My cultural policy discussion on Radio National

Radio National has now posted the podcast of my discussion with Amanda Smith, Hilary Glow and Lydon Terracini at Radio National’s Artworks page.

It’s a wide-ranging discussion on the basics of cultural policy in this country and I try to get a few good points in! Hilary Glow, whom I met for the first time at the studio, has done some fine work in the field of performing arts audience research and points out some of the implications of her research, while Lyndon is uncharacteristically restrained, especially compared to his normal ebullience 😉

UPDATE: I got a call from Cathy Hunt this morning saying she’s working on a new piece of research related to Australia’s cultural funding priorities, so that’s something to look forward to in the new year.


One thought on “My cultural policy discussion on Radio National

  1. Hi I loved the interview especially the comment on how government funding is really becoming irrelevant to most practicing artists. Below is a submission I wrote for arts qld a while back, but could just as easily apply to the oz council…of course no response received, ha ha!!



    Submission by Mark Dunbar – Freelance performing artist
    Tel: 0411 233744

    I welcome this opportunity to comment on the state of the Arts in Queensland and thank Arts Queensland for the opportunity. There are many questions raised in your discussion paper and specifically I would like to make comment on two points which relate to the position of independent artists in Queensland. They are:

    How can Queensland practitioners be best assisted to maintain their base in Queensland?

    How can the Government better tailor or diversify assistance to develop career pathways and opportunities for practitioners in your artform sector?

    I have worked as an independent artist in music & theatre for 25 years. The last fifteen years in Queensland. Despite the “Smart State” rhetoric, artists of any quality leave Queensland regularly. This is especially true of independent artists, as Melbourne and Sydney (not to mention New York, Hong Kong, London, Paris etc) have a much more vital creative scene. To make Queensland attractive to artists we have to structure Government support differently.

    The reality of an “arts career” is bleak and has been well documented. My favorite aphorisms that illustrate this state of affairs are:

    ‘90% of actors are unemployed 90% of the time’ and
    ‘The single biggest arts subsidy in Australia is by far the dole’.

    As an artist who is interested in creating work, taking imaginative risks and creating a body of work over a lifetime that history may decide is significant, my own path does not contradict those two aphorisms. It is a good and rare year indeed (materially in any case) if I earn more than $15,000 from my practice.

    One thing I know is that genuine artists will create regardless of the funding structures that society imposes. However, if we are really interested in keeping artists in Queensland, in excellence, in innovation, the single most important factor, the only factor really, is that artists are able to practice their craft consistently. If artists are forced to teach, to go into arts administration, to get a ‘real job’ to live, we greatly diminish the chances of artists producing good work. We foster mediocrity, something Queensland has been especially good at up until this point.

    Arts funding is remarkably similar throughout Australia and indeed the developed world. It is typified by a highly competitive written application process, peer assessment panels, and (in proportion to the actual amount of money distributed) large bureaucratic structures. Some artists become savvy, learn the ropes and just keep applying. Most are excluded. It all becomes a client based relationship rife with nepotism. The marginalised, despite all the good will and specifically targeted programs remain on the out because after that first rejection most will never try again.

    One of those ‘targeted programs’ introduced by Arts Queensland a few years back illustrates my point. The ‘Quick Turn Around Grant’ (let me refresh your memory – under $5,000, monthly deadlines) was probably the most exciting arts funding innovation introduced in Australia since the formation of the Australia Council. It was gutted after a few short years, for reasons I can only guess at. My guess is that the number of applications received quickly blossomed and that the grant money available in any one month barely supported a small fraction of the hopeful and worthy applications. It was killed by its own success.

    If Queensland wants to keep artists, attract artists of calibre and nurture a vibrant arts scene to genuinely rival other states and nations, it should, as the cliché goes, think outside the square.

    The question is: how to distribute tax payers’ money that enables artists to maintain their base in Queensland?

    The first thing is to stop funding absurd organisations that purport to support artists, yet in reality only provide employment for arts administrators. It is absurd that organisations like BEMAC or QCAN, to name but two; receive thousands of dollars to support NESB artists or community based artists, when you can count the number of people who actually make a living as artists working in these areas on two hands! These organisations develop their own little fiefdoms and in fact become vassal funding bodies replicating the structures of the parent funding bodies.


    A new approach to supporting artists in Queensland would certainly set us apart as attractive, interesting, different and even perhaps ‘smart’.

    My idea is called the ‘Artist Lottery’.

    To begin with get rid of all the bureaucratised paraphernalia of arts funding that is typical throughout Australia and the (so called) developed world, complex application forms & acquittals, peer assessment panels, numerous arts bureaucrats, administrators and well paid hand wringers mulling over ‘arts policy’, ‘equity’, ‘regional development’ etc.

    Allocate an amount of money (dismantling the above structures should free up a little more for artist support) to be directly used to create artistic work by (shock, horror!) artists.

    Hold a twice yearly lottery where funds are allocated by randomly selecting applicants. This is fair and in one fowl swoop gets rid of nepotism, clientism and the disincentive of rejection.


    Just three categories would be best.
    1. Emerging Artist Grant – For artists in their first 5 years of practice. A grant of $15,000
    2. Mature Artist Grant – For artists in their prime of creative life. A grant of $25,000
    3. Keep-them-in-Queensland Grants of Excellence. A grant of $35,000 for recognised artists working in Queensland.

    To support Queensland’s regional arts scene automatically pay $5 more for every kilometre the artist lives outside of Brisbane.


    1. The artist must live in Queensland and have done for 6 months.

    2. To be eligible the artist must supply their previous year’s tax return and have a gross income of less than $35,000. This excludes double dipping where artists hold other well paid positions (often in teaching institutions) and are therefore unable to commit to their practice.

    3. Artists can only receive one grant per 12 month period. If unsuccessful in the first round they may apply for the next round in six months.

    4. Artists must nominate which of the categories they want to be considered for.

    5. The artist must verify their status as an artist. This can be done by membership of their union or guild (Musicians Union, MEAA etc), by holding an Arts Training qualification, or by a support letter from a fellow artist/mentor.

    6. The artist submits a single page description of their project. For example to write a play, to create a sculpture, to perform in a band, to work with a theatre or dance company. They also supply their tax return and verification of their artist status. No attempt should be made to make any qualitative judgments about the work (i.e. picking winners).

    7. The artist agrees to supply a short report saying what they did at the completion of their grant year.


    1. Artists holding a grant cannot apply for another grant until they have provided the report acquitting their current grant.

    2. Arts Queensland employs one or two people to randomly audit these reports (similar to the taxation department system), by contacting the artist and verifying that the money was spent to support the arts practice of the artist as outlined in their application. Grant holders are made aware they could be randomly audited and must keep documentation and financial records.

    3. Artists who fail the audit may appeal. If the appeal fails they may be required to return the grant, in part or in full and/or will be ineligible for future grants for 5 years. This is clearly stated in the Conditions of the Grant.

    Under this scheme:
    1. Arts Queensland should no longer fund the artist wages component for established companies. Companies will then seek out grant holders for their projects, or if they want a particular artist (from interstate for example, they will have to find the costs from their other funding).

    2. Arts Queensland abolishes all other project based funding.


    To make this work a critical mass of grants must be made. I have no idea of how much is allocated currently through existing programs, but if say 1,000 individual grants were available each year at an average of $25,000 this would cost 25 million dollars.

    Within a short time Queensland will become a hub of artists creating interesting and varied work. Artists will begin to move to Queensland to take advantage of this artist-based culture. Other States will imitate Queensland for a change. Established arts organisations will change their structures and become artist-based. Artists will, for the first time, get some hope for material security that enables them to develop and create, excellence will come. Artists will get real assistance to maintain their practice base in Queensland. Queensland will quickly become recognised as a cultural hub with economic spin offs throughout the economy as people come to be where the action is. We will be a happier place, a more democratic place, freed at last from the paternalism that has so infected the culture of this backwater.

    Utopia…or a ‘smart state’ solution that makes a real difference?

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