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Small to medium sector vital to SA arts, report finds

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A new report measuring the impact of South Australia’s small to medium arts organisations shows they are a critical part of the state’s creative sector, making work experienced by 1.8 million people a year, says the Arts Industry Council of SA.

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The Measuring Impact report, prepared by independent consultants Jones MacQueen for AICSA and launched today, is compiled from information provided by 33 organisations from their 2018 activities, programs and annual reports.

It found that 1.8 million people in Australia and overseas experienced work made or presented by the small to medium sector in ticketed and free performances, exhibitions and other events, with 339,189 people buying tickets to the work.

The sector – which includes independent artists – presented a total of 445 Australian works in 2018 (67 per cent of all programming), with companies embarking on 30 SA tours, 27 Australian tours and 20 international tours.

AICSA chair Gail Kovatseff said the council had secured a grant from Arts SA to commission the report, which comes after the State Government’s release last year of a five-year Arts Plan that signalled a planned review of arts funding models.

“Our motivation was that we believed that the small and medium sector had major impact but no one was recording and understanding that impact and that was reflected in the fact that there had been funding cuts and no attempt to put money back into the sector,” Kovatseff said.

“Defunding [by the Federal Government’s Australia Council for the Arts] of several small to medium organisations made it imperative that we made it clear these were a critical part of the South Australian arts ecology.”

She believes the report’s findings bolster the case for ongoing funding support for the sector, saying it showed a high level of engagement by audiences not just locally, but also internationally.

“There were more than 211,000 sales to international audiences. This is the sector taking Australian stories into the global market …. and all of it is done on very limited money.”

A poster created for a 2018 fundraising campaign for SA’s Restless Dance Theatre, one of the companies which responded to the Measuring Impact survey.

Measuring Impact reported that the small to medium organisations surveyed – which represent about 80 per cent of Arts SA-supported companies – generated “revenue and financing” of $25.4 million in 2018.

Of this, around 38 per cent came from sales revenue (tickets, entry fees, etc), while 25.1 per cent was from state government grants, 16.6 per cent from federal government grants, 7.3 per cent from commercial and in-kind sponsorship, and 4.5 per cent from donations.

While the state government has indicated previously that it wants South Australian arts organisations to move towards more independent funding models, Kovatseff said one of the challenges the small to medium sector faced was trying to attract sponsorship or develop alternative income streams without the capacity to employ someone dedicated to the task.

However, she said they were generating a “massive” amount of work on limited funds, thanks partly to volunteer labour.

The report showed the sector employed or sub-contracted more than 850 artists and more than 220 arts workers, with 1019 volunteers contributing 61,632 hours of unpaid work.

“The small to medium sector is a really significant stepping stone for artists,” Kovatseff said.

“If we don’t have that then artists leave the sector and we don’t have that capacity to tell South Australian stories.

Measuring Impact will be officially launched tonight at Sparkke at the Whitmore, and Kovatseff said AICSA would be seeking to “engage with the government” regarding its findings.

“We believe it brings to the surface a lot of critical information about what is feeding arts culture in South Australia – this is the place where major pieces of work are being made and artists are developing their practice.”

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