Criticism grows of decision to defund Regional Arts NSW23.11.2020
The following article was written by Linda Morris and published by The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday 2 November 2020.
The Berejiklian government has been criticised for defunding the peak body responsible for coordinating art projects and agencies across NSW.
The decision to withdraw funding from Regional Arts NSW within two years was announced Monday, just days before the opening of Artstate, which showcases regional arts and culture and is this year being held in The Riverina.
Labor says the decision amounts to political interference and has called for the restoration of an independent process for the distribution of arts funding in NSW with clear criteria so that groups operate from a level playing field.
Chairman of Regional Arts NSW, Julie Briggs, said it was disappointing that increased funding to its regional arts development organisations should come at the expense of funding to the peak body.
“It is incredibly disappointing that after years of advocacy by Regional Arts NSW (RANSW) for more funding for the Regional Arts Development Organisation (RADO) network, an increase is finally granted but at the cost of the peak body for regional artists and arts organisations in NSW losing its funding” she said.
She said 12 of the 14 partner organisations that included the likes of Outback Arts, Arts Mid North Coast, Arts Upper Hunter, and Western Riverina Arts had wanted Regional Arts NSW to continue.
Create NSW has recommended that most of Regional Arts NSW’s $440,000 budget be reallocated to its partner organisations with all funding to be removed in 2021-22. Partner groups would then retain the option of funding a peak body themselves.
By the second year, regional arts organisations would receive an additional $28,000 per annum in core funding to $168,000 per annum and administer small grants for volunteer-run museums.
“It is hard to believe that with a budget of over $80 billion, the NSW Government could not find an additional $400,000 to deliver increased funding to the RADO network, particularly given that funding has not been increased since 2013,” Mrs Briggs said.
Regional Arts NSW advocates for, supports and coordinates arts projects while delivering state and Commonwealth grants to rural and remote NSW.
Justifying the review, Create NSW says the government funding to the individual regional arts councils – combined it’s about $2.8 million annually – had failed to keep up with inflation. Allocations had fallen 9.1 per cent between 2013 to 2018.
With these bodies receiving little or no sponsorship of philanthropic support, budgets were increasingly being squeezed.
Ms Briggs said the organisation has been overwhelmed
by messages of support from across the arts sector and indicated the organisation was looking for a way to continue to operate.
The RANSW board, she said, would continue business as usual throughout 2021 and use this time to consult with all its members and stakeholders to develop a strategy to support regional artists and arts organisation.
“RANSW has undergone many changes during its almost 75 years in operation,” Mrs Briggs said. “Our focus has and always will be on championing the rights of regional communities to access arts and cultural projects that are either locally produced or touring programs. How this is done may change in the future, as it has in the past.”
The move comes amid Labor’s criticism of the government’s administration of the Regional Cultural Funds program which purportedly ignored the recommendations of independent assessors to preference projects in Coalition electorates in the months before the 2019 election.
Labor’s shadow spokesperson Walt Secord said the funding review of the Regional Arts Network was another example of the Berejiklian Government’s interference in the distribution of government programs and that the whole process was “deeply unfair”.