How far will Revive go in rebuilding Australia’s arts sector?

The new national cultural policy offers plenty of cause for celebration in the arts sector, with South Australia’s small to medium arts organisations among those likely to benefit from increased funding. But there are some noticeable omissions in Revive.

Feb 03, 2023, updated Feb 03, 2023
Missy Higgins performs at the Hotel Esplanade in Melbourne at the launch of the Federal Government's new nation cultural policy. Photo: James Ross / AAP

Missy Higgins performs at the Hotel Esplanade in Melbourne at the launch of the Federal Government's new nation cultural policy. Photo: James Ross / AAP

The Albanese Government launched its new national cultural policy, Revive, to a packed room at the Espy in Melbourne on Monday. It is an ambitious policy that totals $286 million in investment, announced in person by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and federal Arts Minister Tony Burke.

Revive is described as the first step in rebuilding a sector that has been decimated by funding cuts over the past decade and was created after a speedy seven-month consultation process with the sector.

This process included submissions from all art forms, artists, organisations, industry groups, academics and audiences. The resulting policy proposes some substantial changes, including a reimagined and expanded Australia Council for the Arts, now known as Creative Australia – and even a Poet Laureate.

Revive mirrors many of the changes the Arts Industry Council of South Australia (AICSA) has been calling on the South Australian Government to adopt locally. Although it is the Federal Government’s policy, there are many opportunities for state and federal cooperation – and it should be read as a call to action for ambitious government action.

First Nations first

The policy establishes a new First Nations body within Creative Australia to coordinate national funding and policy priorities for First Nations arts and to develop a First Nations Creative Workforce Development Strategy. This is a timely development at a time when, here in SA, the State Government is rolling out its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Strategy, which similarly focuses on leadership and career pathways.

In a potentially worrying sign for Adelaide’s proposed Centre for First Nations Cultures, Revive includes $80 million for a National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs and $50 million for an Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Perth, but does not mention Adelaide’s Tarrkarri. This comes after SA Premier Peter Malinauskas announced a review into the centre at the Purrumpa arts gathering in Adelaide last October.

Funding the foundation to thrive

We have long called for greater funding of independent artists and small to medium organisations – and this is recognised in Revive, which has restored funding to Creative Australia.

Revive acknowledges that it has been artists and small to medium organisations that have suffered in recent years, referring to the substantial cuts to the Australia Council budget since Labor’s previous arts policy in 2014 was abandoned with the change of government.

Small to medium organisations are the largest employer of artists and art workers, and frequently host large audiences. They are often training grounds for emerging talent, spaces for experimentation and creative development, and form a crucial part of the state-wide arts ecosystem alongside festivals, regional arts, and institutions.

With restored funding, we hope to see immediate flow-on effects in South Australia with more money made available in multi-year funding for small-to-medium organisations.

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A fair deal for artists

Artists and arts workers are among the most precariously employed workers in the country, and we have led the call for greater rights and protections for artists as workers. It is in this area that we see exciting developments emerging from Burke’s twin portfolios of arts and industrial relations, with Revive’s new $9 million Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces. There is great scope to develop new employment practices that build on recent research, like that of Ben Eltham and Alison Pennington, who have called for a broad arts fellowship program as an artist employment scheme.

There is also potential for collaboration between Creative Australia’s new centre and the South Australian Government’s precarity taskforce – a key 2022 election commitment from SA Labor, expected to be rolled out this year.

A win for literature

Another of the new Creative Australia bodies is Writers Australia, responsible for coordinating research, advocacy and the development of writers. This is good news for the country’s long-neglected writers and under-resourced literary organisations, particularly in South Australia, where we have only one dedicated literary organisation – Writers SA (of which, full disclosure, I am CEO) and no established literary journal to publish local writers.

There is great opportunity for collaboration between Writers Australia and Arts South Australia to better support South Australian literary culture.

Climate still missing

Climate change and environmental impacts are one noticeable omission in Revive, and a particularly strange one given the sector’s own adoption of greater environmental sustainability policies within organisations.

Locally, Festival City Adelaide is even pursuing the state’s first sustainability roadmap and action plan for the festival sector. Across the country, companies are exploring carbon-neutral touring and reducing their reliance on freight, as they increasingly look to produce artworks directly addressing themes of climate action and justice. In the philanthropic space nationally, artists and the general public are calling on festivals and other cultural institutions to divest from fossil fuel sponsorship.

Here in SA, the arts sector recently published an open letter to the Botanic Gardens to drop Santos as sponsor of the Museum of Economic Botany. With momentum building behind these movements, we can expect greater scrutiny over sources of funding. This places greater pressure on governments and the wider philanthropic sector to step in and support those organisations that choose to divest.

Revive will guide the direction of national arts and culture for the next five years – and it invites all of us to be ambitious in our approach to centring artists in our own state.

Jessica Alice is chair of the Arts Industry Council of South Australia (AICSA), the state’s independent, sector-wide representative arts body, and chief executive officer of Writers SA.

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