“Art for art’s sake / Money for God’s sake”

by Bill Browne

The arts and entertainment sector was one of the hardest hit by the necessary COVID-19 lockdowns, affecting many of the 193,600 Australians employed by the sector. Australia Institute polling research found that the arts had improved the mood and quality of life of three in four Australians during the pandemic. Despite its contribution to jobs, mental health and culture, the arts and entertainment sector received short shrift in the Budget.

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications – arts no longer appears in the title of the department – will spend $174 million more on arts and cultural development next year than it did this year, but then $184 million less the year after that. Buckle up, it is going to be a wild ride.

Despite that increase in funding, our federal arts and culture institutions are only expected to increase their staff by 21 people in total in the coming year, a figure that disguises job losses of 8 staff at the National Museum of Australia, 3 staff at Old Parliament House and 21 staff at the National Gallery of Australia.

The Budget confirms the already-announced screen sector support package, which provides a welcome $30 million over two years to Screen Australia, $20 million over two years for the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and $3 million over three years to establish a Screen Writing and Script Development Fund. Unfortunately, this additional funding comes alongside changes in the Australian content rules which could mean more “documentaries” (a category that includes reality TV shows) at the expense of children’s programs and quality drama.

Meanwhile, the $250 million package for the arts industry announced in June is yet to be distributed.

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