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SA's arts sector pitches survival plan

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South Australia's peak arts industry body is urging the State Government to invest an extra $17 million over four years in initiatives it says are crucial to keep the sector competitive and retain Adelaide's reputation as an arts capital.

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In a letter sent to Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, the Arts Industry Council of SA (AICSA) outlines what it describes as five state budget initiatives it says would support small-to-medium arts organisations, individual artists and innovation – what it describes as “the heart of art-making”.

AICSA chairperson Gail Kovatseff said funding for these sectors was at an all-time low, telling InDaily that many recent arts graduates and young artists were either leaving the industry all together or moving interstate because they felt unable to establish a career in SA.

She said the state was also in “immediate danger” of losing some of its well-loved small and medium arts organisations, which were defunded this year by federal funding body the Australia Council.

“Losing arts organisations and artists undermines investment in festivals, arts markets, cultural infrastructure, the nighttime and small bars economy, and more broadly it greatly undermines the marketing of Adelaide as an arts capital,” Kovatseff said.

AICSA’s proposals include a new development fund offering grants to early-career artists, eight annual $80,000 fellowships for established artists, a $2 million annual increase in funding for peer-assessed programs benefitting small-to-medium arts organisations and individual artists, and a new grants program for innovative and experimental arts projects.

The council, which represents more than 100 SA organisations and artists, also wants the State Government to set up a cross-departmental taskforce to develop a longer-term arts and culture strategy before the next state election.

Although AICSA’s letter to Koutsantonis congratulates the State Government for reversing proposed cuts to the arts sector in this year’s budget, as well as investment in projects such as the upgrade to Her Majesty’s Theatre, it says the picture is still “very bleak” for South Australian arts.

Kovatseff said a series of cuts inflicted on the arts sector over the past decade – including a reduction five years ago of about $1 million in the Arts SA budget for small to medium organisations – were taking their toll.

Five local organisations lost ongoing funding in the latest Australia Council round, and she said it was also “very worrying” that while the council put 33 per cent of its budget into new organisations, none of those were in South Australia.

“Because we’ve lost so much money over time we don’t have young artists, new artists building up the kind of project track record that would lead to a new organisation.

“So in the long term, South Australians will lose their ability to really significantly compete nationally if we don’t address this absolute fundamental problem, which is that there’s not enough money for individual artists and small to medium organisations where growth is generated from.

“What we’re seeing is a lack of addressing the grassroots – where arts is actually made.

“We’re asking for a critical investment in the next budget to ensure that we can remain vital into the future.”

Kovatseff said other states, in particular Victoria, were increasing investment to revitalise their arts industries. She pointed to Victoria’s Creative State program, which was launched in April this year and allocated $115 million in new funding for the creative industries, as an example of what could be achieved through a cross-government, sector-supported strategy.

Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis told InDaily the proposal from AICSA would be considered as part of next year’s state budget process.

“The State Government is a strong supporter of the arts sector, and in this year’s State Budget provided $35.2 million for a major upgrade of Her Majesty’s Theatre, as well of $15.7 million over four years for other cultural projects.”

Peter Louca, executive director of Arts South Australia, echoed the Treasurer’s comments about arts funding in the most recent budget, adding: “We welcome interest and debate from the arts industry sector, but it’s not appropriate to comment on individual budget submissions.”

Emma Webb, AICSA executive committee member and director of Vitalstatistix, one of the Adelaide organisations which lost Australia Council funding, described the proposed initiatives as “a fairly modest ask in the context of the budget and the small size of the arts portfolio”.

“In putting forward these five budget bids, AICSA is clearly saying what we feel needs priority in any new arts expenditure in the next state budget and through new initiatives of Arts South Australia,” Webb said.

She added that the next state budget, to be delivered in June 2017, would affect how the council campaigns in the lead-up to the state election in 2018.

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