As was widely reported, the way in which the Federal Government supports the Australia Council changed dramatically this year. A total of $105 million, around 15 per cent of the Council’s budget, will be diverted to a new fund called the National Program of Excellence in Arts (NPEA) where grants are decided by the federal Arts Ministry.
These changes have the potential to affect thousands of artists and arts organisations. In an effort to assess the impact of these changes, arts organisations were invited to submit letters to a Senate Committee investigation. In July un Projects, who works to support and encourage artists through publishing and events, submitted the following letter to the Committee.
Dear Committee Secretary,
Re: Senate Inquiry into the Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts
un Projects wishes to express our opposition to the recent decision by the Minister for the Arts to redirect funds from the Australia Council for the Arts to a new National Program for Excellence in the Arts.
un Projects is the publisher of un Magazine, an independent Australian arts magazine that has been published in Melbourne since 2004. At the time it was founded by artist Lily Hibberd there were no other local publications covering the wealth of independent, contemporary art practice happening in Melbourne. In the founding editorial, Lily wrote about un Magazine as a tribute to the talent and dedication of Australian contemporary artists. Since 2004, un Magazine’s focus has been particularly on artist-run initiatives and independent projects. Each issue is inspired by and created by the grassroots communities of independent contemporary artists and writers in Australia.
Since 2004, un Magazine has given voice to hundreds of Australian writers and artists, and provided the kind of open platform for discussion and criticism that is vital to a thriving and serious art community. As well as publishing our flagship publication, un Projects have also undertaken other projects. For instance, in 2012-13, un Magazine was the only artist-led initiative curated into the National Gallery of Victoria’s blockbuster exhibition Melbourne Now, and, in late 2014, we participated in our first fully supported international residency in San Francisco with the Kadist Foundation, which is generating international publishing opportunities.
un Projects is a non-profit collective of artists, writers and editors. The board and editorial members contribute their professional expertise on a voluntary basis. We fundraise for support for each issue of un Magazine and we are committed to paying fees to contributors. Funding from the Australia Council for the Arts has been crucial to our ability to publish and pay artist/writer fees. As the longest running art magazine in Melbourne, there’s no way we could have achieved our current level of organisational stability had it not been for early small project grants from the Australia Council.
Indeed after a strong track record of securing project funding, we were thrilled to receive notification early in 2015 that our application to the Australia Council for three years of sustained project funding was successful. This period of triennium funding from the Australia Council will enable increased sustainability and ambition for un Projects.
After Senator Brandis’s announcement, our excitement was diminished when we realized that we might be one of the few organisations in the small-to-medium sector that will be the beneficiary of federal arts funding. As a small organisation, we are keenly aware of how critical the support of the Australia Council is to the ongoing success of the independent arts sector. Reading the draft guidelines, it seems unlikely that the NPEA will support independent arts organisations. The NPEA guidelines clearly state that individual artists cannot apply for funding.
Direct funding support to the independent art sector and to individual artists is crucial for the development of new and exciting Australian art. un Projects protests this removal of funding from independent contemporary artists and organisations in Australia. From our work with independent arts organisations in Europe and North America we have seen how many have been adversely affected when government funding is removed and organisations are forced to compete for funding in a more commercial environment.
We are also concerned that a shift to the NPEA may reduce the opportunity for fair, peer-assessed funding decisions to be made. We feel that it is crucial that decisions about public money are made transparently.
un Projects works closely with the lively communities of artists and artist-run initiatives that comprise the Australian independent arts sector. This is an ambitious and exciting part of the Australian arts ecology, which pushes forward innovations in Australian art practice and is crucial to the development of excellent Australian arts content. The independent arts sector is already a precarious sector; the proposed removal of funding will be highly destabilizing to this grassroots sector of the Australia arts ecology.
un Projects would like to protest the redirection of funding to the NPEA, and express our great hope that it can be reinstated to the Australia Council.
Phip Murray (Chair), Rosemary Forde (Deputy Chair), Annabel Allen (Treasurer), Brad Haylock, Paul Davis, Kyla McFarlane, Bill Gilles, Ulanda Blair, Victoria Bennett (Project Coordinator)