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It’s an Arts disaster for Western Sydney

22 May 2015

Blacktown’s hopes to be artistically innovative have been dealt a death blow by the Federal Budget.

“A couple of pen strokes and the Arts Minister’s decision to place quarantine lines around big organisations like Opera Australia means everyone else has to go whistle,” said Blacktown City Mayor, Stephen Bali.

“Western Sydney is already a cultural funding desert, despite having a vibrant home grown arts movement that only needs watering to let it bloom,” he said

“Most of our residents cannot afford the major performing arts companies’ productions, which means the Federal Government is means testing cultural pursuits.”

According to a recent analysis by Deloittes, Western Sydney has:

  • 9.5 per cent of the Australian population but only gets 1% of Federal arts funding, and
  • 29.4 per cent of the State’s population but only 5.5 % of the State’s arts funding.

By comparison, Eastern Sydney has:

  • 10.7 per cent of the Australian population and gets 36 per cent of the arts funding, and
  • 33.4 per cent of the State’s population and gets 87.2 per cent of the state’s arts funding.

“We’ve gone from being told by the Australia Council that they’re open to funding applications to being told the whole program is on hold,” Mayor Bali.

After a major re-think on where arts money should go, the Australia Council called for expressions of interest from previously un-funded arts programs like those run by Blacktown City Council

Blacktown Council has just been advised by Tony Grybovski, CEO of the Australia Council that, because of federal budget cuts, the six year funding program once on offer was now on hold.

“Blacktown Arts Centre, with a budget of just $1 million and servicing a population of 352,000, was eligible, for the first time to apply for program funding from the Australia Council,” Councillor Bali said.

“Because the Arts Minister has directed that ‘national flagship companies’ are immune from cuts and because they swallow up 66 per cent of what’s available - everyone else is on hold while the Australia Council tries to repair the funding carnage.”

The impact of Federal Budget funding limitations on the Australia Council will be more far reaching than the Government realises, Councillor Bali said.

“Every arts body in Australia will feel cold wind blow through their artistic programs,” he said.

In our case, we have lost the opportunity to grow our arts programs to better meet the needs of the residents of the largest local government area in NSW.

“We also lose the opportunity to provide employment and development opportunities for local and emerging artists.

Blacktown Council makes a significant investment in arts and cultural development in this city and has a strong track record of nurturing new art forms.

It also works with organisations like the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia Museum, and the Sydney Symphony to bring the best of what is available elsewhere in Sydney to Blacktown.

“The NSW Government is our major funding partner for this and the Federal Government should be too,” Councillor Bali said.

“While we have benefited from project grants from the Australia Council, what we need in a region like Western Sydney is a sustained commitment to arts development from the Federal Government.

“Our hopes for this have been dashed by this recent announcement.

“In a politically volatile region like Western Sydney, can the federal government really afford to have arts development being treated with such contempt?”

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