The Major Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, which administered a co-funding agreement with state arts ministries, has been replaced by a similarly negotiated “National Performing Arts Partnership Framework”, with new terms and greater flexibility in admitting or terminating organisations and negotiating their funding support. The Framework has just admitted eight additional organisations, as announced in this media release from the Australia Council.


Australia Council for the Arts announcement

On Friday 11 June 2021 the Australian Government announced eight new organisations will join the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework, as part of the Government’s investment in building a vibrant performing arts ecology.

The National Performing Arts Partnership Framework provides significant investment in Australian performing arts for the benefit of Australian audiences. The National Performing Arts Partnership Framework is administered by the Australia Council, in partnership with all states and the Northern Territory. With the new entrants joining, the investment provides ongoing support to 38 companies.

The Framework was launched by the Australian and all state and territory governments in October 2019 to provide a cohesive and collaborative national approach to sustainable arts funding into the future and to guide effective decision making for the sector.

Organisations funded under the Framework will benefit from the stability of up to eight years funding. The Framework provides:

  • a clear approach to prioritising outcomes for the Australian performing arts sector, audiences and communities, such as growing First Nations arts;
  • a pathway to expand the number of funded companies through a two-stage invitation and assessment process;
  • stability of funding balanced with flexibility so governments can jointly respond to changing priorities;
  • increased transparency and accountability through enhanced reporting; and
  • a new approach to rewarding artistic and organisational excellence.

The eight new entrants to the Framework include the first organisation from the Northern Territory and the first regional organisations from Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria. The new entrants are:

See the full announcement here:

https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/programs-and-resources/National-Performing-Arts-Partnership-Framework/

Note from the Music Trust

Nearly all of the new additional organisations are theatre companies and NONE of them are music companies. It cannot be said that there is no need or opportunity to support more music companies – indeed, there are important areas of musical activity that are not represented in the major performing arts group nor, often, among the music organisations otherwise funded or omitted. For instance, large jazz or improvising ensembles or presenters, or service organisations/policy developers. Their exclusion has nothing to do with need or merit.  Even so, Live Performing Arts data show that classical music alone, not including opera, sells more tickets and box office than all of theatre and even moreso, all of dance. However, it can be acknowledged that the funded major music organisations consume a substantial part of the Major Performing Arts budget, which itself accounts for 59% of the total Australia Council grants budget.

Opera Queensland Pearlfishers

Excerpt from the media release from the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP

Eight additional key arts and cultural institutions across Australia will now receive ongoing funding under the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework, as part of the Morrison Government’s investment in building an arts and cultural sector for all Australians.

The supported organisations to be added to the program under the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework will bring the total number to 38. This is a step change in the number of organisations to benefit from the stability afforded by long-term Government funding.

The National Performing Arts Partnership Framework is a collaboration with states and territories administered through the Australia Council, which aims to bring more diversity and innovation to our national performing arts organisations.

Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, said the Framework would provide vital support to these leading performing arts companies.

“These eight new organisations will significantly broaden the scope of the Partnership Framework and reflect the importance of arts and culture being for all Australians, not just those in the inner-city areas of our capital cities,” Minister Fletcher said.

[The new organisations are listed.]

“This announcement builds on the strength of the 30 existing partners of the Framework, improving arts access in regional and remote communities, and increasing collaboration in the wider performing arts industry.”

This is the first time an organisation from the Northern Territory and regional organisations from Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria have been included in the Framework.

Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette AM said the eight new Partnership Organisations represented the potential of the new Framework to reflect and promote the diversity of Australian performing artists and organisations.

“It’s wonderful to see more opportunities for our performing arts companies, including those delivering innovative and important works in our regional communities, to join the national Partnership Framework which will help to build a stronger, more sustainable and vibrant performing arts sector for the benefit of all Australians,” Mr Collette said.

Sydney Dance Company

Observations from the Music Trust

Read the document describing the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework PDF | RTF | DOCX 

The National Performing Arts Partnership replaces the Australia Council’s Major Performing Arts Board. It has been negotiated between the participating state and Commonwealth governments and is described in detail in the document to which a link is provided above.

It is probably fair to say that the creation of the Major Performing Arts Board served to separate out the large organisations from the smaller ones and the individual artists because as government funded bodies they needed oversight and for relatively large organisations the oversight required  financial and organisational expertise beyond that required for the smaller organisations that are the majority of the remainder for which the Australia Council is responsible. These skills were not strengths of the existing structure but were provided to the Major Performing Arts Board.

There had been instances of major arts organisations incurring such losses that they had to be bailed out by governments. The new structure could be charged with averting that embarrassment.

However, the assessment of artistic achievement and innovation, a strong requirement for the smaller grant applicants, was virtually absent in the monitoring of the large organisations. And the purpose of all these organisations was, after all, artistic achievement and service. One sometimes suspected that it was forgotten that corporate performance was not their purpose, but rather a means to the artistic end. This lack of artistic oversight was regarded as an irrational and unearned privilege by the rest of the arts world.

There has been wide hostility towards the major performing arts organisations from the remainder of the arts community. Here are some of the complaints.

  • Through the major performing arts funding arrangements, between them they consume 59% of the arts funding distributed by the Australia Council.
  • Compared to other Australia Council clients, grants are very large.
  • The subsidy per audience member is on average TEN times larger than that to the SME performing arts organisations, which on the other hand are responsible for most of the performing arts innovation and development in Australia.
  • When the current government has cut Australia Council funding, the major performing arts organisations were quarantined from the cuts.
  • When the government has cut overall arts funding, inflationary increases to the major organisations continued while for the others they ceased. And of course, grant levels for ‘minors’ were reduced, or were cut entirely.
  • Not only were major organisations not assessed for artistic quality, they were not required to support Australian works nor artistic innovation as were most smaller organisations.
  • There is resentment at the size of grants to opera and orchestras along with claims that their art is irrelevant or low priority.
    • (One suspects that the value judgements here are are often attributable to people who have very different personal artistic preferences and knowledge.)
  • Such judgements seem to be passed most often when the Australia Council is involved. There are no comparable complaints about funding to large visual arts counterparts such as the major art galleries, which are mainly or entirely supported by the states.
    • Opera Australia is the butt of the fiercest criticism. For 2019, its combined government subsidies were $25.5m but its entire income when box office and other earnings of $104m were added, was $130.5m. Government subsidy was 19.5%. The Victorian National Gallery received subsidy of $60m but nothing at all is heard about that when these comparisons are made.
    • While OA received $20m from the Australia Council, music other than major performing arts organisations received only $10.6m in 2018-19!
    • OA received only $3.5m from the NSW government although NSW received most of the benefit from the operations of the company.
  • Some who are close to the situation believe that the corporate monitoring needed for the major companies is taking over in the Australia Council and is being misapplied to smaller organisations.
  • The major organisations are jointly funded by the Commonwealth and a state government with an agreed split in each case. But some state governments have unilaterally reduced their contributions. No doubt the Commonwealth wanted this rectified through a new agreement. The formality of these agreements will probably result in some inertia that further protects the funding to the major organisations.

The details of the Framework are recorded in the 12-page document for which the link is provided above. Here are some key points from the document.

There are priority outcomes ‘that are important to the Australian performing arts sector, Australian audiences and Australian communities, such as:

  • developing and rewarding artistic excellence;
  • increasing the creation of new Australian work;
  • developing First Nations arts;
  • addressing barriers and improving performance across key diversity areas;
  • improving access to the arts for Australians in regional and remote communities; and
  • increasing collaboration with performing arts companies not funded under the Framework.’

No mention of artistic innovation. Perhaps that is only of interest to artists. However, it is mentioned in the context of applications to extend funding (below).

Other things to be delivered – in summary:

Stability of funding in return for meeting KPI and core responsibilities in artform leadership, management, impact.

Clear pathway for expanding the cohort.

Flexibility of funding arrangements to address changing circumstances and company performance.

Increased transparency and accountability.

Mechanism to reward excellence in artistic achievement, management, planning, impact.

All organisations will be jointly funded with the Commonwealth/state shares agreed on a company by company basis. To date, the shares in music funding have been essentially one size fits all.

The Australia Council and each state will maintain their aggregate dollar value contributions based upon the 2019 levels. That could mean that any further Commonwealth funding cuts to the Australia Council are again visited entirely on non-major clients.

The Framework will be administered by the Australia Council, which will also collect and provide relevant data.

New organisations can be admitted on 4 year contract, renewable for 4 years subject to meeting performance expectations. The funding commitment is for a maximum of 8 years, with further additions in 4 year increments. Organisations can be terminated from the Framework with “Fair Notice” and an opportunity to rectify problems.

There is considerable detail about the process of inviting and assessing new organisations. These priorities differ from and are better than those already stated:

  1. Improving access to and participation in the arts for all Australians;
  2. Increasing the creation and presentation of new Australian works that reflect contemporary Australia in each artform;
  3. Developing First Nations arts and increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation within programming, new works, organisational workforce and leadership;
  4. Addressing barriers and improving performance across key diversity areas (including disability, gender, LGBTIQ+, age and cultural diversity) in arts practice, programming, employment, education, training, engagement and participation;
  5. Developing audiences for Australian performing arts through inter-jurisdictional domestic touring, touring to regional and remote communities and international touring;
  6. Increasing and improving access to arts education and fostering a culture of long-term growth in creativity and innovation;
  7. Increasing revenue from a range of non-government and private sector sources; and
  8. Increasing collaboration with arts companies not funded under the Framework, including from the performing arts and other artforms.

Ben Mingay as Sweeney Todd. West Australian Opera 2019

Australia Council answers some questions

Richard Letts put these questions to the Australia Council, and thanks it for its answers.

QUESTION: Under the Partnership, will majors continue to be quarantined from a) cuts to Australia Council funding, b) cuts to indexation for the Australia Council/non-MPA grantees. A particular case: The company by company agreements between the Commonwealth and relevant states will set a percentage share of funding for each. If the Commonwealth again cuts funding to the Australia Council, it will have insufficient funds to maintain its agreed shares. Will it with regret renege on providing its agreed shares, or take funds from the budget for non-majors?

 RESPONSE:

  • The introduction of the eight new entrants into the Framework, in addition to existing organisations, will see $485 million of Australian Government investment over the next four years (2021-24). This is the highest level of investment provided under the Framework to date.
  • From 2020 to 2021, the base level of investment in the Framework from the Australia Council has increased by $1,640,000. State and territory governments are also providing additional investment.
  • One of the key elements of the new Framework is that all funding partners have committed to, at a minimum, maintaining funding levels.

Letts: I think perhaps I didn’t make my point clearly enough. My concern is whether in order to maintain MPA funding, funds will be taken from small organisations. The Partnership Agreement is an agreement that applies to the major performing arts organisations. So on the face of it, the commitment is to maintain the MPA funding, not the entire agency funding budget. That could mean that in order to keep the commitment, funding is taken from the non-MPA budget. 

QUESTION: Funding must be found for the 8 new MPA grantees. Are they all already receiving ongoing funding from the Australia Council? Is their funding as MPA organisations new funds provided by the government? Or their current funding, transferred to MPA auspices? Or drawn from within the MPA prior total funding allocation? 

 RESPONSE:

  • New entrants will bring their current Australia Council funding into the Framework, and in some instances their funding levels will increase.
  • From 2020 to 2021, the base level of investment in the Framework from the Australia Council has increased by $1,640,000.
  • State and territory governments will also provide additional investment to some companies.

 Letts: So is the extra $1,640,000 new additional OVERALL funding from government to the Australia Council, intended entirely for the majors, or is it money that was in the total Australia Council budget that is being transferred away from the small organisations to the majors?

QUESTION: Will their funding diminish the total Australia Council funding for non-MPA organisations? If it will, how will the funding cuts be allocated between art form and other categories?

RESPONSE:

The number of multi-year investment organisations that the Australia Council supports through the NPAPF and FYFO has not changed. The new Framework provides stability of 8-year investment commitments for a range of Partnership Organisations of different scale and size. The Four Year Funded Organisations supported by the Australia Council also sit with the cohort of our multi-year investment organisations with an investment commitment of four years.

 Letts. This appears to mean that organisations that are not majors but have a commitment of four years of funding will receive that funding. However the grants budget includes funds assigned on other bases, serving individual artists and other SMEs. That funding apparently could be transferred to the major organisations and it would then be difficult to transfer it back.

QUESTION: It is good to see that there will be artistic assessments of the MPA organisations. Is there any quantification of the requirement for MPAs to present / commission Australian works. What would be regarded as underperformance?

 RESPONSE:

Partnership Organisations must address 4 to 5 Government Priorities negotiated between the Australia Council and the relevant state or territory jurisdiction for each company. They have negotiated a set of KPIs they will use to measure their performance against these Priorities. Every organisation must respond to a standard Government Priority to present and commission new Australia work and set KPIs accordingly. The number of Australian works organisations are able to present and commission in meeting this Priority is relative to the nature of the artform and audience expectations.

 QUESTION: Ditto innovative works?

 RESPONSE:

The artistic assessment of companies encompasses such considerations as innovation and excellence.

QUESTION: Concerning opera. Is there freedom for a state to depart from the model that MPA opera funds must go to support a single company? To present major mainstage productions? For instance, could a proposal from a state be adopted to split the funds between 2 or 3 small opera companies, say one with a strong emphasis on new opera, one a company like Pinchgut presenting early opera, one a small company presenting standard repertoire with high artistic standard and probably modest production values. Or split between a company serving the city and a company or company activity touring and developing the regions as was attempted by Opera Queensland under Lindy Hume. Would the new format enable the Australia Council to support such unconventional strategies proposed by a state?

RESPONSE:
Any changes to the make up of Partnership Organisations within a jurisdiction is a negotiation between the Australia Council and the relevant state or territory jurisdiction.

Letts. So it seems that the Agreement per se would not prevent this, but the policies of the Australia Council or a state arts ministry might, on an ad hoc basis. 

QUESTION: I gather the Partnership would permit state companies to tour a production to another state. True?

RESPONSE:

A number of Partnership Organisations have national touring as a Government Priority. However most may tour to other states if this is an objective within their strategic plan.

Australian national government arts funding and policy agency

Dr Richard Letts AM is the founder and Director of The Music Trust, founder and former Executive Director of the Music Council of Australia (now Music Australia) and Past President of the International Music Council. He has held senior positions in music and culture in Australia and the United States, advocated for music and music education, conducted research, written policy documents, edited four periodicals, published four books and hundreds of articles.

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