Circus Oz react to new arts budget

Australian circus and performing arts company Circus Oz is an animal-free circus troupe founded in 1978. The company has since toured to over 100 cities and regions in 27 countries.

The following statement was sent to us from Circus Oz expressing ‘significant concerns’ about the new National Program for Excellence in the Arts, announced by the Australia Council earlier this week and which has already provoked controversy among a number of observers.

The executive of Circus Oz (Lou Oppenheim, Mike Finch and Tim Coldwell) writes:

In the budget on Tuesday, Senator Brandis announced a transfer of $104.7 million from the Australia Council to a new National Program for Excellence in the Arts, to be administered by the Federal Arts Ministry.

Circus Oz has significant concerns about the broad potential impact of this decision on the fragile and symbiotic ecosystem of arts in Australia.

Circus Oz is a member of the Major Performing Arts Group of 28 companies. Therefore, our funding is not directly affected by this recent announcement. However, Circus Oz is also an active member of the vibrant, yet delicate arts ecosystem. Changes to any part of this ecology can have dramatic affects on all artists creating work for the audiences of Australia.

We know, for example, that the success of Circus Oz is built on the incredibly vibrant work of all the individual artists, independent, small and medium companies that are eligible for the funding that has been moved. These artists form the creative understory of each sector, be it circus, theatre, music, dance or opera, and as a major organization we feel to not acknowledge this would be conceited and disrespectful. Therefore, Circus Oz will continue to advocate for, work with, and support the independent sector, building conversations and bridges.

In partnership with both sides of politics, the Australia Council has worked over many years to establish a rigorous, fair and economical process for artists to seek support for their work. While no system is ever perfect, this decision-making framework has at its core transparent and efficient access for artists and their audiences. The Australia Council processes are built around artists’ individual planning timelines and requirements – be they large or small organisations or individual artists – across a variety of art practices and from a broad diversity of backgrounds.

There are also expert voices within the Ministry for the Arts, well experienced with the establishment of appropriate processes for distribution of taxpayer funds. However, this new program will likely duplicate systems for funding bodies and artists, increasing red tape. This will absorb valuable time and resources that could otherwise be devoted to the creation of the art.

Unfortunately, the impact on the delicate ecology is likely to be more substantial than just this likely duplication. First, the Australia Council has signalled that emerging artists will be directly affected by programs being cut due to the imposed efficiency dividend on their operations – ArtStart, Capacity Building and Artists in Residence.

With much of the small and medium sector artists also awaiting the outcome of funding Expressions of Interest, the removal of $104.7milion of project funding from the Australia Council at this moment is deeply destabilising and could have an immediate impact on their survival.

In the longer term, the viability of all parts of the ecosystem will be dependent on an ongoing commitment to efficient funding mechanisms for artists of all sizes, backgrounds and art forms. Only through this will Australia audiences continue to reap the benefits that come from a flourishing, diverse and healthy arts community.

Do any of our other readers in Australia – or indeed, anywhere around the world – have strong views either way on the new announcement? Perhaps something comparable has happened, or been attempted, with arts funding in your own country? We’d love to hear from you; please leave a comment below.

Circus Oz photo © Rob Blackburn

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