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Funding cuts force SA visual arts organisations to merge

Arts & Culture

Federal funding cuts have forced the planned merger of two Adelaide independent visual arts organisations that have operated in the city for a combined total of more than 100 years.

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The Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) and the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF) were dealt a blow in May when they were among five SA organisations that missed out on four-year funding from the Australia Council following the Federal Government’s arts funding shake-up.

They issued a joint statement yesterday saying they have now agreed to work towards an amalgamation that would “combine their strengths to create a new entity, to represent and support contemporary visual arts in South Australia”.

CACSA executive director Liz Nowell told InDaily the decision was a direct response to the loss of Australia Council funding.

Had the two organisations not agreed to merge, it was likely that either one or both would have been forced to close.

“We put a vote to our members and they voted unanimously in favour of pursuing merger options,” Nowell says.

“We really hope to retain and build on the strength of both organisations … we’re confident something very positive will come of it.”

CACSA was established as the Contemporary Art Society in SA since 1942 – the result of a group of young artists seeking to break away from the Royal Society of Arts – while AEAF was set up in 1974 to encourage “new approaches to the visual arts”.

The organisations currently have around five employees each, most of whom are part-time. CACSA is based in Porter Street at Parkside, where it hosts regular exhibitions, and AEAF is located in the Lion Arts Centre on North Terrace, where it has a gallery space, bookshop and residency studio.

Nowell says there are still “a lot of unknowns” as to the “scope and nature” of the new amalgamated identity, including where it will be based.

Australian Experimental Art Foundation director Steve Eland recently wrote to the foundation’s members saying that the cumulative effect of the Australia Council cuts would “impact on access to contemporary art, on artists’ livelihoods and on art infrastructure in South Australia”.

Ahead of the federal election, Eland also wrote a scathing criticism of arts funding cuts on ArtsHub website, slamming the “culture war money raids on the Australia Council” by federal arts ministers George Brandis and Mitch Fifield.

It is intended that Nowell and Eland will now work towards putting a joint submission for 2017 program funding to the Australia Council and Arts SA, and that the new amalgamated arts entity will be operating by July 1 next year.

“While there are many hurdles to clear in the next year, we are confident that the sense of optimism and collaboration evident in our discussions will realise a shared vision for a dynamic, responsive and sustainable new entity that will build on the illustrious histories of the AEAF and CACSA,” they said in yesterday’s joint statement.

Between them, CACSA and AEAF missed out on around $150,000 a year in Australia Council funding, although both retained State Government funding.

Other South Australian organisations who lost their four-year Australia Council funding were the Slingsby and Brink Productions theatre companies and multi-disciplinary arts company Vitalstatistix.

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