Overview of Government Cultural Funding

What is Included?

Public cultural funding in Australia has two main components: heritage and arts. Although it is clearly not the intention of the defining documentation (UNESCO), including them as a group may lead to the idea that they are aspects of related broad policies competing directly for the same pool of public money.1

Heritage in the Australian statistics is either cultural, such as art and other museums and cultural heritage generally, and libraries and archives, or environmental, which has two classes: nature parks and reserves (previously called national parks and wildlife services) and zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens. The inclusion of nature parks raises growing issues associated with humankind’s ability to cope with threats from climate change and other environmental factors as these become less controllable. These are indisputably vital survival issues, but there is a risk that as they gain further prominence, and funding is seen as competitive, they may disadvantage the “other” side of cultural survival — the arts. In short, the current statistical and institutional environment points to potential conflict between an ultimate objective to save Planet Earth for future generations, and the possibility that this may be allowed to overrule arts-related cultural policies. There should be no competition between these aspects of cultural funding which are both crucial for the well-being of our descendants.

Furthermore, the arts, like heritage, are defined broadly in these statistics. They include public broadcasting and film as well as literature, performing and visual arts. As well as being a prime vehicle for music and other arts, broadcasting encompasses many activities that cannot be described as “artistic” but take up a large part of the total budget. We must accept the definitions but must then zoom in on music and other performing arts to the extent that they can be identified. It quickly becomes clear that the inclusion of broadcasting in its entirety as “arts” dwarfs the funding available for individual artists and groups through the Australia Council, other federal departments, and state arts authorities; similarly, the funding of our major orchestras represents an amount many times larger than other funds available for musical innovation and community development.

Again, it is indisputable that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Service (ABC and SBS) are of major cultural importance, as is the role of our major orchestras in ensuring artistic excellence. They just mustn’t be allowed to shift the focus on what is also essential to ensure the continued survival of a vibrant music sector, and arts sector generally.

Moreover, the arts definition includes performing arts venues and community cultural centres — capital works almost exclusively funded by state, territory and local governments. These statistics define all items as recurrent or capital. Recurrent expenditure covers operations, wages and salaries, purchases of goods and services, and current grants and subsidies. Capital expenditure relates to fixed assets and acquisition of land, buildings and intangible assets. Capital expenditure in 2009-10 accounted for 13.4% of total cultural funding, with the bulk coming from states and territories (56.4%), followed by 26.8% from the Australian government, and 16.8% from local government.

Values in this article have been adjusted to eliminate the statistical impact of price changes, as discussed in How the Knowledge Base Assesses the Real Trends. The index used for the conversion was the “implicit deflator” of Gross National Expenditure, set to 2010-11 values.

Public funding of cultural facilities and activities comes from all three levels of government: federal, state and territory, and local. The funding is known in most detail at the two upper levels while unknowns remain for local government despite a recent re-classification of the data.2

Cultural funding in these statistics exclude education, which for music and other arts ranges from early childhood and studio teaching, primary and secondary schools to tertiary institutions. Education is not part of the government cultural funding defined in this article, and the issues associated with education are treated differently though they must come together eventually with the funding statistics described here. 3

Total cultural funding in the year ended June 2010 was $6.8 billion at 2010-11 prices (Table 1). The Australian government accounted for $2.5 billion (37% of the total), compared with $3.1 billion from state and territory governments (45%), and $1.2 billion from local government. The distributions across funding categories, however, differed substantially. Moreover, as discussed above, it is important to ensure that the perspective is not getting lost — the need to focus on the detail rather than the broad aggregate figures that hide that detail.

Heritage Funding

Funding under the heritage heading is primarily the domain of the states and territories. The Australian government contributed about $700 million in 2009-10 (28% of its total cultural funding), of which the bulk went to art and general museums and other cultural heritage (56%), with libraries and archives roughly sharing the remainder with environmental heritage.

Heritage funding from the states and territories (almost $2.4 billion or 77% of their total cultural funding) showed a different distribution, with the greater part going to environmental heritage (58%), 24% to museums and other cultural heritage, and 18% to libraries and archives.

The statistics remain incomplete for local government funding (see Section 1.4).

Arts Funding

The largest part of the Australian government’s cultural funding goes to the arts as they are broadly defined in these statistics ($1.8 billion or 72% in 2009-10). A major proportion of the arts allocation (more than $1.3 billion or 73%) went to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) — the two free-to-air public broadcasting organisations. Performing arts received $155 million, 9% of the Australian government’s cultural funding, of which identified music accounted for $90 million and dance, theatre and other performing arts for the balance of $65 million. 4 All other arts, including literature, design, film and video production and distribution, and “other arts”, received 18% of the total arts funding (defined to include public broadcasting) from the Australian government.

The Australian government provides little or no funding for performing arts venues as such — the bulk of its cultural funding is for recurrent expenditure rather than capital works (90.3% in 2009-10, leaving only 9.7% for fixed investment items). Furthermore, the capital component is much larger for heritage projects (18.2% in 2009-10, with all types — museums, environmental projects, libraries and archives — represented) than for arts projects (6.4%, of which the vast bulk — 94% — was associated with radio and television services).

Music performance accounted for $66 million of the $90 million total for music funded by the Australian government in 2009-10. Most of this went to the symphony and opera orchestras as part of the Australia Council’s Major Organisations program.5 The other categories were music theatre and opera ($22 million) and music composition and distribution ($2 million).

Funding of the arts by the states and territories totalled $704 million in 2009-10 (23% of their total heritage and arts funding). Performing arts received $388 million, of which $219 million was for venues (compared with nil from the Australian government). Music identified in the data received $75 million (performance $52 million, theatre and opera $23 million) and other performing arts $94 million. In contrast to the Australian government, radio and television services were a minor item of state and territory funding, but other arts including film and video received $315 million.

Local Government

Table 1 suggests that heritage accounts for a very high share of local government funding. The exact level is not known because heritage and arts are combined in the item “cultural and arts services n.e.c.”. The arts included in that item would be literature, visual arts, design, radio and television, film and video, and multimedia. The only local government heritage item not specifically identified in Table 1 is “environmental heritage” (parks and reserves, zoos and botanical gardens), which would therefore account for all heritage funding in this mixed category. It is uncertain what is included in the arts category — one possible candidate that has been dismissed is community radio which is largely funded by local businesses and sponsorships as well as grants but not directly by local government.6

In the absence of specific data we have tentatively split the unidentified difference of $253 million with three-quarters to environmental heritage and one-quarter to “other arts”. On this assumption, local government funded heritage clocks in at about $1.07 billion (87% of total cultural local government funding). If these assumptions are reasonably correct, arts funding from local government is at most $150 million ($93 million for performing arts, of which an unknown amount benefits music, and an uncertain $57 million for other arts). 7

It remains to be said that the data show direct funding by each of the three levels of government. The underlying policies may be more interlinked than the statistics reveal, not only through the prevailing intergovernmental fiscal relations but through the encouragement or financial incentive (or lack of) that higher levels of government can give lower levels to pursue particular cultural policies. Arguably, the political power of a higher level of government extends beyond its own direct funding of cultural activities, though actual statistics quoted below suggest that the states and territories, and presumably local governments too, continue to exercise a considerable degree of autonomy.

Funding of Music and Other Performing Arts

Table 1 showed that total funding of music by the Australian government in 2009-10 amounted to $90 million at 2010-11 values, compared with $75 million from state and territory governments. So the Australian government provided 55% of the total $165 million worth of music funding by the two upper levels of government in 2009-10.

Music in that year accounted for 58% of all performing arts grants by the Australian government, compared with 44% for the total state and territory governments (Table 2). However, this relates to one year only and the next main section (Trends) reveals sizable annual fluctuations around the trends in these grants. Generally, music and other performing arts in states and territories are a relatively minor part of total arts, but the states and territories provide large amounts for performing arts centres and other infrastructure for future performances of all performing artforms. Australian government instrumentalities have not funded such buildings in recent years, and the only statistics since 1994-95 may be referring to a single project.8

Of the three music categories identified since 2007-08, performance other than opera and music theatre received the highest funding in all states except Queensland in 2009-10. Population size was to a limited extent reflected in total music funding in each state and territory, but a closer look reveals quite large differences.

In fact, few funding shares come close to the population share, shown in blue in Table 3 which compares state and territory distributions of total funding of music, total arts and total cultural funding of both arts and heritage with the state and territory shares of the total Australian population in 2009-10. It shows remarkable variation, not only at how a particular criterion, such as music funding, compares with the population pattern, but also how different this particular criterion is from the pattern of total arts funding, and from total funding including heritage. Clearly, there are many forces at work, including conflicting interests that favour particular allocations of performing and other arts (and infrastructures) above others, and heritage above arts projects or vice versa.

The colour code in Table 3 is black when the share of a particular state or territory is more than 5% below the population standard.9 New South Wales in 2009-10 provided 31% of total music funding of all states and territories. This wasn’t very much below the population share of that state (32.4%), but NSW was very under-represented in total arts funding, providing only 16% of the state and territory total in 2009-10. It was stronger on heritage funding relative to its population though the share of arts plus heritage in 2009-10 remained below the population share for that year.

Victoria, in comparison, was relatively strong on music funding for the size of its population, about neutral in terms of its share of total arts funding relative to its 2009-10 population, and relatively weak on heritage funding (in contrast to NSW), causing the percentage of total cultural funding in the last column to fall into the black “relatively under-funded” group. The funding pattern in Victoria varied more than for any other state or territory, with music significantly above average, total arts practically matching the population share (indicating that other arts might be relatively under-funded), and heritage significantly below.

Queensland in 2009-10 was weak on music funding, relatively strong on total arts, and also punching above its weight on total cultural funding with arts rather than heritage appearing as the main contributor (share of total heritage and arts funding by states and territories being lower (21.7%) than for total arts alone (23.9%)). Both Queensland totals, excluding and including heritage funding, were significantly higher than the population share, and therefore coloured green in Table 3.

The three most populous states may benefit from “economics of scale”, since the areas where funding shares fell below their population shares were concentrated there; however, the picture is by no means consistent, showing again the great variation in distributions among cultural funding categories. For the other states and territories (apart from total arts in Tasmania), the light green colour code dominates, indicating that funding in 2009-10 was generally above what might be expected on a population basis. There are quite large variations, however, which suggests that each state and territory has strong preferences not just about how much should be allocated to music but also regarding the arts as a whole including infrastructure development, and how this meshes with heritage funding. The picture certainly doesn’t indicate any harmony across Australia as far as cultural funding is concerned — on the contrary the pattern is quite volatile. And this is only one year in the history of cultural funding — predictability is not an prime feature of these statistics.

This seems to diagnose a lack of common policy across Australia in respect of cultural funding, and even a consistent policy within a particular state or territory. Although the Australian government may be able to influence the states and territories in their cultural policies, this opportunity looks fairly limited judging from the actual funding patterns.

Funding is often expressed per head of population as in Table 4 (which again excludes local government due to lack of comparable data). For music, the Australian government provided most of the funding, amounting to $4.07 per person compared with an average of $3.38 for the states and territories. The latter, of course, provide infrastructure in the form of cultural centres and other buildings that are recorded separately but benefit all performing arts. Total music funding per head from both upper levels of government was $7.45 in 2009-10.

Queensland lagged behind in the provision of music per head of population ($2.54 compared with the state and territory average of $3.38). The highest average music funding per head was in Tasmania and the two territories, suggesting that some extra incentive may have been needed in the less populated areas not benefiting from “economics of scale”. The two territories probably also benefit from receiving funds directly for special needs from the Australian government.

Factors such as those just described influenced the funding of conventionally defined music performance in particular, whereas other rules governed the distribution of funding to music theatre and opera. The average per capita funding for this was two dollars, equally provided by the Australian government and states and territories. For music theatre and opera, however, the total population size (or perhaps specifically the size of the capital city) has to be a certain minimum which was clearly not reached in Tasmania and the territories. In the five mainland states, the average funding per head for music theatre and opera was clustered around one dollar, with a range from $1.28 in Queensland to 87 cents in NSW (seemingly unrelated to population size).

Music accounted for a majority of Australian government funding for the performing arts but not of state and territory funding where music exceeded 50% only in NSW, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory. The overall average funding for all government funding of performing arts was 51% music ($7.45 per head) and 49% other performing arts ($14.64 – $7.45 = $7.19).

Total arts funding by the Australian government including other creative arts, radio and television, and film and video, amounted to $81.34 per person, of which performing arts accounted for 8.6%, kept low by the dominance of funding of the ABC and SBS. Among the states and territories, total arts funding per head was highest in the ACT ($78.54), followed by South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, with NSW lowest at $15.64.

Heritage funding averaged $139 per head in 2009-10, coming mainly from states and territories ($107) with $32 from the Australian government. Funding per head was highest in the Northern Territory, showing an average over five times larger than the state with the lowest average, Victoria.

Total arts and heritage cultural funding per head averaged $252 in 2009-10, with $113 coming from the Australian government and $139 from state and territory governments. Again, it was highest in the Northern Territory ($401) followed by the ACT ($274), then Western Australia and Tasmania. It was not much above $100 in NSW and Victoria, again demonstrating an amazing span in Australian funding patterns.

Another way of looking at these patterns is in terms of funding ratios, meaning the relationship of music (or another item) funding to total arts or total cultural funding including heritage (Table 5). For Australian government funding, the share of music in “total arts” was 5%, but if the funding of the ABC and SBS is excluded, the share of music rises to 18.8%. State and territory government funding does not include significant contributions to broadcasting, and the two columns of Table 5 showing the share of music to total arts are therefore nearly identical.

There were great differences among the states and territories, however — music relative to total arts funding was above 20% in Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and NSW, but it was below 8% in Queensland, South and Western Australia, and the ACT. Victoria was in an intermediate position at 11.6%, and was actually the only state to match the share of music in total cultural funding by the Australian government (3.6%).

Table 5 also shows the relativities for other performing arts. The funding ratios are generally higher than for music, and again vary widely geographically. The average funding ratio for both upper government levels in 2009-10 to total heritage and arts cultural funding was 5.8%, slightly below the Australian government average of 6.2%. The average for states and territories was 5.5%. As for music, funding by the Australian government showed a higher ratio to total cultural funding, but the difference was not so wide for the other performing arts.

Arts and Heritage Totals

Cultural funding data have been recorded since 1988, based on research carried out for the Australia Council which developed the proposed framework for these statistics. Table 6 shows the time series from 1992-93 at constant 2010-11 values for the three tiers of government, and the distinction between heritage and arts funding which can traced back to 1998-99 in a form still reasonably compatible with current definitions and methodologies. There was a break in the statistical collection procedures in 2007-08 which cannot be documented from the statistics because it wasn’t possible to show both the old and the new basis for the preceding year, 2006-07. 10 However, while the adjustments to some arts and heritage items appear to be more substantial, we estimate that the improved collection procedures for music has captured about $2 to 3 million (2-3%) of additional Australian government funding per year outside the Australia Council since 2007-08 (see Section 4, Table 9, below).

Australian government funding seems to have experienced a relatively larger break than for the state and territory and local levels of government. Chart 1 illustrates, based on Table 6, that there is more of a jump in the red line showing the Australian government funding trend between 2006-07 and 2007-08, than in the blue and green lines.

Chart 1 shows total trends in cultural funding going back to 1988-89 with the initial years based on a previous version of this article.11 All levels of government taken together show an annual trend rate of growth of 3.5%, but over the total period it was led by the states and territories (5.3% pa), followed by local government (3.9% pa), with funding from the Australian government lagging behind (1.7% pa). The chart shows, however, that the main growth in state, territory and local government funding occurred in the 1990s. Comparing the level in 1999-2000 with 2009-1012, the apparent total annual funding growth is reduced to 2.2%, funding by states and territory governments to 2.4%, and local government to 1.1%. The Australian government component shows an increase of 2.6% pa, but as Chart 1 suggested it appears to be affected more than the other levels by the new collection methods. A preliminary estimate based on the trends is that $200 to 250 million may have been added from 2007-08, and that the true annual growth rate for Australian government funding based on the previous statistical collecting methods was below 2%. This would also reduce the annual rate for total cultural funding to 2% or less.

Chart 2 shows funding trends since 1998-99 for federal, state and territory funding of arts and heritage. After significant growth in the five years to about 2004, it appears that state and territory heritage funding has been largely static in subsequent years. The smaller heritage component, funded by the Australian government, has shown some recent growth following the jump between 2006-07 and 2007-08 which may not be associated with the changed collection procedure.

Australian government arts funding has increased — this might have been expected to be associated with broadcasting and film which account for the lion’s share of this funding. However, comparing 2001-02 with 2009-10 suggests that broadcasting and film funding increased at exactly the same rate in real terms as the funding of the rest of the arts (2.8% per annum or 25% in total over the eight years — even year by year the residual arts retained a remarkably stable relationship to the total including broadcasting and film, varying between 18% and 22% with no apparent trend up or down. Arts funding by the states and territories, which has little broadcasting content, also appears to be growing in real terms.

Music and Other Performing Arts

Funding of music and other performing arts, however, presents a mixed picture (Table 7). For music, the Australian government statistics move fairly irregularly from year to year but seems to have shown modest growth. This is negated by further analysis of Australia Council data in Table 9 (Section 4), suggesting that the trend from 2001-02 to 2010-11 was dead flat or very slow at an average of $87.6 million. Chart 3 shows an annual trend rate of 0.8% based on regression analysis but the fluctuations are so wide (especially between 2006-07 and 2007-08 which may be due to the time when these statistics were recorded) that the trend is probably not significantly different from zero.

State and territory funding of music at first sight looks like growing rapidly from the 1990s. While the statistics include an “old” series which was significantly revised up when the new series was introduced in 1998-99, and despite a downward adjustment for 2006-07 explained in the footnote to Table 7, recent years have still been higher than between 1998-99 and 2005-06 — indeed the annual trend line from 1998-99 to 2009-10 is as high as 7.6%.

Total music funding in real terms by the Australian government and states and territories therefore appears to have shown reasonably continuous growth of 3.3% per annum over 11 years to 2009-10. This increase was almost entirely due to growth in state and territory funding.

On the other hand, funding for other performing arts appears to have fallen from the 1990s up to 2006-07, only partly associated with the reclassification to the new basis in 1998-99. This applies to both funding sources. The downward trend for other performing arts continued in the states and territories up to 2006-07, while it fluctuated around the lower level in the new series for Australian government funding between 1998-99 and 2006-07.

Since the new collection regime was introduced in 2007-08, the level of funding for other performing arts has been at a higher level, which is assumed to be due to the change in methodology. It may even have been associated with some reclassification from music to other performing arts.

Table 8 shows trends in music funding for each state and territory between 2000-01 and 2009-10. The figures are best expressed in terms of funding per head in 2009-10 and change in share in total funding between 2000-01 and 2009-10 (bearing in mind that the total trend in music funding over this period has been quite strong as discussed above. The average music funding per head of population in 2009-10 was $3.40 at constant 2010-11 values.

  • In NSW, music funding per head according to Table 8 ($3.26) remained below the national average of $3.40 in 2009-10. However, this state showed strong growth and increased its share of total music funding from 22.8% to 31.1% (its share of the total Australian population was 32.4% according to Table 3).
  • Victoria has reached an above-average amount of funding per head in 2009-10 ($3.74). Like NSW, music funding grew strongly, from a 15.1% share of total music funding in 2000-01 to 27.3% in 2009-10 (when Victoria’s share of the total population was 24.8%).
  • Queensland in 2009-10 had the lowest amount of music funding per head of any state or territory ($2.58). Its share of total music funding declined from 22.4% in 2000-01 to 15.2% in 2009-10 when its share of the total Australian population was 20.1%.
  • South Australia also lost share, but just managed to hold on the national average of $3.40 in 2009-10. Its share of total music funding halved from 2000-01 (14.7%) to 7.4% in 2009-10 — the latter percentage was same as its population share.
  • Western Australia in 2009-10 showed a slightly below-average amount of music funding per capita ($3.24). Its share of total music funding fell from 15.1% in 2000-01 to 9.9% in 2009-10, when its population share was 10.4%.
  • Tasmania enjoyed an above-average share of music funding per head of population in 2009-10 ($5.65). Its share of total music funding increased from 3.3% in 2000-01 to 3.8% in 2009-10, against a population share of 2.3% in that year.
  • Northern Territory music funding per head was the highest in Australia in 2009-10 ($8.05). It increased its share of total Australian music funding from 1.5% to 2.5% over the nine years, with a population share of 1.0% in 2009-10.
  • The Australian Capital Territory showed the second-highest amount of music funding per head in 2009-10 ($6.01). While its share of the national total declined from 5.1% to 2.9% over the period, the latter figure still compares favourably with the population share in 2009-10 (1.6%).

The patterns are complex and the changes quite dramatic over the first decade of the 21st century. Given that total music funding increased quite strongly, the changes in NSW and Victoria are impressive, though the former state is still lagging slightly behind in terms of music funding per capita. “Economics of scale” may provide some explanation, but in a complex state with a strongly expanding metropolitan area and a growing concern for spreading the benefits to provincial towns and rural areas, the explanation is probably insufficient.

The Australia Council for the Arts

Changing Perspectives and Structures

The Australia Council was finally established in 1973 as a separate agency operating at arm’s length from government. At the time, “the arts sector was in a fledgling form, lacking serious funding and a strong identity. Compare this scene with the Australian arts sector today. It is no exaggeration to say that it has transformed in its sophistication and scope. … During that time, it has built its support from a narrow focus on organisations working in more ‘traditional’ artforms, to a broad agenda supporting artists and organisations from the smallest artist run initiative to major performing arts companies.”13

The basic structure of the Council from its inception has been the division into a number of artform boards to cover dance, theatre, music, literature, visual arts and crafts, Indigenous arts and other areas. Within each board, grants are allocated through peer review within a set of broad guidelines. To keep up with a developing society, however, other functions have been added, so that the structure of the Council at the time of writing consists of four divisions:

  1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts (ATSIA) supports the development and promotion of traditional arts practices and new forms of artistic expression among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in urban and regional areas, and in all artforms.
  2. Arts Development is responsible for the Australia Council’s work in the areas of audience and market development, arts marketing, skills development, international marketing and promotion, research and analysis, and business services. It also manages Council’s marketing and communication initiatives.
  3. Arts Funding supports the excellence and diversity of arts practice through its grant categories, strategic initiatives and multi-arts projects. The division comprises seven artform sections. Senior officers manage grant assessment processes and artform development for the dance, literature, music, theatre and visual arts boards, and for the community partnerships section and inter-arts office.
  4. Arts Organisations aims to ensure Australia has an artistically vibrant, financially viable and broadly accessible arts sector by supporting the nation’s arts organisations. The Major Performing Arts Board is responsible for oversight of the operations of 28 major performing arts companies throughout Australia, as joint and equal partners with state government funding agencies. The Key Organisations section is responsible for managing relationships with about 140 small to medium sized triennially funded arts organisations across Australia.

Major Organisations

In view of its dominant position of the Australia Council’s total funding, the Major Performing Arts Board needs special mention. In 1999, it succeeded the Major Organisations Board (or Fund) which was formed in April 1995 with 15 companies, and augmented in December of the same year with two more. The 1995-96 Annual Report of the Australia Council noted (p 34): “These companies face complex business and planning needs, particularly given the changing and fragile environment in which they operate, the high-risk nature of their operations and their limited asset base.” The basic aim was to assist them in gaining viability and self-reliance.

The 17 companies, however, did not include opera companies, which in the case of the Australian Opera (Opera Australia) was funded by what was then known as the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DOCITA). The Queensland, South Australian and Western Australian state opera companies received funding from their respective state governments.14

This situation was changed in 2001 following a major inquiry into the role of the Australia Council and other arts-related organisations, published in 1999 and generally known as the Nugent report after its chairperson.15. The key recommendations on major organisations are based on the following statement (p 31):

“The Commonwealth Government should agree that all Commonwealth Government funding (including for the orchestras)16 should be undertaken by the Australia Council through a Board of the Council, operating on principles similar to the Major Organisations Fund. This group should be known as the Major Performing Arts Board.

The Inquiry supports this recommendation because:

  • the Australia Council is an independent arm’s length funding body;
  • the Major Organisations Fund has demonstrated its ability to add value to, and to work constructively with, the companies and to provide an early warning signal of possible difficulties; and
  • this approach will not represent a significant change for the dance, theatre, and chamber music companies, while the state opera companies have not previously received core funding at a Commonwealth Government level and have little experience of either funding body. At the same time, the Inquiry recognises that this change will require a process of adjustment by Opera Australia and the orchestras.”

This recommendation has basically governed developments over the past several years since the Nugent report was implemented.

Continuing Review

The future role and functions of the Australia Council have often been under debate, and are so currently. In December 2011 the Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean, announced an independent review of the Australia Council for the Arts ahead of the development of the nation’s first National Cultural Policy in almost 20 years.

The Review of the Australia Council was published in May 2012 (see reference at the beginning of this main section). It contains 16 complex interrelated recommendations, one of which (number 2.3) defines the proposed relationship between the Australia Council and the Office for the Arts (OFTA), which is the current Australian Government’s arts and culture policy and funding body. To support “the national artistic life cycle”, OFTA would be responsible for access (policy in Whole of Government context, and funding access in line with Whole of Government priorities). The Australia Council would be responsible for excellence, including its funding and investment, and advocacy. The two authorities would share a common purpose to inform the policy through research.

Additional funding adding 11% to the current Australia Council budget would go mainly towards providing hitherto unfunded excellence which it had identified within its current application base (part of recommendation 6.4). (It would be interesting to ascertain how much of this unfounded excellence has been identified with musical activities.)

Within the interrelated net of recommendations, the most visible proposed change to the Australia Council’s structure is number 14, which outlines a new model for grant allocation to replace the current artform board structure with a general stream for grant applications across all artforms. It preserves the centrality of peer assessment but allows for more peers to become involved in the assessment process. The current boards and other funding areas would be replaced by advisory panels providing specific knowledge on community arts, dance, Indigenous arts, music, touring, cross-disciplinary arts, digital and interactive arts, literature, theatre, and visual arts.

The review has only been published for two months at the time of writing and it is not clear how much will be implemented, and when. Whatever the case may be, it represents a major example of how an existing institution is coming under increasing pressure to ensure that it remains relevant and efficient in the 21st century. In the words of the review:

“In 2012 we are again at the precipice of significant change in Australia — this time driven by economic and technological rather than social forces. We have experienced the longest continuous period of growth in the Australian economy, fuelled by the greatest mining boom in Australia’s history — with all the ensuing benefits including low unemployment and a bigger economy.” (p 7)

We are increasingly aware of the need to stimulate areas of long-term advantage in our economy, to build our economic resilience so that we are able not just to survive but to take advantage of change and instability. This will require creativity and innovation across many areas that do not traditionally demonstrate these characteristics. The Review believes the arts sector has a great opportunity to be a leader in this endeavour — to stimulate ideas and invention. It must be properly funded to undertake this role.” (p 8)

Total funding by the Australia Council averaged $172 million at constant 2010-11 values over the ten years to 2010-11. There was no significant upward or downward trend but the total varied between $181.3 million in 2005-06 and $163.8 million in the latest year, 2010-11 (Table 9). Music accounted for 49% of total Australia Council funding, again with no apparent trend. The annual total varied between $99.9 million in 2006-07 and $74.4 million in the following year, which seems to indicate timing differences in the accounting procedures since the average for the two years is on a par with other years in Table 9.

The Australia Council accounted for more than 98% of total music funding by Australian government authorities, according to the statistical methodology in force until 2006-07. The dominant position of the Council in this artform makes it possible to estimate the total statistics during the new statistical regime from 2007-08, as these numbers would have looked under the previous regime. The average non-Australia Council music funding from 2001-02 to 2006-07 was $2.2 million at constant 2010-11 values, which in view of a slight upward trend suggests a rise to $2.5 million in 2010-11 (figures shown in red). This yields an “old” total music funding total of $87-88 million in the three years to 2010-11, compared with “new” statistics of about $90 million. This 2.8% increase under the new regime would be all due to newly identified funding by Australian government authorities other than the Australia Council, whose annual report presents a consistent time series through the period under review.

The upshot of the new approach is that the Australia Council represents about 94% of total funding of music by Australian government instrumentalities, rather than 97% — still a very powerful position.

A consistent series of funding by the Australia Council’s Music Board has not been established for the knowledge base at this stage. In 2010-11, the Board funded about $3.5 million, of which 21% represented overseas and national projects (Table 10). Within the Australian funding allocation, NSW and Victoria dominated, attracting 71% of Music Board funds between them. The shares of all other states, and the two territories, were generally much lower than their shares of the total population. Hence, Music Board funding per head, which averaged $1.27 across Australia, varied from $1.71 and $1.56 in NSW and Victoria respectively, to 29 cents in the Northern Territory and 36 cents in Tasmania.

Sources of Australia Council Music Funding

Table 11 shows the 12 funding areas currently defined by the Australia Council. The first column shows the official statistics for 2010-11, starting with the Major Performing Arts (MPA) funding to music and other major companies. In addition to core grants, the MPA Board provided a variety of funds to individual companies, and to some other recipients.

The second funding area in Table 11 is the Music Board, whose funding is dwarfed by the MPA grants, but which is governed by the peer review which has been part of the boards’ functions for the past almost 40 years, and according to the latest recommendations are scheduled to continue in a modified form. The level of Music Board funding is roughly comparable with other artform boards including Literature, Theatre and Visual Arts, and significantly exceeds the funding by the ATSIA and Dance Boards. These other boards are listed in the bottom half of Table 11.

The first column of Table 11 shows that the actual funding in 2010-11 amounted to $97.1 million of MPA grants, $3.5 million of grants through the Music Board, and the remaining $63 million through other funding areas. The largest of these amounts were channeled through the second part of the MPA Division catering for small to medium sized “key organisations” ($27.4 million), followed by Community Partnerships which focuses its support in a number of specific areas including regional Australia, disability, young people, cultural diversity, emerging communities, Indigenous people, remote Indigenous communities and specific critical social and cultural issues requiring focused attention (8.2 million), and the Arts Development Division which is basically concerned with audience and marketing development and support through research ($8 million).

All other funding areas including the five artform boards shared the remaining $20 million of Australia Council funds in 2010-11.

The Australia Council lists of individual grants are only roughly comparable with the official annual funding statistics, apparently because they are listed in the chronological order in which funding decisions were made. The second column of Table 11 shows the four-year grants average from 2007-08 to 2011-12 to be a grand total of $145.7 million compared with the $163.8 million actually funded in 2010-11. The discrepancy varied among funding areas, but the grants list totals for each funding area were generally below the actual total as shown for 2010-11.

Despite the discrepancy (on which the knowledge base would appreciate advice), the grants lists are judged to be representative. This is valuable because they cast further light on the music content of Australia Council grants. The MPA organisations are split between 14 music and 14 non-music organisations with music representing 79% of total MPA funding over four years. Music Board grants, like MPA music organisations, are also defined as 100% music.

For other funding areas, music plays a lesser but still substantial role. The note below Table 11 shows that music was represented in about 21% of the total 5,135 grants over the four years. This estimate is based on cases where the name and description of the grant suggested that music played an integral role. Music was relatively most prominent in ATSIA Board grants (14% of total funding), Key Organisations (13%), and Community Partnerships (11%).

In total, music appeared to be an integral part of 55% of the total value of funding. The dominant share remained with the MPA grants (accounting for 90.1% of the value). The Music Board represented 4.2% and other funding areas 5.7% (mainly due to the key organisations).

Historical Perspective

Professor David Throsby wrote an article in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Yearbook Australia 2001, pp 548-561 (ABS Cat 1301.1),17 detailing the development of arts funding in the 20th century. The article concentrates on the ‘core’ arts, largely excluding activities such as broadcasting and film. The following is based on Throsby’s article to which the reader should refer for comprehensive detail.

Some public funding through the various state governments existed before Federation in 1901. This is manifest in the art galleries in Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart, all founded with government support. But annual government grants were very modest.

The beginning of direct grants to artists was the Commonwealth Literary Fund in 1908, starting as “compassionate” support but greatly enlarged in 1939 to encourage the development of Australian literature through writer fellowships and other devices. The fund was finally replaced by the newly formed Australia Council Literature Board in 1973.

In the decade following World War 2, there were three significant developments:

  • The forerunner of the Arts Council of Great Britain set up during the war gave rise to state arts councils in New South Wales and subsequently in other states, before a federal arts council was formed in 1964.
  • The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (AETT) was formed in 1954, presenting drama, dance and opera funded by all three government levels. The Elizabethan Trust Opera Company (1956) was also the forerunner of the Australian Opera, founded in 1969.
  • The Sydney Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1946 under the auspices of the then Australian Broadcasting Commission and was quickly followed (by 1950) by symphony orchestras in all six states.

The period from 1968 to 1990 has been called Australia’s “cultural renaissance”. Towards the end of 1967 Prime Minister Harold Holt announced the formation of the first Australia Council for the Arts, which began operating in July 1968 with a budget of $1.5 million, at that time representing a considerable increase on previous levels of support. The Whitlam Labor government which was elected in 1972 moved promptly to reconstitute the Australia Council, and rationalise the other arts funding arrangements that had been established. The result was the formation of a structure with seven boards in charge of Aboriginal arts, craft, film and television, literature, music, theatre (including opera and dance) and visual arts, and the establishment of the Australia Council as a statutory authority in 1975.

The boards represented the basic structure of today’s Australia Council for a long time, though there have been some recent significant changes as shown in the previous section. Also, film and television were quickly transferred from the original structure. The Australian Film Commission was founded in 1975, followed by the Film Finance Corporation in 1988. Meanwhile, in 1978 the federal government introduced tax concessions under the Tax Assessment Act to encourage investments in the Australian film industry (‘Section 10BA’ concessions).

In parallel with the development of the Australia Council from its genesis in 1967-68, the states moved to establish their own funding bodies. Queensland was first in 1968. By the mid-seventies all states had established mechanisms to handle their expanding arts funding activities.

David Throsby recorded the earliest proper statistics of arts funding in Australia in his article. One of his tables has been converted to 2006-07 constant values (our Table 10). It contains statistics for the seven main art forms under the Australia Council but includes all levels of government except local government in 1968-69 (a tiny component in those days). Throsby notes that government expenditure on art galleries, performing arts venues, symphony orchestras, and film and video are not included.

The general impression is that there was a great burst of core arts funding up to 1974, but there was then a lull in real terms over the next nine or ten years. There was a second burst in the second half of the 1980s in which music somehow didn’t share.18 The main beneficiaries of that second expansion according to these statistics were theatre and dance, Aboriginal arts, community arts, and visual arts and crafts.

One of Throsby’s most important observations is how the Australia Council acquired its decision-making structure (p 556). Funding of the arts basically follows three models, so the founding fathers and mothers in the sixties and seventies could consider:

  • A program of tax concessions to encourage private philanthropy to support the arts, as in the United States
  • Establishing a ministry of culture to dispense funds to arts organisations and individuals, as in some European countries
  • Adopting the British Arts Council model where an independent public body allocates funds free of direct political control.

Opting for the third choice, Australia (including the states and territories) has adopted the twin principles of “arm’s length funding”, where decisions are made without political interference, and “peer review”, where grants are determined on the basis of independent expert advice. As this article amply demonstrates, the merits and details of this approach are under perpetual review, with most publicity being given to the Australia Council in this respect.

Key Findings and Conclusions

Arts and heritage funding is looked after by three tiers of government, federal, state or territory, and local. The two lower tiers provide capital works like cultural centres and community facilities in support of the performing arts. Heritage is predominantly the province of state and territory government whether “natural” such as nature parks, or “cultural” such as art and other museums.

Arts are defined in these statistics to include government radio and television (ABC and SBS) which includes the total expenses of these organisations. A large majority of the Australian government’s music funding goes to symphony and pit orchestras. Performing arts (not counting the major orchestral organisations) received 9% of its cultural funding in 2009-10, of which music took about three-fifths. This was all recurrent expenditure items — the Australian government does not as a rule fund capital works in the cultural field, such as performing arts centres.

State and territory funding of music and other arts has shown great variation not only by head of population but also as part of the funding allocations relative to total arts funding and total cultural funding including heritage. There are no really consistent patterns. Generally, the larger and more populous states provide less music and other funding per capita than the smaller states and territories, the exception being opera and music theatre which is concentrated in the five mainland states.

Naturally, there are structural reasons why given funding allocations differ from one area to another. Recognising this still leaves the impression that a common cultural funding policy is imperfect, though it is difficult to ascertain how much is due to innate geographical and social differences and how much to inconsistent policies as far as funding for music performance other than music theatre and opera is concerned. For the latter, the market needs to be a minimum size, so there is little or no funding for music theatre and opera in Tasmania and the two territories. In the five larger states, funding per head for these purposes is very roughly equal.

There was little growth in the Australian government’s funding for music over the decade to 2010-11, whereas state and territory funding increased at a significant pace.

The following items outline some overlapping concerns intended as guidance towards recognising the key cultural funding issues:

  • Trends and differences between levels of government and apparent lack of clear policy guidance, especially at state and territory level.
  • What are the genuine differences between geographical areas as to funding needs?
  • Culture as a policy item, including environmental heritage versus other cultural requirements, media including public broadcasting, and any influences from overseas trends.
  • Impact of different medium-term funding trends, notably states and territories versus federal.
  • Competition within and between environmental and cultural funding, including museums and libraries compared with nature parks, and other performing arts within total arts as defined for these statistics.
  • Which part is winning the race at present or might gain or lose influence in future years, as a result of factors such as the recognition of rapid climate change?
  • Implications, if any, of environmental heritage being primary state matters.
  • Competition between broadcasting, big orchestras and nurturing the arts at the basic individual artist and group level in the interest of both innovative excellence or creative community partnerships. The magnitude of the allocation to funding areas such as “boards” and similar structures at state level.
  • The position of music in all this, specifically the role of the boards and other funding areas.
  • Recognition that the issues surrounding the funding of major organisations such as orchestras differ from the issues of funding individual artists and groups.
  • Defining any legal and administrative constraints on how to fix problems such as those outlined here.
  • How can the different parts of cultural funding (“heritage” versus “arts”) be made to cooperate and reinforce each other rather than compete for scarce dollars? Both have medium- to long-term impacts on the nation’s health. Because they can be hard to measure from year to year, they are allegedly easier to postpone in favour of short-term priorities.
  • Developing an alternative to “GDP fixation” over the next few years while recognising its importance as an economic indicator — providing creative and realistic additional measures or “metrics” to steer the medium- and long-term development of our society. Culture and environment as natural partners.
  • Government funding not included here: all levels of music (and other arts) education — a set of issues that is separate from cultural funding of music but where do the twain meet?
  • Exploring the unfunded priorities identified in recent Australia Council research, focusing on those associated with music, and analysing the policy implications.
  • Implications for Australia Council procedures, defined as at present and extended to fit current recommendations for change such as the recent report for the Minister for the Arts on the future of the Council.
  • Overriding questions: What really determines funding of music and other performing arts? How can these determinants be influenced to make the various components of culture cooperate rather than compete?

A tentative list of key issues for a complex policy area:

  1. Stronger policy focus on music and the performing arts in the context of the total arts-related funding area — based on cooperation between the federal and state/territory governments, and between the latter and local governments.
  2. Recognition of environmental heritage and the arts as cooperative rather than competing forces — both are important means of support for Australia’s well-being in the medium and long term.
  3. Better definitions of what constitutes “the arts” as a core discipline rather than financing administrative machinery, as in the public broadcasting organisations.
  4. Exploring the relationships between music education and the funding of music and other performing arts.
  5. A strategic medium- to long-term focus on the core music activities such as those currently funded at “board” level in the Australia Council, in support of innovative excellence throughout, including community cultural development.
  6. Ensuring a predictable future for music funding in the face of continuing changes in administration, and changes in competing areas brought about by external factors such as global environmental challenges.
  7. What are we really dealing with and is the current modest level of funding left for the core music and other performing arts activities sufficient?


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Previous version 8 March 2008. Extensively updated and rewritten by 25 July 2012. Further substantial edits 3 and 9 August 2012. Minor edits 28 February 2013.


  1. The 2009 UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics defines six “cultural domains”: Cultural and natural heritage (all physical, tangible capital items in contrast to other domains), Performance and celebration, Visual arts and crafts, Books and press, Audiovisual and interactive media, and Design and creative services. Each domain interacts with an intangible cultural heritage including oral traditions and expressions, rituals, languages and social practices, and ultimately with the level of education and training, archiving and preserving procedures, and other supporting infrastructure (p 24). Natural heritage (summarised from Article 2 of the 1972 World Heritage Convention) consists of natural features, geological and physiographical formations and delineated areas that constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants and natural sites of value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty. It includes nature parks and reserves, zoos, aquaria and botanical gardens” (p 25). Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO WHC 11/01, November 2011) contains a full discussion of the criteria for cultural and natural heritage, including the definition in paragraph 49 of Outstanding Universal Value as “cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.” (Italics added)↩︎
  2. Since 2007–08, the local government data have been classified according to a new Local Government Purpose Classification (LGPC), replacing the previous Government Purpose Classification (GPC) without providing full compatibility with the federal, state and territory funding statistics.↩︎
  3. One of the MCA’s main advocacy objectives is to promote better statistics for the entire area of music education, a large but essential task. Music Education Statistics provides an overview. It was written as part of our comprehensive 2011-12 review of the current state of music sector statistics (prefaced in Overview of Music Statistics: Introduction.↩︎
  4. Other performing arts include circus arts, magic, and spoken-word performances.↩︎
  5. Section 4.2 describes how the Major Organisations Board began operations in April 1995 with 15 companies. Two more were added in December of that year to reach a total of 17, to be funded by three-year base grants. — however, opera companies were not included until later. Opera at the time was included in “Other performing arts” together with theatre and ballet, rather than with music.↩︎
  6. Broadcasting, Film and Other Uses of Music shows that there are about 350 long-term licensed community radio stations in Australia, that grants accounted for 29% of total income in 2009-10, and that music took up 73% of total broadcasting time in 2007-08.↩︎
  7. Earlier statistics for local government cultural funding from 1987-88 to 1997-98 (which haven’t been reconciled with current classifications) showed the arts component averaging 36% and ranging from 23% to 45% of the total. Excluding the initial year, when further research suggests that public halls and civic centres were underestimated, the average for arts rises to 38% and the range narrows to 33-45%. The pioneering work to develop cultural funding statistics in Australia was carried out for the Australia Council by Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, Cultural Funding in Australia (1991). The work benefited from John Cameron’s Local Government Cultural Funding for the Australia Council, which related to the same initial year. Neither publication is on the Internet but may be available at the Australia Council library.
    The initial estimate for local government funding (1987-88) is low compared with subsequent statistics. A table in Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, The Arts Economy 1968-98 (Australia Council 2000, p 148), suggests that funding of public halls and civic centres may have been underestimated in that year. It proved to be a major component of local government funding in subsequent years. The question is, however, whether these centres are really part of the arts infrastructure in the same way as performing arts centres and community cultural centres. While some functions held in these buildings may not be performance-related, their main claim as a cultural facility is that they were built to serve cultural purposes. Public halls and civic centres, on the other hand, are multi-function facilities which may host the occasional performance but were constructed for a broad range of purposes. So depending on whether arts funding should include these buildings the local government statistics for the 1990s may be on the high side.↩︎
  8. There was no Australian government funding of performing arts venues between 1994-95 and 1997-98 and there has been none since 2005-06. Intervening years have been adjusted to 2010-11 prices by the GNE deflator as follows ($million, year ended June): 1999 1.8, 2000 13.1, 2001 7.1, 2002 3.6, 2003 0.6, 2004 1.2, 2005 0.1. Total $27.6 million. Source: ABS National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics, Cultural Funding in Australia: Three tiers of government, successive annual volumes. Published by the Cultural Ministers’ Council Statistics Working Group.↩︎
  9. The relativity between percentages is used rather than the absolute difference in percentage points. For example, music in NSW accounted for 31.1% of the national music total compared with 32.4% of the population. 31.1% is 96% of 32.4% in relative terms, so the music observation scrapes in as a near equivalent of the population share, being less than 5% below. Conversely, total arts in Tasmania (1.6% of the national total) fell short of Tasmania’s population share (2.3%) by about 30% in relative terms, thus falling into the black “relatively under-funded” category.↩︎
  10. The ABS explains the change as follows in the 2009-10 cultural funding statistics: “It should be noted that changes in the collection methodology and improvements to the scope and coverage occurred in 2007-08. Therefore Australian and state and territory government funding data prior to and including 2006-07 are not comparable with more recent data.”↩︎
  11. The trend over the initial years was based on the author’s research into cultural funding for the Australia Council in 1991.↩︎
  12. The Compound Annual Growth Rate or CAGR formula is a shortcut to trend calculation used for convenience here. The formula is shown in the Wikipedia article on CAGR. The CAGR across a period from an initial to an end year is the ratio of the end year and the start year value, powered by 1/number of years between end and start, less 1. The Wikipedia article shows the formula more elegantly.↩︎
  13. Gabrielle Trainor and Angus James, Review of the Australia Council, for the Australian Government’s Office for the Arts, May 2012, pp 6-7.↩︎
  14. The Australia Council had previously been responsible for funding of the Australian Opera but this role was taken over in the late 1980s by the Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories (DASETT) under the Hawke Labor government. It is relevant to note that the arts were invariably included with a number of other portfolios up to 2010: the second Keating ministry (1993-96) combined arts and administrative services, while John Howard’s Coalition government (1996-2007) first included arts in the cabinet together with communications and the information economy, but then ended up in the fourth and last ministry combining arts and sport in the outer ministry. Kevin Rudd’s Labor government (2007-10) combined Environment, Heritage and the Arts in the cabinet under Peter Garrett. In the current Australian government under Julia Gillard, Simon Crean combines the portfolio of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government with being Minister for the Arts (both portfolios cabinet-ranked). For the first time the arts portfolio is listed separately and as such ranked as a cabinet post (another portfolio in this ministry is sport, under Kate Lundy, ranked outer ministry).↩︎
  15. Helen Nugent (chair), Michael Chaney, David Gonski and Catherine Walker (1999), Securing the Future: Final Report, Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Canberra↩︎
  16. The only music companies included in the original Major Organisations Fund in 1995 were the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Musica Viva, and the Sydney Symphony which was gaining special status as the leading administrative organisation among the major orchestras. The six state orchestras were established by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) but given operational independence in the 1990s. They were finally divested from the ABC in 2005-06. See Orchestras for further detail.↩︎
  17. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/mediareleasesbyTopic/D1E36CC044CAB883CA2569DE007DD495?OpenDocument↩︎
  18. This may be due to changes in the Australia Council’s responsibility area during the 1980s, including transfer of the Australian Opera to the ministry in charge of the arts (DASETT). We haven’t found an explanation of the high 1974 figures for theatre, music and visual arts, which may be caused by reclassified statistics. We would be grateful if any reader could enlighten us on these matters.↩︎

Hans founded his own consulting firm, Economic Strategies Pty Ltd, in 1984, following 25 years with larger organisations. He specialised from the outset in applied cultural economics — one of his first major projects was The Australian Music Industry for the Music Board of the Australia Council (published in 1987), which also marks his first connection with Richard Letts who was the Director of the Music Board in the mid-1980s. Hans first assisted the Music Council of Australia in 2000 and between 2006 and 2008 proposed and developed the Knowledge Base, returning in an active capacity as its editor in 2011. In November 2013 the Knowledge Base was transferred to The Music Trust, with MCA's full cooperation.

Between 2000 and 2010 Hans also authored or co-authored several major domestic and international climate change projects, using scenario planning techniques to develop alternative long-term futures. He has for several years been exploring the similarities between the economics of cultural and ecological change, and their continued lack of political clout which is to a large extent due to conventional GDP data being unable to measure the true value of our cultural and environmental capital. This was announced as a major scenario-planning project for The Music Trust in March 2014 (articles of particular relevance to the project are marked *, below).

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