A Short Timeline Of The Government’s War On The Arts For The Past Five Years

For years our government has seemed ideologically opposed to supporting our creative industries.

scott morrison arts

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The government has spent today patting itself on the back for introducing a new $250 million package for the arts.

It comes a few short weeks after they introduced a $680 million package for the construction industry. It also comes a long few months after the $111 billion arts industry ground to a halt virtually overnight — with museums, theatres and event spaces closing, productions halting, and music festivals cancelling.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a massive blow to the arts industry. However, it’s only exacerbated years of funding cuts from a government that seems ideologically opposed to supporting our country’s creatives.

If you need some examples, we’ve put together a timeline of funding cuts, job losses, oversights and ignorance about the critical importance the the arts play in society.

A Timeline of Government Disdain For The Arts

25 June 2020 – Today, the government announced a $250 million package to support the $111 billion arts and entertainment industry. Of this, more than 30 percent is in the form of concessional loans that will eventually have to be paid back.

24 June 2020 – The ABC announces 250 jobs would be cut in an effort to save $40 million. It comes after the government last year announced a three-year funding freeze which will cost them $84 million in total. That also follows $254 million worth of cuts since 2014.

24 June 2020 – On the same day, the National Gallery of Australia announced it will cut at least 10 percent of its staff, and cut acquisitions from 3,000 to 100 a year, to cope with a $3.6 million budget shortfall. Meanwhile, the planned $498 million reno of the War Memorial is still in place.

The union has blamed the government’s efficiency dividend, which cuts public sector budgets by a certain percentage each year to try and encourage — you guessed it — greater efficiency. It’s been around since 1987.

19 June 2020 – The government announces that it will more than double the cost of humanities degrees in an effort to deter students from studying the arts, and instead funnel them into “employable” fields like teaching, nursing and maths.

3 April 2020 – Australia Council — the government’s arts funding and advisory body– announces cuts to their Four Year Funding program for arts organisation over 2021-2024. In total, $31.7 million per year will be distributed, which is up by almost $4 million a year. However, the 95 successful applicants (down from 128 in the previous round) will have the first year of their funding slashed by 70 percent.

The funding was cut so the council could give a one-year extension to an additional 49 companies which were due to be defunded in 2021. However, that transitional funding will also be cut by 70 percent.

31 March 2020 – Australia Council announces a $5 million Resilience Fund for artists and arts organisations to support their livelihoods, practice and operations during the pandemic. It came a week after they suspended investment programs due to coronavirus.

30 March 2020 – The government announces its $130 billion JobKeeper package, however excludes freelancers. This causes an immediate outcry from workers in the creative industries, a large chunk of which are freelancers.

November 2019– The federal government announced it would get rid of the federal arts department and merge it with the transport department, because that makes sense.

May 2018 – The outgoing boss of the National Galley of Australia, Gerard Vaughan, warned it was being undermined by ongoing government funding cuts.

March 2018 – More than 200 film and television workers sign an open letter to the government calling on them to protect the screen industry. Demands include quotas for Australian content on platforms like Netflix, and an end to funding cuts for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia.

It came after Screen Australia had its funding cut by $51.5m over four years.

13 May 2016 – The arts sector had their own ‘Black Friday‘, when 65 arts organisations lost federal funding due to Australia Council cuts. It was also revealed that their grants to individual artists and projects had decreased by 70% since the 2013/14 financial year.

December 2015 – Scott Morrison, who was then our treasurer, announces $52.5 million worth of cuts to the Communications and Arts Portfolio. As part of this, Screen Australia had its third round of funding cuts in just 18 months.

ScoMo also cut an additional $36.8 million from government-funded galleries and museums.

May 2015 – The Australia Council has its budget slashed by $105 million, so that then-Arts Minister George Brandis can set up his own excellence in arts program (he angrily denied using this as an unsupervised slush fund). After Tony Abbott gets rolled, $32 million of this was returned.

Arts Need Support

This is by no means an exhaustive list — there’s simply too much to wade through.

But it clearly shows a pattern of contempt towards the arts, a pattern that people in the industry have been calling out for years.

The arts contribute $111 billion to the economy each year, but to focus on the financial side of things is to miss the point.

We need art, and music, and film. Aside from the fact it’s what’s kept us all sane through isolation, it’s what helps inspire us, shape our thinking, and bring us together.

Putting these things under attack isn’t just short sighted, it reflects an attitude of disdain for the people who help shape our culture.