The arts are a core part of South Australian society. For decades they enjoyed bipartisan support from successive state governments and a high profile.
But in recent years this has changed. The former Liberal Government dismantled the arts department, resulting in aspects of the portfolio being scattered across several departments and a lack of focus and strategic leadership.
How the Arts Are Funded
In South Australia the state government funds the arts through the Department of Premier and Cabinet. This department contains a portfolio called “Arts and Cultural Policy and Support” but this is not a stand-alone budget. Instead it is part of a much larger department called “Communities and Corporate”. This department also contains the state library, which has responsibility for the state’s cultural heritage and libraries.
As with many other Australian states, the state’s major cultural institutions are funded primarily through a grant system. These grants are awarded to individual organisations and to specific projects. The size of the grant varies according to the organisation’s capacity and past performance. The funding is designed to supplement income from other sources, such as earned revenue (including ticket sales and sponsorship), development and philanthropic investment, and other government (e.g. state and federal) funding.
There are some important differences between how the various states approach their funding of the arts. For example, while some states have separate arts councils that fund large scale artistic initiatives, in South Australia these projects are generally funded by the state government through Arts SA.
The function and effectiveness of the state arts agency has been subject to criticism in recent years. This was in part a result of the deconstruction of the arts portfolio that happened under the previous Liberal state government. Originally, the arts portfolio contained nine statutory corporations and several not-for-profit arts organisations. After the deconstruction, the responsibility for these organisations was dispersed between different departments. For example, youth arts went into the Education Department and the Adelaide Film Festival and Jam Factory moved to the Department of Industry.
The new Marshall government’s commitment to increased funding for the arts is encouraging. But the overall picture is still one of declining arts funding. This is especially the case for small-to-medium arts organisations.
Why the Arts Are Funded
South Australia has a world-renowned arts sector, significant cultural heritage assets and facilities and a commitment to the arts for all. Its complex arts ecosystem needs careful consideration by governments and the community at large to thrive. However, it is feared that the state’s Liberal government is not taking the sector seriously or listening to its concerns. Since coming to power in March 2018, the Marshall Government has made major changes to the way it administers and funds the arts, with a number of major organisations suffering significant cuts and restructures.
The dismantling of the state’s arts department by the previous government was a critical turning point. It meant that instead of being managed by an arts portfolio, aspects of the sector were spread across three departments. This has led to a lack of focus and strategic leadership. The new funding package announced by the government today is a welcome move. It prioritises partnerships between arts organisations, reopening theatres and festivals and investment in artists and small-to-medium arts organisations.
However, the announcement comes as part of a budget which includes major cuts to other areas of the community and an insistence that the Marshall Government will not be bound by the recommendations of its own Arts Plan. While the Marshall Government has in principle agreed to 22 of the 45 recommendations, it is refusing to commit to any of them, citing further business cases and feasibility studies as being required before a decision can be made on those that it does agree with.
The government has also put a hold on plans to develop a new storage centre for the state’s valuable collections housed in the Art Gallery of South Australia, Museum and Library and the State Opera and Music Library. This is a pity given the monetary and cultural value of these collections.
The lack of a clear vision from the state government for the arts is alarming and will have long-term effects on the health of the sector. It seems clear that the Marshall Government does not have a deep interest in the arts or an understanding of how they can contribute to the social and economic wellbeing of the state.
What is the Relationship Between the Arts and Politics?
There is a long history of a close relationship between the arts and politics in South Australia. This has become more complex as the role of the arts within society has changed over time, and as different government structures have been established. In recent years, the arts have been under increasing scrutiny and have suffered both benign neglect and budget cuts.
The current state Labor government is promising to increase funding for the arts, but there are concerns that this may be short-term and not enough to address longer term needs. This is particularly true in regional SA, where arts organisations are struggling to survive.
Currently, the main body responsible for the development of and funding for the arts in South Australia is Arts SA. This body is responsible for nine statutory corporations and a large number of not-for-profit arts organisations. The Arts SA board is made up of artists, cultural professionals and academics. This board acts as a critical voice and advocate for the sector.
One of the reasons for this is that the arts can be a politically charged area, and some works may challenge or raise controversial issues. These are often discussed in academic debates, such as ‘the role of art in society’ and ‘the relationship between artistic freedom and political commitment’.
In the context of this, it is possible for the arts to be seen as a powerful tool in society, and for governments to recognise this. In many countries, the arts are used to shape public opinion and influence policy decisions, especially at national and local levels.
As such, it is important that the arts are represented well in policy and decision making. Whether through the use of art itself or by advocating for increased funding for the arts, it is vital that politicians take the arts seriously and recognise their enormous social, economic and cultural contribution.
South Australia is lagging behind other states in terms of its spending on the arts, and its level of support for its cultural institutions. It is time that the state became serious about the arts again and began to invest in its future, as other states are doing.
What is the Future of the Arts in South Australia?
The state’s vital arts sector has been starved of new funding in recent years. It has suffered under a series of annual budget cuts and lost staff. Crucial public institutions such as the SA Museum, Art Gallery and Library have had to make substantial ongoing cost savings. Despite this, they still manage to deliver major cultural events and education programs.
It was hoped that the return of the Labor Government would lead to an immediate revival of the arts sector and investment in much needed new infrastructure. But instead, just one week ago the government released a budget that only includes $2 million in extra money for the Adelaide Festival over four years and a commitment to a new storage facility for the state’s huge collection of heritage objects. The rest of the money – including an increase in funding to Arts Organisations program – is allocated within existing portfolios, with no new money added.
This year’s festival will also benefit from a new ‘value creation’ study, led by UniSA arts management experts Professor Ruth Rentschler OAM and Dr Boram Lee, which will examine the relationship between festivals and tourism, economic growth and social cohesion. The findings suggest that the festival sector has a powerful role to play in supporting and strengthening local communities, as well as in attracting tourists and visitors from overseas.
The report also explores how the creative practice of artists and arts collectives can be used to deliver health outcomes, whether in the form of specific targeted interventions or broader general wellbeing benefits. It finds that the health sector identifies a wide range of challenges and priorities that can be addressed by arts and culture. These include community wellbeing, ageing well, and Indigenous health.
Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that the State Government is heeding the recommendations of this important new report. The new Investing in Arts and Culture Plan offers only in-principle agreement to 22 of its 45 recommendations, with an unwillingness or caveats attached to another 21. It also recommends that the government shift its responsibility to fund the arts onto organisations and their philanthropic supporters. While the Plan may recommend re-opening of a South Australian office of Creative Partnerships Australia, it seems unlikely that any such initiative will be funded by this government.