Plug pulled on live music and arts as sport takes centre stage

Arts and cultural groups are struggling to find any new funding in the State Budget with Music SA also fearing more than half of its $10 million live music support package trumpeted by the government last year has disappeared.

Jun 19, 2023, updated Jun 20, 2023
The State Government is cutting restrictions on live music before midnight.

The State Government is cutting restrictions on live music before midnight.

Music SA chief executive officer Christine Schloithe feared about $6 million from last year’s budget for the live music sector has been clawed back into state coffers after cumbersome funding rules led to an underspend.

Schloithe said the $10 million “See it Live” package was split in two – $5 million was set aside as a COVID insurance fund for venues or events forced to cancel under COVID restrictions – vital support dollars sitting untouched because restrictions were already lifted in South Australia.

While the other $5 million available through grants and e-vouchers to pay musicians or for events was underspent by an estimated $1.3 million – the government has since said there is “less than a million” in voucher funding left.

Schloithe blamed this under spend on cumbersome requirements in the e-voucher system being difficult for the industry to negotiate.

Despite Music SA writing to the State Government lobbying for the underspent funds to be “repurposed”, Schloithe feared the entire unused about $6 million now had disappeared.

“It’s really disappointing, I think the government would acknowledge how badly the industry was impacted by COVID,” she said.

“Five million was pledged to support impacts from COVID if venues or musicians were affected by restrictions… but this was announced after restrictions were lifted,” Schloithe said, adding that when it was announced, “promoters and larger businesses clocked it”.

But Schloithe said the industry still desperately needed support as it continues to struggle with worker shortages with many failing to return after exiting the industry during COVID, along with higher venue costs, flights costs and freight costs.

“Audiences are not coming out in the same numbers, we’ve got quite a depressed touring market in SA,” she said, particularly with households pressed by high interest rates and cost of living pressures likely to cut entertainment spends first.

Music SA’s concerns come on the back of Treasurer Stephen Mullighan making only one headline new spend on the arts in the State Budget last week with $2 million over four years for the Adelaide Film Festival.

Opposition deputy leader and shadow arts and festivals spokesman John Gardner said the state’s arts industries are worried their patch is being overlooked.

He too pointed out that more than half the promised $10 million live music support package announced with much fanfare in last year’s budget has not been spent – while operating funding appeared to have been cut for cultural institutions like the SA Museum, Adelaide Festival Centre, Carrick Hill and Country Arts SA.

Despite a concerted campaign, the Local Government Association was also left empty-handed in the State Budget, it had been calling for $16 million funding lost to public libraries through cost of living increases reinstated along with another $1 million for digital campaigns.

Add that to the State Government calling a halt to its predecessor’s already underway landmark indigenous art gallery Tarrkari for a review that is underway, “that has been delayed, delayed and kicked off into the never, never”, and Gardner believes there is a problem.

“We shouldn’t be seeing it as a competition between art and sports in SA,” Gardner says in relation to the government’s strong backing of major sporting events in the budget like the Adelaide 500 car race with an extra $18 million over four years, adding that he is a big supporter of both.

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“But what’s clear from this budget and the government’s track record over the last 14 months is that they don’t see the value that the arts provide that I think most South Australians do.”

In terms of the state’s public institutions, the Opposition flagged an SA Museum briefing note obtained under the Freedom and Information Act that said its operating grant was cut by almost $600,000 next financial year and it is examining reducing costs including in energy bills, security and cleaning.

The arts portfolio is overseen by Andrea Michaels, who is also the Small Business Minister, rather than the Premier as in the former Liberal Government and the Labor government before that – Gardner thinks the lack of ‘Premier’ input delivers more fodder for those pondering priorities.

Last week’s State Budget provided no apparent new arts spending other than on the film festival – and referencing to last year’s extra $8 million over four years going to the Fringe Festival that sold one million tickets this year.

Arts Minister Andrea Michaels did not give a figure when asked about the net cost for providing services for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet’s arts and culture policy and support portfolio in this year’s budget – in 2022-23 it was forecast to be less than the 2020-21 budget – $113m compared to $128m.

The Minister was also asked about new arts funding for events, funding to cultural institutions and if she was open to discussions about re-purposing funding with Music SA.

“The Malinauskas Labor Government has invested significantly towards supporting the live music industry to recover from the restrictions imposed during the pandemic,” Michaels said.

“The See It Live program continues at pace to support South Australian venues and live music artists.”

She said vouchers are redeemable until 30 June this year, and said the figures that Ms Schloithe has provided are inaccurate – saying the government would continue to work with the live music sector to support its recovery with the remaining “less than a million” voucher funding still allocated in the budget.

The minister did not respond to questions about whether any remaining funding for vouchers after June 30 or the $5 million COVID-related funding would remain available or be re-purposed.

Instead, she pointed to the fact that the Malinauskas Labor Government has nearly doubled the Adelaide Fringe’s funding resulting in its most successful event ever in 2023 with 1 million tickets sold.

“We have also taken the Adelaide Film Festival annual, boosted funding for a number of smaller arts organisations and increased the funding to Music SA by 50 per cent taking it to $300,000 per year,” she said.

“It is ironic that Mr Gardner is accusing our government of not valuing the arts in South Australia when the Marshall Liberal Government, which he was a Cabinet Minister of, slashed the arts portfolio’s budget by more than 5 per cent in its first budget.

“In comparison, our government in last year’s budget made modest savings of less than half that across a number of portfolios to allow for our significant investment in health and education, all the while, increasing funding to strongly support the arts in South Australia.”

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