The independent arts in Victoria are dynamic, thriving, inspiring. Yet while countless new works are presented by the week, countless more will never be experienced, critiqued or toured beyond their immediate circle. Government partnerships with arts organisations are the only way to create a commitment – a strategic, long-term commitment – to vital, invigorating art that enriches us all.
Right now, two major partnership sources are under review: Arts Victoria’s Organisations Program, which supports some 70 of the state’s 7,800+ small-to-medium arts organisations, and the Australia Council, which is under independent review alongside the National Cultural Policy development. With the third major local investor, the City of Melbourne, having undergone this process last year and realigned its arts investments with its strategic priorities, it’s clear just how important arts partnerships are for every level of government.
Community development, education and skills, design, cultural diversity, planning, tourism, employment, health – government objectives in all these areas are achieved by arts organisations. In turn, arts organisations drive innovation across all these policy areas: art makes new connections, new exchanges, new thinking possible. Substantial corporate and philanthropic partnerships support specific works, but only government investment builds the long-term capacities of the entire creative industry.
For Arts Victoria, the Organisations Program review – the first in its thirty-year history – is about opening it up to new companies. While all companies submit intensely competitive proposals every three years, most have achieved funding recurrently across many years, making it difficult for new organisations to match their strong track records. Yet if current investment levels are maintained, how can we achieve this?
In nobody’s imagining is Victoria a place that sets artificial limits on creativity, that sets out to constrain innovation at a peak time. Nor has this ever been the Australian imagining. Also under review is the Australia Council, which – partly for political reasons predating its existence – funds a disproportionate balance of organisations and artforms, with overall funding increases never having arrived to redress the imbalance in a meaningful way. The Australia Council review has recently accepted public submissions, and Arts Victoria have released a public survey and a discussion paper via their website. They’d love to hear your thoughts. The new National Cultural Policy is expected to take a comprehensive view for positive change at the national level – but in each case, more than just policy will be needed.
Arts funding takes an ambitious approach to pushing the limits of our creativity. The only way to open up successful organisations programs is to increase the total government investment. This is a necessary first step to investing meaningfully and strategically into our complex open system and fostering its evolution.
Let’s extend that thinking further. Creative organisations command creative approaches to partnerships – this is why more and more corporates partner with the arts. Beyond government funding increases, what next steps can transform the investment model?
Let’s see our government partner with organisations on marketing the independent arts at blockbuster scales. Beyond ‘hidden secret’ laneways and ‘major event’ spaces, let’s tell intricate, confident stories about the people, works and places that make this the state of the arts.
Let’s imagine partnerships based on a targeted stimulus approach, where organisations can harness the expertise of government in modelling ambitious expansion plans, accessing economic impact tools, or targeting artistic projects to regional renewal priorities. Youth literature companies could access Department of Education expertise to develop more relevant schools programs, with additional funds to support the organisation’s expansion. Small galleries could access Treasury expertise to assess their economic impact, using the results to build sustainable partnerships with local businesses, with stimulus funds to support that intensive work. Places Victoria could collaborate with organisations creating durational site- specific works as opposed to one-off pieces of public sculpture, with additional stimulus funding the new approach. Such short-term intensives yield dazzling long-term results as new audiences,par tnersandideasaredeveloped.
So if the arts in Victoria are thriving, couldn’t government investment just remain static, or even shrink? No government invests in an industry with a view to overseeing its contraction, yet that’s what this would mean for our prolific ecosystem. It’s taken thirty years to build what we have today – thirty years of negotiating that fine balance between government, private, and self-generated income; thirty years of nurturing the development of individual artists and the independent arts sector as a complex whole; thirty years of extending our government partnerships into a commitment to advancing the public good. Any shift in investment will have significant multiplier effects on Victoria’s triple bottom line.
Government partnerships with arts organisations do much more than providing a base level of operational funding. They create invaluable commitments from agile, engaged, expert organisations to work well beyond their artistic scope in building this great state of the arts. Of course, it’s a complex construction, and always a work in progress. Today, however, we’re a far cry from the 1982 environment that founded Melbourne Fringe “on the fringe of nothing,” in the auspicious words of one of its founders, Sue McCauley. By 1992 when Dancehouse was formed, Arts Victoria’s Organisations Program was already starting to feel the pressure from growing numbers of newly formed, impactful independent arts organisations. Our state of the arts has far to go.
The most valuable legacy that Arts Minister Ted Baillieu can create is to expand Arts Victoria’s Organisations Program with new funds, new ideas, new possibilities. Now is the ideal time to make a confident investment in Victoria’s creative future, ensuring our artists ignite Australia and our ideas lead the world.