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Arts companies in limbo as funding cuts bite

Arts & Culture

A number of South Australian performing and visual arts organisations face a shaky future after missing out on federal funding in cuts that are expected to have a dramatic and lasting impact on the sector.

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Arts funding shake-up

The Australia Council today published the list of successful applicants in its latest four-year funding round for the small and medium sector, with dozens of arts companies across the country missing out in the wake of the Federal Government’s arts funding shake-up.

There was good news for some SA organisations – including Australian Dance Theatre, Jam Factory, Patch and Windmill theatre companies, Tandanya and Restless Dance Theatre, which will each receive between $225,000 and $300,000 a year.

But others are reeling after being completely defunded.

They include the Slingsby and Brink Productions theatre companies, multi-disciplinary arts company Vitalstatistix, and the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA).

“It does unfortunately put the company in serious jeopardy,” Slingsby artistic director Andy Packer told InDaily.

“Obviously it’s disappointing, despite our success … that due to the massive cuts that the Australia Council was inflicted with last year, this is the flow-on effect.”

Slingsby’s most recent production was the critically acclaimed The Young King, which sold out performances at the old Dazzeland site during the 2016 Adelaide Festival. Packer said the company planned to take the work to Sydney this year, and hoped to tour it internationally next year.

Now, however, it will have to look at alternative funding options and reassess the way it operates.

“We’re already incredibly lean in terms of our administration [the company has just 1.4 full-time-equivalent staff], so there’s obviously not much room to move on that before it’s completely unviable,” Packer said

Emma Webb, creative producer of Port Adelaide-based Vitalstatistix, said it was not the first time in its 32 years that the company had faced funding cuts – “but the organisation is well loved and very good at putting up a fight”.

It will be forced to reassess the size of its program, with Webb saying the loss of the ongoing federal funding would affect its ability to foster collaborations between independent South Australian artists and national artists.

“The cuts across the country will result in less new work, employment and opportunities for artists.

“We’re going to need to look at operating in a more nimble fashion – we are good at that already.”

Brink Productions had applied for $300,000 per annum in four-year funding from the Australia Council, and general manager Karen Wilson said it would now have to “talk through all our options”.

The theatre company recently received $160,000 in one-off project funding from the Federal Government’s Catalyst fund  for a verbatim-theatre work marking the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan during the Vietnam War, and also received a grant through the Anzac Centenary fund for a 2018 work celebrating the centenary of Armistice Day.

“At this stage these projects  aren’t at risk, but we do need to look at our long-term future and make sure we remain sustainable and viable,” Wilson said.

“The goodwill surrounding the company is heartening and makes us positive we will be able to find a way through.”

The Adelaide Festival of Arts – which itself this week made a number of job cuts in response to reduced State Government funding – released a statement this morning expressing concern about the number of small and medium arts companies that had lost Australia Council funding.

“The small to medium arts sector works in small towns and large cities throughout the country and their arts activities and audience connections form the backbone of our national arts community,” artistic director Rachel Healy said.

“Over the years, Vitalstatistix, Brink, Slingsby, [Sydney-based dance-theatre company] Force Majeure, [Melbourne-based] Arena Theatre Company and CACSA, among others, have been part of Adelaide Festival’s core program, and their work has been a beloved part of our audience’s experience of the Festival.

“Our heartfelt sorrow and condolences go to those companies and others affected by the disgraceful actions of May 2016.”

Arts SA is today meeting with organisations affected by the Australia Council funding cuts, and has said it will work with them to “manage the impacts on our sector”.

SA Arts Minister Jack Snelling said yesterday that the actions “unleashed” by former federal arts minister George Brandis had led to “the unilateral rupturing of the collaborative funding approach”.

Although South Australian arts organisations have previously been warned they also face reduced state funding in the future, the Minister has announced a series of new measures to help those defunded by the AC.

The Confederation of Australian State Theatre Companies (CAST) said 62 arts organisations across the country had failed to secure key organisation core funding.

It described small and medium companies as the lifeblood of the theatre sector in Australia, and called on the Federal Government to formally review its budget cuts to the Australia Council.

“These cuts have an impact just as dramatic and negative as the arts industry has feared and will cause irreparable damage across the sector – one that contributes over $4.2 billion to GDP in Australia,” the CAST executive council said in a statement.

Nationally, organisations that have been defunded by the Australia Council include Ausdance, which runs the Australian Dance Awards; literary journal Meanjin; Force Majeure; the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Sydney) and the National Association for the Visual Arts.

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