figures ?

    Because there are so many interconnected but separate arts organisation systems it is impossible to work out how much in total is going in.
    Regional arts for an example is a additional funding management system that dos not get much attention.
    Is It included in the council figures?
    For another example – ABAF gets about 1.5 million a year in public money to manage a system that delivers about half a million in in donations to various arts projects. Is ABAF costs included in the council figures?
    And there is currently a proposal for yet another a additional ‘ Foundation for the Artist’ that is seeking additional public funding for its management costs.
    The system is in need of a through audit , if we are not to be talking in the dark

    Payments to “phantom Employees” -that is payments to the management costs of devolved management activities , that look like payments to art projects is as old as the council itself(1975-5).
    I am not i suggesting that the current problem is the result of deliberate intention. Most of the sector has very good intentions, rather the problems are with the design of the sector at its beginning .
    The system resembles a initially poorly written program that has by now aquired so many patches that you cant see the initial problems. a program that is stuck in an infinite ground hog day.

  • 4 john walker Sep 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    PS Marcus- I am a crap typist !

  • 5 marcus Sep 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    John, As i have said, they have simply published another graph without a breakdown which leaves us to endlessly speculate about what is included. With any luck someone from the Australia Council will be along soon to answer your questions or at least let us know when the answers would be published.

    My assumption is that they have graphed all monies administered by the Australia Council regardless of where it comes in from and where it goes out to. My guess is the reasonably large bump in vis arts money between my graph of the boards grant the OzCo’s graph implies the VACS is included here but it isn’t listed as grants for whatever reason.

    But yes, in the absence of a breakdown this graph is a tad tricky to interpret.

  • 6 john walker Sep 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    VACS is one of the Mysteries
    The last break down for VACS funding that we saw was: about 11+ million to Organisations, about 2+ million to marketing type programs ( run by organisations ) and the residue to individuals. This dos not quite gel with the councils stated total of 9.4 million paid to organisations.

    The NAVA financial statements certainly list the payment from VACS as a separate entry to the payment by the VAB.

    The Council is a statutory authority and getting accurate detailed information out of all statutory authorities is hard even for things like estimates committees.

    The sector is actually very divided in the way of waring clans , sections of it are always infighting for dominance. It is very likely that nobody within the sector really knows what is going on at a ‘global’ level.

  • 7 Martin Portus Sep 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Hi Marcus

    In the hope of clarifying some misunderstandings and steering the conversation back to the heart of the discussion, below are some of the matters which account for some of the discrepancies between our respective sets of numbers.

    Grants Approved Rather than Grants Paid
    As your information is sourced from the Australia Council’s online grants list, it shows new grants approved in 09/10. Our figures are based on grants paid in 09/10.

    As you’ve suggested, by focussing only on new grants approved you are excluding multi-year grants approved in previous financial years. For instance, a triennially funded organisation which had its funding approved in 2008 would not appear in the 2009/10 grants list even though it would be receiving funding in 2009/10.

    Indeed, the grants list was never intended to be a means for calculating the total funding that the council provides in any given year. Its main purpose is to provide transparency about funding decisions as they occur across the council. For an accurate view of what the council actually funds in any given year, we recommend you look at the annual report. The 2009/10 annual report will be published shortly.

    Omitting Key Organisations
    By excluding the approximately $20 million of funding to 140 key organisations, you have omitted one of the most significant ways in which the council funds the respective artforms. The assessments and decisions about which key organisations receive funding is determined by the artform boards. However, the funding is administered through the Key Organisations section.

    Funding by Artforms
    Our funding breakdown is based on artforms rather than simply the artform boards. As you’ve noted, this includes funding through programs and initiatives not administered through the artform boards like Artstart. It also includes Arts Development with its annual funding of about $9 million. Contrary to your statement that Arts Development’s budget is “mostly for marketing across all artforms”, this division actually provides significant amounts of funding to national and international touring for the performing arts and visual arts, and also covers some of the high profile projects like the Venice Biennale and Major Festivals Initiative.

    Funding for Indigenous Arts
    The projects that make up the $7.8 million in funding for Indigenous arts are extracted from all areas provided in the graph. So, yes, it would be ‘double counting’ if you were to treat this amount separately.

    You’ll see that once you add up all of the money in the chart we provided, the funding that goes to the artforms listed comes to about $65 million rather than the $17.6 million that you came up with.

    This isn’t to say the questions you’ve raised are invalid. It’s simply a matter of getting a more accurate picture of the funding landscape.

    How the arts are funded in this country is an extremely important discussion which we are happy to enter into further. It would be unfortunate if it were perpetually snagged on a disagreement about funding figures.


    Martin Portus
    Director of Marketing and Communications
    Australia Council

  • 8 john walker Sep 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Mr Portous’ You state that “approximately $20 million of funding ” is paid to to “140 key organisations” l ,dos this figure include the VACS funding , the funding to regional arts , community arts and ABAF?

    Marcus the question is– what are we getting for the $ 65 million ? , suggest the answer is; Organisations.

    The support of organisations is the current role of the Council . Do organisations equal art?

    Innovation is a product of the small quick and untypical , the current situation is an anti-inovation system.

  • 9 john walker Oct 5, 2010 at 8:27 am

    VACS funding + VAB funding = at least 30 million
    $5 million for artists
    $25 million for organisations , to ‘facilitate’ artists.

    The funded sector has been managed to death.

  • 10 john walker Oct 11, 2010 at 7:10 am

    I note the lack of response to my very simple question from the Council spokespersons.

    The cost structures of the funded sector are outrageous. It is rather comic – People squabbling in the dust about pissy little funding allocations to particular ‘art forms’- while the ‘management’ sips champane in biz class.

  • 11 Ozco dude Feb 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Just wondering how they hide this Marcus – $140 million to film and video? That sell tickets? I’d love to see $140 million go to Renew Newcastle/ Adelaide/ etc etc each year!