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20 March 2017

Catalyst money returned to the Australia Council for the Arts

Catalyst money returned to the Australia Council for the Arts

A surprise announcement on Saturday morning confirmed the Turnbull Government's decision to cancel the Catalyst Australian Arts and Culture Fund, and transfer remaining uncommitted funding back to the Australia Council for the Arts.

Back in 2015, as a result of the 2015-2016 budget, the Australia Council for the Arts lost a significant sum of over $104M, due to the former Federal Arts Minister George Brandis's decision to start a new program (NPEA), fostering excellence in the arts and managed by his ministry. After an industry outcry, a related Senate enquiry, and not insignificant consequences to the arts sector (see our news summary from 2015), Brandis's successor, Minister Mitch Fifield revamped and renamed the program, returning a portion ($32M) of the funds to the Australia Council for the Arts.

Saturday's most recent announcement of $61M being returned to the Australia Council over four years includes this earlier sum. The administration of what is left of the Catalyst program, along with already committed grants ($12M), will also become the Australia Council's domain, as will the funding for the Major Festivals Initiative and the Australian World Orchestra ($7.2M).

Catalyst applications received by 18 March will be assessed according to existing guidelines for the program, with the Department of Communications and the Arts and the Australia Council working together to ensure a smooth transition. Funding decisions for applications that were submitted by the end of December 2016 will be announced in the coming weeks. Many arts organisations now find themselves in the situation where there is some hope for more funding from the Australia Council, however the applications they have been working on in order to meet specific requirements of the Catalyst program no longer have use.

The Department of Communications and the Arts will retain $2 million per year 'to provide an alternative avenue of funding for organisations which are not receiving funding through the Australia Council'. The Department will also continue to administer the Visions of Australia and Festivals Australia initiatives that were transferred from the Australia Council to the Department as part of the 2015-16 budget. Creative Partnerships Australia will retain the funding allocated in the same budget.

According to the Minister's announcement, the return of funds will allow the Australia Council to continue to focus on supporting small to medium arts organisations - this was a particular concern for the arts sector, as the 2015-16 budget measures directly affected the number of organisations receiving long-term funding for activities. The Australia Council is also now expected to address recommendations from the Opera Review related to Victorian Opera and Opera Queensland, as well as address funding sustainability for Queensland Ballet and the Brandenburg Orchestra.

The Australia Council for the Arts stated on their website:

'The Australia Council remains committed to its 2014-19 strategic plan and reformed grants program which has increased access to support for a broader range of artists and organisations. The uncommitted funds will be directed towards the Australia Council's existing grants program. This announcement represents a positive long-term change for the Australian arts sector, by providing increased support for the Australia Council's sector-driven funding model, and greater clarity around the architecture of arts investment at the Commonwealth level.'

> Read announcement on the Deparment of Communications and the Arts website (18 March 2017)

> Read statement by the Australia Council for the Arts (18 March)

> Other coverage: ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Limelight


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