Local arts leaders welcome the state government’s recent Arts Plan development but have concerns about the void left by the dismantling of Arts South Australia.
Last month, the state government announced it had engaged former chief executive of the Australia Council for the Arts, Tony Grybowski, to lead the development of the state’s first Arts Plan since 2000.
This bit of welcome news comes four months after the state government announced budget cuts to the arts to the tune of $31.9 million over four years. This included the dismantling of Arts South Australia, with its administrative responsibilities incorporated into the Department of Premier and Cabinet. As part of that budget, the government also announced that it would fund an additional $1 million per annum to go directly to artists and committed to the development of an Arts Plan, which is expected to be delivered mid-2019.
“We welcome a commitment to the development of this new plan [Arts Plan] however we are very disappointed that the government has jumped the gun by already implementing major changes without any consultation,” chair of the Arts Industry Council of South Australia (AICSA) Gail Kovatseff said last year in response to the September budget cuts.
Grybowski will work in partnership with consultant Graeme Gherashe to undertake a “comprehensive review of the state’s arts, cultural and creative sector and its funding structures” according to the state government.
“We are very pleased to be working with such great leaders in the field of arts and cultural strategy,” Premier Marshall said in a press release. “I am pleased that Mr Grybowski and Mr Gherashe’s approach to the significant task ahead is positive, and moreover, I’m confident that their collective experience will result in the development of a plan which is based on broad and extensive consultation.”
The consultations include digital surveys, focus groups, interviews and town-hall-style meetings to be held across the state. An advisory group will also be established.
Outgoing artistic director of State Theatre Company of South Australia, Geordie Brookman, welcomes the appointment of Grybowski.
“I think the appointment of Tony Grybowski to lead the Arts Plan consultation process is a powerful sign of how seriously the Marshall government is taking this current moment and a recognition that the creation of an Arts Plan is a once in a generation opportunity,” Brookman says. “Tony is a highly respected arts bureaucrat who has a deep knowledge of the local and national ecology and will consult deeply and widely.”
What would Brookman like to see in the Arts Plan?
“I’d like to see an Arts Plan that embraces all of the unique opportunities that South Australia has to offer, that is unafraid to shake up current structures and that focuses on maximising the creation of work within South Australia and how to give that work the longest life possible,” Brookman says. “I’d like to see something that is stratospherically ambitious, embraces cultural diversity and gender equality and most importantly creates a funding structure for the long term that allows companies and artists to plan and create with security.”
Despite multiple requests, AICSA has not yet met with the state government but expects to be consulted as part of the Arts Plan.
“AICSA has been the major driver behind the push for an Arts Plan [AICSA released a road map for the arts in 2017 called Creative South Australia: A Vision for the Arts],” Kovatseff says. “This is because we want to see both new strategies and new funding taken out of the realm of ad hoc policy driven by political expediency and the loudest voices.”
Kovatseff says it is “critical in a competitive global economy and tourist market that you have a fully realised arts and creative industry strategy with a high level of market intelligence”.
“For a society to fully benefit from an Arts Plan you also need to understand the full gamut of what the arts and creative industry offers – not only economic but as a force for community cohesion through culturally rich, local experiences and by providing a vehicle for a society to tell its own stories and express its worldview.”
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s managing director Vincent Ciccarello believes the announcement that a new Arts Plan is underway sends a positive signal to the sector.
“While there’s still uncertainty about how the sector, especially independent artists and SMEs [small-to-medium organisations], will manage without the functions previously provided by Arts South Australia, we now have the promise of a new plan that will address funding structures and that should ultimately give clarity and some comfort about the future.
“I’ve felt for a long time that the role of our arts and cultural sector is as much about a broader vision for the kind of place we want to live in, as it is about leisure and entertainment options for citizens,” Ciccarello says. “I’m optimistic that a new Arts Plan for the state will articulate such a vision and I welcome the appointment of Tony Grybowski to lead its development. Tony has a wealth of experience in the sector and has held the top arts agency job in the land. I know him to be a smart, balanced and reasonable person, and I have no reason to believe that he won’t bring these qualities to the task.”
The development of the Arts Plan will go ahead without the umbrella arts department Arts South Australia, with its administrative responsibilities incorporated into the Department of Premier and Cabinet and other responsibilities split between the Department of Industry and Skills’ new Creative Industries stream and the Department of Education. How will the arts sector navigate without the support, reporting and oversight functions provided by Arts South Australia?
“In terms of major organisations, there is an on-going workload associated with being constituted under government legislation and in receipt of government funds – in the past this was undertaken efficiently by experienced Arts South Australia managers,” Kovatseff answers. “Inevitably this work will now be pushed back onto organisations in an environment where they have had cuts. This will potentially require new roles within organisations in regard to managing all of the reporting requirements. Therefore, savings made by decreasing the role of Arts South Australia is to some extent a displacement strategy forcing another level of savings back onto organisations.
“One of the real losses is for individual artists and the small-to-medium organisations, who with less resources and political access, relied on Arts South Australia as champions, supporters and sector galvanises,” Kovatseff says. “Arts South Australia also played an important role in the flow of information and support between these sectors and federal bodies.
“In terms of the government itself, when working at its best, Arts South Australia provided an objective overview managing and qualifying competing voices and priorities,” she continues. “This will be a sore loss in regard to process and the effective management of taxpayers’ resources. However, the Arts Plan could set an agenda with a clear-eyed view of the benefit of new directions, priorities and strategies. It is critical that the arts and creative industries are involved significantly in this and that we actively monitor its delivery.”
When asked if he was concerned with how the arts sector (especially independent artists and SME companies) will navigate without the support, reporting and oversight functions provided by Arts South Australia, Brookman answered: “Yes, I am concerned. Arts South Australia has, for a long time, played a critical support and research role within the sector and provided a feedback loop for artists as they go through the funding process.”
Can the arts industry remain positive looking ahead?
“There’s a lingering sense of shock about the changes to Arts South Australia; but as those changes are settled down, and as the new Arts Plan takes shape, I do think there’s reason to be positive,” Ciccarello says. “We shouldn’t, however, take the state’s standing for granted. Arts and culture are now very competitive areas for governments as they carefully watch what’s been happening in Hobart in recent years.”
“Clearly the Brandis cuts [federal cuts of 2015 and 2016] followed by the dismantling of Arts South Australia with scant policy behind either has rattled confidence in the future,” Kovatseff says. “AICSA has argued vociferously for an Arts Plan so it’s hard not to hope for the absolute best to come out of it but it needs to be done clear eyed with the government prepared to make new investment.”
Geordie Brookman directs a State Theatre Company rehearsal (Photo: Sia Duff)