The Australia Council Restructure

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					Responses to the Australia Council Restructure
Richard Letts

The Australia Council issued a press release last December, describing its plan to reorganise
its operations. An analysis of the proposals was quickly prepared for the February Music
Forum, at a time when the field had not yet responded (it being the beginning of the holiday
period). Subsequently, much has happened.
   Various interest groups have taken their concerns to the Australia Council. For its part, the
Music Council has worked with counterpart organisations in a national coalition named
ArtsPeak. We had a correspondence with the Ozco and also met with its representatives
twice. The main other interest groups were from the community cultural development (CCD)
and new media arts (NMA) sectors, both of which lose the funding and policy boards
especially committed to their interests in the Australia Council.
   In early April, the Australia Council met and voted for a plan amended after all these
consultations. It issued a press release outlining the decisions taken.
   ArtsPeak had written to the Council expressing a number of concerns. Some of these were
addressed in its second meeting, and others in the press release mentioned. Some appear still
to be in limbo.
   So, here briefly is the state of play.
   COMMUNITY CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT. CCD people have negotiated some
very significant changes, although they have not managed to have their Board reinstated; it
will disappear from July. A special CCD committee will be appointed within the Community
Partnerships section, with members appointed by the Council. All current CCD programs will
remain in place until the end of 2005, with a budget retained at its present level for the next
two years. In 2006-07, CCD programs will be managed through artform boards including
Music, plus the Inter-Arts Office and other sections of the Council. Boards will be provided
with members and staff versed in CCD practice. A scoping study will be conducted in July-
December to propose the best way forward, under terms drawn up by the committee..
   NEW MEDIA ARTS. The Board has already been disbanded. An Inter-Arts Office will be
established to handle hybrid arts activities and develop strategies for supporting emerging arts
practices that are outside existing artform categories. It will take responsibility for NMAB’s
current key initiatives and for its triennially funded organisations. The current NMAB budget
and guidelines for funding applications will hold throughout 2005. From 2006, current
funding will be distributed through Inter-Arts, the Visual Arts and Crafts Board and the Music
Board (about 15%, we’ve heard). The Music Board will have a separate sub-category under
New Work with funding quarantined and also support new media projects through other
categories. It will gain membership with new media expertise.
   CATALYST OR DRIVER. While the Australia Council document is titled Australia
Council – Arts Catalyst, the text depicts the Council mainly as the leader, manager or driver
of arts activity. ArtsPeak was concerned at this rhetoric and strongly contended that the arts
should be led by artists and arts organisations. This language has disappeared in the recent
press release.
   Further, the Australia Council should not be competing with or dictating directions of its
client organisations. One of the best possible qualities of strategic action by the Council
would be creative, supportive empathy with the arts world. It should be midwife, not sire.
Covered in the meeting but not the press release: Council representatives in the main agreed
and said that their intentions had been misinterpreted.
   The Council envisages a role in setting up a cross-government environment open to arts
support. It would then apply financial resources to support arts sector strategies as part of a
‘joint venture’ approach to achieve cross-government funding.
   CORE FUNDING. It is ArtsPeak’s strong view that the highest priority for the Australia
Council should be to secure more funding for core arts activities – that is, the great diversity
of on-going arts activities supported by the artform boards. This objective is not named in the
plan. These funds continue to decline in real terms with lack of indexation from government
and tied government funding. Not addressed in the press release. From the meeting, it was
clear that the Council is concerned about the funding level although there was not sufficient
time to achieve an understanding of its strategies. In particular, there is concern about the
‘efficiency dividend’, revealed also in the Strong Report on orchestras: indexation at a
standard rate of 2.27% (already less than arts sector inflation) is reduced to 1.27% in order
to extract greater ‘efficiency’. ArtsPeak agreed to speak out against the application of the
efficiency dividend to the Ozco.
   HIGH IMPACT STRATEGY. The Council intends to take direct control of a larger
proportion of its funds in order to mount large scale, high impact projects which can be used
to persuade the government to increase funding. While the purpose is appreciated, ArtsPeak
believes that the success of large scale projects is more likely to result in additional
government funding for more large scale projects than for the core activities of the small to
medium sector. It was also concerned that the Council would set itself up as a production
house or marketing agency. Council representatives reassured ArtsPeak on the last point. The
main point was not discussed, nor is it addressed in the press release.
   OZCO AS ADVOCATE. There is widespread disappointment in the arts community that
the Australia Council seems mainly to conduct its advocacy for the arts to government,
behind closed doors. The Australia Council has a role as an effective public advocate for the
arts, without confronting government. Not addressed.
   PEER ASSESSMENT AND DECISION MAKING. One of the main characteristics
distinguishing the Australia Council from other arts funding bodies is that artistic assessments
and funding decisions are made by artist-peers. All state arts ministries use artist peers in
some way, but the funding decisions finally are not in the artists’ hands. Some of the
proposed Australia Council restructuring appears to curtail peer assessment and decision
making. ArtsPeak is very concerned at the compromise of this principle and cannot see what
benefit this change will confer on arts practice. Not addressed.
that the current positioning of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board should be
maintained so that it has a direct relationship with Council. Not addressed.
   Because of the diversity of its membership and because it has the special responsibility for
overall policy and strategic direction, and for representing the organisation 'upwards', as it
were, to government, the Council is a generalist body. Its Boards are specialist bodies with
the specialist knowledge that supports direct interaction and expert dealing with subsectors of
the arts community and representing the organisation 'downwards', as it were, to their
respective constituencies. The Council is perceived to be taking more decision-making to
itself but should not inappropriately assume the Boards' role. Not addressed.
   MAJOR PERFORMING ARTS. The Council wishes major performing arts companies
to form stronger links with the community. ArtsPeak was not clear exactly what the Council
had in mind. But if this objective is to be pursued, it will be important for these companies,
many of which are financially marginal, to be provided with additional funding. However,
with the small to medium sector probably more connected to the community and also in a far
more marginal position financially, would these funds be better used in that sector? Which is
the more cost-effective route? Not addressed.
   KEY ORGANISATIONS SECTION. According to the plan, this new section will assess
from business and strategic perspectives the organisations now selected and funded triennially
by the artform boards as ‘key organisations’. It will advise artform boards on funding
decisions, based on these assessments and also manage the Council’s relationships with those
organisations, implementing strategic initiatives through them.
   The addition of the skilled assessment could be useful. However, the proposal as a whole
can be read as placing a very high value on strategic business skills. ArtsPeak affirmed most
strongly that the core purpose of arts organisations is to produce or facilitate the production of
the best art they possibly can, not to fulfill a business plan nor an Australia Council strategy.
It also observed the inadequacy of one-size-fits-all management or financial prescriptions for
organisations in differing artforms.
   It appeared at the meeting that ArtsPeak’s concerns are recognised, although they are not
taken up in the press release. Funding decisions will be made by the respective Boards, not
the Key Organisations Section. The financial and management skills of the officers in the
Section will be available as a resource to Triennially Funded Key Organisations rather than
in a supervisory role. There are not sufficient Key Organisations officers to assign one to
each art form board. This has had the curious outcome that the officer assigned to music has
also been assigned to literature – despite the enormous disparities in the operations of the
music and literature sectors.
    THE SERVICE ORGANISATIONS. At present, the service organisations are assessed by the
artform peers on artform boards essentially according to the same set of criteria applied to the arts
producing and presenting organisations. But consider the nature of their activities: they are likely to be
engaged in research into their respective sectors, in the provision of information, the provision of
support services, the networking of people and organisations, the development of policies and sectoral
strategies, the acquisition of funding for their sectors, the mounting of advocacy and lobbying
campaigns, the management of projects They are unlikely to be producing operas, commissioning
painters, presenting concerts, curating art shows, engaging choreographers, writing or publishing
novels, organising festivals. The inception of the Key Organisations section offers the opportunity to
establish a means of assessing and funding the service organisations according to appropriate criteria.
Council representatives spoke to this issue briefly but appear not to have decided yet how to deal with
   The current Australia Council commitment to research is essential, valuable but
inadequate. It should be expanded and carried out collaboratively with the field. It should
include continuing review of the effectivness of grant funding. While it appears from the plan
that the research staff is to be reduced, it is not clear whether the same is true of the activity.
Artspeak sees no problem in a reduced number of employees if the budget is expanded and
research is tendered out.
   Address in the meeting but not the press release. The Council intends to maintain its budget
for research. It does envisage some outsourcing. It is inclined to large scale, co-funded
projects but also sees value in some small projects. The Deputy Chair of the Council stated
that he believed research should be tightly focussed to address specific issues. Some ArtsPeak
members believed that research should be more broad brushstroke and should be
continuously updated, so that when issues arise, data is to hand for use in advocacy. There
was some support on the Council for research of this type.
   WHAT’S NEXT? The Australia Council has announced that it will conduct a series of
public meetings in May and June to outline the new structure and discuss its implications. The
schedule of meetings will be posted at

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