Richard Watts | ArtsHub | 

Among the gloom of last week there’s a bright note: some companies have received multi-year organisational funding for the first time.

Who are the new guard?

Marrugeku’s Cut the Sky; photo by John Green.

The events of Black Friday – a dark day for the Australian arts ecology that saw more than 60 organisations stripped of the operational funding by the Australia Council, largely due to the organisation’s significantly reduced budget following the establishment of the Catalyst program – have shocked the nation.

Read: 65 organisations lose funding from Australia Council

But amidst the tears there has also been cause for quiet celebration, with 43 organisations (33% of those funded under the Four-year Funding program) receiving multi-year operational funding for the first time.

The number of newly funded companies has pleased Australia Council CEO Tony Grybowski, who told ArtsHub last week, ‘In our consultation that was a persistent theme – that we were too locked down, too difficult to penetrate for the new.

‘We are history-making. This is the first time we have been able to look at the sector as a whole. In realising a culturally ambitious nation, it was critical that we looked at the whole sector. So much has changed.’

Such companies are hardly ‘new’ – the majority of them having long histories of artistic engagement – and it is hard to discern any rationale in the types of organisations that gained or lost funding.

In keeping with the Australia Council’s current, holistic approach to the national arts landscape the newly funded organisations are spread around the country. Seven Northern Territory organisations have received support, including $300,000 for Desart Inc, the non-profit peak industry body for over 40 Central Australian Aboriginal art centres, and Darwin-based companies Brown’s Mart Arts Limited and Corrugated Iron Youth Arts Inc, which received $195,000 and $260,000 respectively.

Queensland too sees seven new companies join the fold including Brisbane Community Arts Centre ($150,000), the Creative Recovery Network which employs the arts to help communities recover from the impact of natural disasters ($200,000), Queensland Music Network ($280,000) and Queensland University Press ($148,000).

Three new companies from Western Australia have been funded: the Broome-based dance company Marrugeku ($300,000), Perth’s pvi collective ($275,600) and Warburton Youth Arts Centre ($125,000), based in Ngaanyatjarraku shire, 1500km east-northeast of Perth.

Just one new organisation from Tasmania has been funded – Salamanca Arts Centre Inc ($275,000) – and one in the ACT: Canberra Glassworks ​($165,000).

No new companies from South Australia have received Four-year Funding.

Ten new Victorian organisations have been funded, among them the Footscray Community Arts Centre ($300,000), Multicultural Arts Victoria ($250,000) and Outer Urban Projects, which works with young people and their communities in Melbourne’s culturally diverse outer suburbs ($250,000); and 14 companies in Sydney, including Branch Nebula ($150,000), CarriageWorks ($300,000), Powerhouse Youth Theatre ($230,000) and the Sydney Writers’ Festival ($200,000).

The full list – published at the end of this article – features a fairly balanced spread of visual arts organisations (including Canberra Glassworks, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, Desart Inc, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, and Firstdraft Incorporated) and performing arts organisations (among them, Insite Arts, Moogahlin Performing Arts, Shopfront Theatre for Young People, and the Victorian Opera Company).

Newly funded literary organisations include Brisbane Writers’ Festival, Sydney Writers’ Festival, University of Queensland Press, the University of Western Sydney’ Writing and Society Research Centre, and Melbourne’s literature hub The Wheeler Centre.

Read: Arts funding cuts hurt literary organisations

A significant number of Indigenous arts organisations have received multi-year funding for the first time, including Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, Desart Inc, Moogahlin Performing Arts, and Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council – perhaps reflecting, as critic and commentator Alison Croggon has proposed, this new funding model’s origins in the now-axed Creative Australia policy, which recognised the centrality of Indigenous art to Australian culture.

Despite being pleased to secure Australia Council Four-year Funding, ​none of the companies spoken to by ArtsHub wished to boast about receiving support when so many peers have missed out.

As Marrugeku noted in a statement, ‘We are acutely aware that while Marrugeku has been fortunate on this occasion, many of our colleague companies have lost funding either in part or whole due more to arithmetic than lack of merit. As a consequence, we are all the poorer for that outcome.’

Nonetheless, securing multi-year funding under such strictures is evidence of each company’s dedication to artistic excellence and good governance, while the added stability of being funded for four years will allow each organisation to dedicate themselves to cultural and operational growth.

MARRUGEKU

For Marrugeku, the newly secured funding will allow the organisation to focus on capacity building, future-proofing, and trans-Indigenous cultural exchange.

‘One of the challenges Marrugeku has is that we maintain a busy international touring profile and a national profile and a remote community profile,’ co-Artistic Director Rachael Swain told ArtsHub.

‘And touring internationally and touring in remote areas are both very expensive activities, so it means that we can address each of those areas … and at the same time we can commit ourselves to building capacity in the two states that we work in, Western Australia and New South Wales, and with the dance communities in both those places.’

As well as providing greater stability for Marrugeku, the four-year funding program will also give the company greater agency.

‘Being a big touring company, you know, life goes in cycles – development, premiere, touring. Like, this year we’ve got two shows in repertoire and we’re really just focusing on exposing those works, whereas next year we start to go into development. That’s a kind of a rhythm that project funding application doesn’t necessarily take into account, because there are often stipulations on what you can and can’t apply for, which don’t always line with up with what you need to do at any one moment.’

One of the company’s key goals in the coming years will be to work with a number of contemporary Indigenous choreographers, Swain explained.

‘One of the centrepieces for our plan was to choose eight what we’re calling “game changers” in that sector and kind of open the cupboards for them, open the doors to our cultural process, our choreographic process, our dramaturgical process and really kind of give them everything we’ve got.

‘As part of that we’re doing some trans-Indigenous choreographic laboratories in Noumea, New Caledonia and also in Toronto in Canada. So we’re really trying to open up, by using trans-Indigenous cultural exchange both across the country and around the world to make new interventions into contemporary Indigenous dance, to expose the artists to new cultural pathways to create work,’ she said.

Working with new choreographers will also allow Marrugeku to plan for the future.

‘It takes a lot to keep [the international touring] up and to keep in the markets and do the advocacy work – but this enables us to really invest in the individuals who are going to carry the flame after we’ve gone. Because you know, Dalisa [Pigram, co-Artistic Director] and I have been working together for 22 years now, so it’s been a long road and we’re really looking to the future these days,’ Swain said.

Read: Marrugeku’s Cut the Sky review

METRO ARTS

Brisbane’s Metro Arts is a grateful recipient of $600,000 over four years, with its Chair, John Dunleavy, noting: ‘We are privileged to receive four year funding from the Australia Council. In compiling our application for this funding we chose to deliberately back artistic innovation and contemporary practice consistent with our Artistic Strategy as an Organisation. Whilst in uncertain funding times it may have been easier to back a safer mix of artistic programmes, we are pleased that our decision has been rewarded. Additional funding allows organisations such as Metro to build additional capacity and scale to further leverage artistic and other outcomes.’

Metro Arts is the only contemporary multi-arts organisation in the Brisbane CBD and partners closely with both Brisbane City Council and Arts Queensland who continue to support independent artists through the Metro Arts programs.

Creative Director Jo Thomas said, ‘This is a wonderful investment in independent contemporary artists in Queensland and nationally. Last year we worked with over 300 artists through developments, exhibitions, residencies and performances and connected with more than 24,000 patrons. Metro Arts is committed to revitalising the independent sector and continuing our work with artists to create, present and tour new exciting works for Australian audiences.’

With the investment and encouragement of both Australia Council and Arts Queensland Metro Arts will continue to engage with artists and audiences locally, throughout Queensland, nationally and internationally.

In a statement, the organisation added: ‘Metro Arts joins with our colleague organisations to reiterate the importance of Federal arts funding for the small to medium sector and independents.  We shall continue our important role of working with and advocating for independent artists and encourage all Australians to see more great art!’

PVI COLLECTIVE

Perth-based experimental and experiential company, pvi collective, today released a statement saying: ‘We are deeply honoured to have been awarded the funding and will do our utmost to keep putting work out there that agitates audiences in playful and participatory ways, however, the climate in which the funding was distributed makes it impossible for us to celebrate.’

The destabilisation of the small to medium sector ‘means we know have to find ways to build camaraderie as a sector so that we can take meaningful action,’ the statement continued.

‘Keeping up the pressure on Senator Fifield [Minister for the Arts] to return the monies to the Australia Council, with interest, is one step towards undoing the damage.’

The members of pvi collective said they will be writing to Senator Fifield to remind him ‘that despite his government’s rhetoric around “jobs and innovation” that the arts as an “industry” contributes more than $50 billion to our national GDP and the impact of these cuts had the potential to radically alter the positive contribution we make to the economy.’

They added: ‘We are actively colluding with our immediate network of peers to figure out ways that we can take action and extend support to companies who will now need it. We feel for you and we want you to know that you are not alone. We are in this together and know that resilience is our strong point and creative problem solving is what we do best.’

Read: pvi collective’s blackmarket review

MEET THE NEWCOMERS

The full list of new companies funded under the Four-Year Funding program, as supplied by the Australia Council, is published below:

Australasian Performing Right Association Ltd (APRA) (NSW) $300,000
Australian Music Centre Ltd (NSW) $280,000
Board of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (NT) $150,000
Branch Nebula Incorporated (NSW) $150,000
Brisbane Community Arts Centre Ltd (QLD) $150,000
Brisbane Writers Festival Association Inc. (QLD) $95,000
Brown’s Mart Arts Limited (NT) $195,000
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair Limited (QLD) $250,000
Campbelltown Arts Centre (t/u Campbelltown City Council) (NSW) $200,000
Canberra Glassworks Limited (ACT) $165,000
CarriageWorks (NSW) $300,000
Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (NT) $266,000
Corrugated Iron Youth Arts Inc (NT) $260,000
Creative Recovery Network Inc (QLD) $200,000
Crossroad Arts Inc (QLD) $110,000
Cultural Development Network Inc (VIC) $210,000
Desart Inc (NT) $300,000
Firstdraft Incorporated (NSW) $110,000
Footscray Community Arts Centre Ltd (VIC) $300,000
In The Pipeline (Arts) Ltd t/a New Musicals Australia & Hayes Theatre Co (NSW) $180,000
Information and Cultural Exchange Inc (NSW) $285,000
Insite Arts International Pty Ltd ITF the Trustee for Insite Arts International Unit Trust (VIC) $300,000
Marrugeku Inc (WA) $300,000
Moogahlin Performing Arts Inc (NSW) $200,000
Multicultural Arts Victoria Inc (VIC) $250,000
Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (NT) $150,000
NT Writers’ Centre Inc (NT) $75,000
Outer Urban Projects Ltd (VIC) $250,000
Powerhouse Youth Theatre Inc (NSW) $230,000
PVI Collective Ltd (WA) $275,600
Queensland Music Network Incorporated (QLD) $280,000
Salamanca Arts Centre Inc (TAS) $275,000
Shopfront Theatre for Young People Co-operative Ltd (NSW) $250,000
Sound Alliance (NSW) $150,000
St Martins Youth Arts Centre (VIC) $120,000
Sydney Writers’ Festival Ltd (NSW) $200,000
Theatre Network Victoria Inc (VIC) $75,000
University of Queensland Press (QLD) $148,000
University of Western Sydney (Writing and Society Research Centre) (NSW) $80,000
Victorian Opera Company Ltd (VIC) $300,000
Warburton Youth Arts Centre (WA) $125,000
The Wheeler Centre (VIC) $100,000​

IMAGE CREDIT: John Green

ORIGINAL SOURCE: http://performing.artshub.com.au/news-article/features/performing-arts/richard-watts/who-are-the-new-guard-251301