Meeting of Cultural Ministers. Final Report, October 2020


This report represents one of the two key deliverables of the National Performing Arts Touring Scan (the Scan). The second deliverable is an interactive dashboard, which maps the footprint of national touring activity from data provided by the Meeting of Cultural Ministers (MCM) state and territory jurisdictions. The Scan consulted widely to develop an understanding of the national touring ecology and to report the issues and considerations raised. This report reflects the extensive commentary provided in those consultations.

The touring ecology comprises:

  • those who produce touring work
  • those who present touring work
  • those who support touring work, and
  • those who experience touring activity

Consultations revealed a highly networked and decentralised ecology that relies on few funding streams and knowledgeable personnel. Few in the sector have a full understanding of the ecology, with a wide range of anecdotal evidence of repercussions caused by decisions long forgotten.The Sapphires cast on tourThe

The Sapphires cast on tour

Touring activity is heavily reliant on government investment from local, state and federal government (including Australia Council). For touring producers and presenters, the interdependence of these three main investors and their respective policy positions present strategic and operational risks that could be avoided or mitigated.

Stakeholders urge federal and state governments to consider harmonising or coordinating their support. These investors are highly influential in the operation of the sector, which is evident in the concerns raised by stakeholders:

  • Unlike other areas of arts investment, the substantial costs inherent to touring in Australia have not been met by the required level of financial diversity
  • Corporate investors do support touring activity, but typically only in regions where they operate. Regional venues and audiences cannot afford the fees associated with touring activity if it is not subsided.
  • National touring would be significantly smaller without government investment. Australian Government investment through the Australia Council represents 60% of the total dedicated touring funds of all jurisdictions. Playing Australia and National Touring Status funds represent 35% of Australia Council’s overall in-scope grants funding pool and up to 76% of this pool goes to supporting regional artists or regional arts activity (1) .
  • Touring activity is heavily influenced by government investment. Half of Playing Australia funding goes to organisations who receive no multiyear funding from Australia Council. Programming decisions are therefore influenced by the Playing Australia investment criteria.
  • Harmonisation of federal and state tour funding (e.g. aligning application timelines, coordinating support, standardising desired outcomes etc.) would save considerable time and administrative effort for applicants and potentially allow more national tours to be realised.

See Section 4, Table 1 for Jurisdiction Touring Investment, Table 3 for Australia Council grants funding and Table 5 for Regional Grants Funding. Scope Excludes Visual Arts, Literature, Exhibitions, Publications or Recording Activities. See Section 4.1 for details. The link to the full report is below.

The touring sectors’ capability and capacity is stretched thin and is unlikely to deliver the same level of touring activity post-COVID. Prior to COVID-19, producer touring costs were growing, presenter fees were increasing and there were fewer financial incentives to tour widely. The complexity of touring funding was making forward planning more risky, so producers were less inclined to develop work for touring. COVID-19 has accelerated these trends. To increase the resilience of the touring sector and secure its future, investors should consider how they support all four of its core components. Where investors focus too heavily on the supply-side of touring, program content is likely to be out of step with venues and audiences. Too broad a focus on the demand side risks further decreasing the variety of touring work available. Where the support functions are neglected, the sector struggles to adapt.

The role of local government as a cornerstone investor in national touring is not evident or is undervalued in the vast majority of the investment decisions of federal and state bodies. Local government represents $752m of annual recurrent expenditure into the cultural sector. Local government investment in programming touring work is required to make touring happen. Though the proportion of this investment is unknown, 68% of venues are local government entities and presenter fees (which do not represent the full cost of investment) can range from 50% to 100% of that of state and federal touring grants. Supporting presenter capacity is expected to aid audience development and community engagement in regional touring.

The vital roles that audiences, their development and community engagement play in the touring ecology is undervalued. Investment systems focus on the supply side of touring (i.e. producers). Touring data on audience attendance or activity location in grant acquittals is inconsistent. Government cannot make strategically informed decisions about access if it does not know how and where the work it funds is being accessed. Consultations have revealed that presenters play a key role in building audiences and engaging their communities and that this remains a challenge for many regional venues.

First Nations touring is increasing, but structural challenges and inflexible processes are holding it back. Support for the supply side of First Nations touring work seems to be improving, but perceived artform restrictions amongst producers (i.e. contemporary music and comedy considered as popular genres for First Nations artists, but perceived as ineligible) and inflexible funding and support structures may be preventing more artists from touring. Consultations made it clear many presenters feel they lack the capability and capacity to develop audiences for First Nations work. This is despite the recent National Arts Participation Survey showing a significant interest in First Nations work (40% of Australians). Local government presenters feel under-supported and under-resourced in developing relationships with their local Indigenous communities and few have done so. First Nations touring artists and organisations are often left to perform this work as a result. The Mission Songs case study (see Appendix 3) illustrates some of these challenges.

The benefits of multi-year funding for touring are evident from the success of National Touring Status. Stakeholders believe the current funding model creates inefficiencies in touring operation and design. Recipients of National Touring Status understandably praise its flexibility, the certainty it provides for them and their presenting partners, and the benefits of increased efficiency and cost effectiveness. Most stakeholders acknowledge the importance of separate funding tranches and conditions for touring activity versus project grants or other types of arts funding.

Success in touring requires it to be considered during the creative development process – which typically requires longer lead times and greater upfront expenses. Companies that fail to consider the touring viability of a work when creating it are more likely to encounter difficulties getting it on the road and greater wholeof-project costs as a result. Companies that regularly tour appear to have integrated it into their business model and strategic thinking.

The touring role of National Performing Arts Partnerships Organisations’ is unique to their context. Venues generally consider Partnership Organisations to add brand weight to venue programming (through their established names and reputations) that they are able to leverage with audiences. The sentiment that ‘all Australians should be able to see the national companies’ is shared by many, but the financial implications of delivering this ideal must be considered. The genesis of Playing Australia was in acknowledgement of Major Performing Arts Companies not being adequately resourced to tour and was originally an exclusive funding pool for them; having since evolved into an open grant round. Partnership Organisations that are mandated to tour believe they should not have to lodge separate funding applications for touring, while small-to medium companies resent having to compete with larger organisations for tour funding. Stakeholders do not believe Playing Australia funding should be reduced or split to address these respective issues. Between 2015 – 2019 Partnership Organisations received 40% of Playing Australia investment and represented 60% of total audiences for national touring work supported by Australia Council. Small-to-medium companies supported by Australia Council investment represented 60% of audiences for regional touring work.

The role of marketplaces or ‘showcases’ has evolved and become more important within the cultural ecology as a whole. Their unique blend of creative discussion, tour-ready work and professional development brings many parts of the ecology together in an essential networking event, particularly for regional venues and presenters. Tour development remains an important outcome, but sector networking is a primary benefit. Consultations reveal the sector-managed marketplaces feel uncertain about their future due to the lack of specific multi-year investment. Their value within the cultural sector may not be well enough understood or documented to make the case for investment – a situation that could be addressed by a coordinated approach to outcomes measurement involving all of the market managers. Markets that have been able to specialise and adapt to the needs of their local cultural ecology have reported positive results and feedback from attendees.

COVID-19 will have significant long-term impacts on the national touring ecology. The effects on the wider national cultural ecology have been discussed vigorously by the sector and are still unfolding. Stakeholders had significant praise for Australia Council and Government funders that responded quickly and flexibly to the immediate effects of COVID-19 lockdowns and measures. The implications for the future of the national touring ecology are not yet known; all 2020 touring ceased, 2021 touring is likely to be heavily reduced and current planning for 2022 is impossible for most. The complexity of the touring ecology, and its dependence on government investment, suggests it is unlikely to emerge from this disruption in its previous form.

Although many touring arts organisations were able to access JobKeeper, many presenters were ineligible being local government entities (approximately 68% of venues). It is widely expected that local governments will downsize or withdraw their support for presenters and that touring organisations will prioritise destinations with commercial appeal at the expense of regional audiences.

COVID-19 has necessitated major rethinking of touring and its purpose within the broader cultural ecology for many stakeholders:

  • The touring sector is re-thinking the approach, purpose and value of touring activity. This appears to be speeding up existing trends in touring, such as prioritising cultural exchange over traditional fly-in-flyout touring models.
  • Careful government consultation with and monitoring of the sector will be required to chart a path for whatever touring may look like, out of the lockdown.
  • Due to lead times required for touring planning, a major reduction in arts activity and in the capacity of the cultural sector will likely have the longest effect on regional audiences’ access to the arts.

The full 95-page Australia Council report can be read here

Merryn Carter, Culture Counts

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