Local arts companies face uncertain future after losing federal funding

The Australia Council, the federal government’s funding body for the arts, has announced 144 arts organisations have been approved for a share of $31.7M per annum in funding offered through their revised Four Year Funding for Organisations program.

Several local organisations have missed out and now face an uncertain future which may force them to reduce output and head back to the drawing board in their strategic planning.

Among those companies who will no longer be getting ongoing support for the Australia Council is local theatre organisation The Blue Room, Barking Gecko Theatre and dance company Strut. They join 41 other companies across the nation who will no longer receive federal funding.

The Australia Council recently announced it would be adjusting it’s funding program to ensure that more smaller and medium companies would be funded in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen the arts sector virtually close down.

CEO Adrian Collette AM said the new measures, delivered within the Council’s existing budget, were essential during this critical period.

“When we embarked on this Four Year Funding process, it was a very different landscape for the sector, and indeed the world.

“We have been aligning all our multi-year organisation funding programs, including Four Year Funding, the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy.

“In the light of COVID-19, it has been essential to revise this round of Four Year Funding to provide support for the greatest possible number of small to medium arts organisations.

“This has involved increasing the program funding and the number of funded organisations. This is to enable as many as possible small to medium arts organisations to continue to operate, and to strengthen the long term sustainability of the arts sector and the many thousands of Australians it supports.

“However, achieving this and still supporting more organisations through 2021 requires the first year of FYF funding to be offered at a reduced level. This is not business as usual for anyone, and arts organisations also will need to adapt in order to weather these unprecedented times.

Collette said that while many companies were facing an uncertain future after missing out on the four-year funding round, the government was supporting them through other programs.

“I also acknowledge the whole of government support available to arts organisations under the JobKeeper payment. I encourage all eligible companies in the arts and creative sector to register their interest on the Australian Taxation Office website.

Funding will be provided for 95 organisations who were successful in the application process, including 28 organisations new to Four Year Funding from 2021- 2024.

The first year of funding from 2021 will be at a reduced level (approximately 70%) to enable more organisations to receive vital support through 2021.

Contract extensions of twelve months will be provided for 49 organisations that currently receive Four Year Funding 2017-2020 but were not successful for 2021-2024, providing additional time for them to re-calibrate their organisations and make plans for the future. The additional funding for 2021 will be at a reduced level (approximately 70%).

For local theatre hub The Blue Room missing out on ongoing funding from the federal government is a massive blow to the organisation. The company had been funded through the multi-year program for over 20 years.

“Over that time, The Blue Room Theatre has consistently over-delivered on its projected outcomes, maintained exemplary governance and robust finances. Each year our programs support over 400 artists, play to over 20,000 attendees and provide accessible new Western Australian theatre 38 weeks per year.” The Blue Room said responding to the funding cut.

The organisation said the funding shortage would not just affect the theatre but the hundreds of emerging artists who put on works through its programs.

The Blue Room Theatre Chair Shane Colquhoun said the announcement from the Australia Council represented a “savaging” of the small to medium sector of the arts.

“The overall results of the four-year funding round announced today represent the savaging of the small to medium arts sector in Australia. It is a direct consequence of the Federal Government’s decisions regarding funding to the Australia Council since it came to power in 2013.” Colquhoun said.

“This is a senseless hobbling of a productive and vital industry. It is a signal to artists and arts workers that their work is not valued in Australian society.

“At this challenging time, where people are turning to the arts for comfort, joy, inspiration, solace and connection, the lack of support for the live arts sector seems even more short sighted.

“The Blue Room Theatre will survive this distressing blow. We have a strong and resilient community who have banded together over 30 years to make the organisation what it is.

However, it will require us to re-strategise our programs beyond 2020 and that will take some time and consultation with our members and local industry.

We will carry this out in a methodical way to ensure a sustainable future working in partnership with Western Australian artists to make an indispensable contribution to Australian theatre.”

The Blue Room and Barking Gecko were not the only early career theatre spaces that missed out on funding. The Sydney based, a highly acclaimed Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) was also dumped by the funding body.

Chairman Chris Puplick told the Sydney Morning Herald he thought is was an extraordinary decision, one that had sent him into a state of disbelief.

Strut Dance said the news that they had not been successful has saddened them, but they would endeavour to continue their work to champion for the artistic development of independent dance, choreographic and physical theatre artists.

“There are undeniable pressures now facing our community. Moving forward, STRUT Dance will endeavour to work with all sectors, organisations and independent artists in order to better support the arts sector as it faces this dynamic and uncertain future.” the company said in a statement.

Graeme Watson

Declaration: Graeme Watson, Managing Editor at OUTinPerth, has previously been a recipient of funding from The Blue Room, and has previously served on its season judging panel, and commissioning panel.  


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