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Funding blow threatens SA dance company’s future

Arts & Culture

Adelaide’s Restless Dance Theatre has been dealt a devastating blow with the loss of its multi-year federal funding, saying the news will “clip the wings of Australia’s leading company working with dancers with and without disability”.

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The Australia Council for the Arts on Friday announced that 144 organisations across the country would receive a share of $31.7 million per year under its revised four-year funding program.

Nine of the 144 are from South Australia, compared with 11 in the previous funding round.

Those that missed out include the Art Gallery of SA, Artlink Australia, South Australian Country Arts Trust, Vitalstatistix and Restless Dance Theatre.

The council has stated that it revised this round of funding to provide support for the greatest possible number of small to medium arts organisations in the light of COVID-19, but the removal of award-winning Restless from the pool of previously multi-year-funded organisations has come as a shock.

The company said that “with limited state funding”, its future was precarious and its survival threatened.

“Restless is the only dance company that provides professional career pathways for artists with disability,” said artistic director Michelle Ryan.

“We strive to create bold new work that celebrates diversity on stage nationally and internationally.

“I am absolutely shocked by this decision that will impact on the disability arts sector and the role that Restless plays in the arts ecology in general.”

Just last month, Ryan was awarded the Australia Council Dance Award for 2020 for her services to the sector. Restless’s other successes in recent years include a Helpmann Award nomination for its 2017 Adelaide Festival show Intimate Space, which has toured nationally and internationally.

In the last year of the current four-year funding program it is receiving $309,090, and it had sought an increase to $450,000 per year for the next cycle.

Like a number of other organisations that have been defunded by the Australia Council, it has been offered “transitional” funding for 2021.

Restless is now preparing to “regroup”, draw on its other supporters, and redesign its program for the future.

“The company is in the strongest place it has ever been in its near 30-year history,” company manager Nick Hughes said.

“Our artistic achievements and the recognition that we have received for the excellence of our work with dancers with disability have never been higher. We can only attribute this action [the defunding] to the chronic shortage of funding that the Australia Council has suffered in recent years.”

The Arts Industry Council of South Australia (AICSA) said the news Restless had missed out on the funding had “sent shockwaves through the South Australian community”.

“Restless Dance Theatre is an exemplar arts organisation that achieves great things with a very small team, employing artists with disabilities and bringing the work of these amazing artists to audiences world-wide,” said AICSA chair Gail Kovatseff.

She added that it was disappointing to see the total number of SA organisations receiving four-year funding through the Australia Council reduced, with Federal Government support especially vital to the sector during the COVID-19 crisis.

However, AICSA acknowledged that the focus on community and Indigenous organisations had seen SA-based ActNow Theatre for Social Change and the Ananguku Arts & Cultural Corporation receive multi-year funding for the first time.

Adelaide visual art organisation ACE Open – formed following the merger of the previously defunded Contemporary Art Centre of SA and Australian Experimental Art Foundation – received multi-year funding, but Port Adelaide-based Vitalstatistix, also defunded in the last round, was again unsuccessful in its latest application.

Vitalstatistix director Emma Webb said the multi-disciplinary arts organisation had sought $300,000 per year in its application to the Australia Council.

“It’s really disappointing,” she said of the outcome.

“We feel heartbroken for a whole section of the sector that lost funding on Friday, and for organisations like us that put so much effort into applying again … unless something changes drastically, every year the program is run we will see fewer organisations funded.”

Webb said while missing out on the multi-year federal funding will affect the program Vitalstatistix can present, it will focus on the things it does best, including creative development, work-in-progress showings and talks, and creating opportunities for artists.

“It impacts on the capacity of the organisation quite significantly but we are certainly not going anywhere and we are adept at having quite a large impact with very little money.”

The Art Gallery of SA said that although it didn’t receive four-year funding from the Australia Council for the 2022 – 2024 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, it had received an increase in funding through the council’s Visual Arts and Craft Strategy National Priorities funding 2021-2024.

“This funding, the sum of which is in line with previous rounds, matched with private support through the Biennial Ambassadors Program, will ensure the presentation of the Adelaide Biennial in 2022 and 2024,” the AGSA said in a statement.

SA organisations that received multi-year funding from the Australia Council in 2016-2020 and will continue to receive it are Australian Dance Theatre, Australian Network for Art and Technology, Australian String Quartet, JamFactory, Patch Theatre Company and Windmill Theatre.

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