What's Next for the Visual Art, Craft & Design Sector? Discussion Notes

On 16 July 2020, NAVA facilitated an online conference to characterise the context and outline the opportunities for the next chapter in Australia’s visual arts, craft and design policy settings.

Graphic recording of the meeting showing speech bubbles and little drawings in 3 columns, first one is grey, 2nd one is blue and the 3rd one is orange.

Click here to watch the time-lapse video of the What's Next For The Visual Art, Craft And Design Sector graphic recording by Sarah Firth.

What’s next for the visual art, craft and design sector? Discussion Notes

11:00-1:00pm AEST Thursday 16 July 2020
Presented by the National Visual Arts Roundtable 
Facilitated by NAVA

1. Welcome to Country

Parbin-ata Dr Carolyn Briggs AM, Boon Wurrung Elder

Dr Carolyn Briggs welcomed us to the lands of the two great bays, Western Port Bay and Port Phillip Bay, the Boon Wurrung of the greater eastern Kulin. Dr Carolyn Briggs spoke of recognising and celebrating in our shared history, of taking pride in the celebration of our multicultural society by understanding the history and heritage of our First Peoples.   

Esther Anatolitis (NAVA), opened with a contextual briefing of why we are gathered here ‘digitally’ today. The event was born of discussions held by the National Visual Arts Roundtable, formed in light of the pandemic. We looked at how we can connect across this period of time and how we can give personal and professional support to each other as we are called upon to support our sectors. Inevitably the Roundtable started to think about the bigger picture - what are some of the recurrent issues and how can we address them?     

Our aim: 

  • To characterise the context and outline the opportunities for the next chapter in Australia’s visual arts, craft and design policy settings

Our key questions:

  • What are the current structural issues in the visual arts, craft and design?
  • Are current policy and funding settings serving us well?
  • What’s needed next to ensure a thriving sector?

2. A conversation with Rupert Myer AO

What led to the Contemporary Visual Arts & Craft (CVAC) Inquiry, which was chaired by Rupert Myer, and what has been achieved since?


Rupert Myer began by acknowledging the real challenges that exist for the sector right now and wishing us all well. The CVAC inquiry was announced in September 2001 and the report presented 12 months later. The terms of reference were broad, but the essential points of review were:

  • funding challenges;
  • the legislative environment;
  • changes required for a more sustainable sector;
  • and recommendations for professional pathways and education courses.

An inquiry was set up with a secretariat based in Canberra, which involved multiple national conversations with the intent to gain an understanding of the issues that faced the sector, across the diversity of the sector and across Australia's geography. One key finding was around fragility and frailty in the sector, many organisations were operating at a subsistence level without the ability to plan forward due to lack of financial certainty around both government funding and private sector support. Another key finding saw a huge disconnect between the funding from State and Territory governments for organisations compared to the Commonwealth Government, that there were different time sequences, and different criterion.

An important recommendation to come of these findings was the development of a large piece of architecture to ensure less bureaucracy, a one-stop-shop that led to tripartite funding agreements that until that point had not existed within the sector. That then led to the VACS funding that has existed since. 

Esther Anatolitis (NAVA), noted how important Rupert’s notes have been in comparing our current situation and identifying a range of issues: that we need to be addressing capacity and looking at security as opposed to fragility, as well as education and the development of practice. What are the impacts and successes seen since that period?  

Rupert Myer, believes there is no doubt that a greater certainty around funding led to an increase in the ambition of the sector. This is demonstrated in:

  • An increase in other forms of funding, such as private;
  • Australia’s connectivity with the world increased, as well as connectivity within the sector;
  • another outcome, reflected in part by the establishment of the Resale Royalty Scheme, was a greater level of respect for the contemporary visual arts and crafts sector; 
  • VACS has continued;
  • the collaboration between State and Territory and Commonwealth Governments and the way in which they look at the sector has continued, an example is the MCM; 
  • closer proximity between those in the sector and those in government.  

However, some elements of that fragility are still evident in changes to funding models that have taken place over the interim and a lack of adjustment to the levels of VACS funding.  

Esther Anatolitis (NAVA), are there aspects of that original work which you would have loved to have seen implemented in different ways, or things that need to be emphasised and developed now?

Rupert Myer, explains that the report was designed to change as the evidence base changed, that fresh data could be dropped in. While that hasn’t happened in the context of the report itself the evidence base has been developed in other places, e.g. A view from middle Australia: Perceptions of arts, culture and creativity by A New Approach (delivered by the Australian Academy for the Humanities and funded by the Myer Foundation, the Keir Foundation, and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation). An evidence base is critical to the way we interact and understand the broader context to how this work is being undertaken across the nation. 20 years ago it was more appropriate to segment the arts, but there is now a greater argument for a whole system approach.

3. What are the current structural issues in the visual arts, craft and design? What’s missing and what’s needed next to ensure a thriving sector?

Channon Goodwin, All Conference

Prepared points:

  1. Persistent precarity for working artists and artsworkers;
  2. First Peoples leadership and cultural diversity; and
  3. Recognising the specific value of small-scale and artist-run.

Briefly discussed:

Channon Goodwin (All Conference) noted that the persistent precarity of working artists and artsworkers is starkly evident within our network, given the rarity of stable pay within the small and micro-scale and the predominance of volunteerism in the, highly productive, Artist-Run. Combined with broader societal pressures around insecure work, attacks on the social safety net, and shifts in the cost of art school, this risks entrenching systems of economic and class privilege at a time when our various committees are actively trying to counteract these forces.

Also noting that these grassroots arts organisations have tremendous capacity to make change and challenge established orthodoxies. Key to enabling this is a power transfer to First Peoples and culturally diverse communities of "creatives" within our management committees and artistic programs. 

Channon finished by appealing for a greater recognition of the value of the small-scale and artist-run.  

Sue-Lyn Aldrian-Moyle, Australian Arts Amidst COVID19

Prepared points:

  1. Centralisation of decision making within institutions: A lot of decisions, power and policy making is held within the institutions. We need paid artist representation, plus supportive and safe structures that enable participation from a wide range of skill sets, demographics and backgrounds.
  2. The reliance on pre-COVID grant processes: A simpler process via direct funds to independents, or shorter requirements, or not requiring repetition for multiple grants would be a step forward. We are concerned at the number of applications being received which indicates a lot of unsupported work being expended by institutions and artists.
  3. Financial security for artists: This could be via a universal income, a federal or state government artist allowance, secure employment, organisational expenditure targets.

Briefly discussed:

Sue-Lyn Aldrian-Moyle (ACCC19), noted the importance of paid artist representation at the table, she also discussed the onerous work of applications with very little resulting successes. Sue-Lyn emphasised the concern around the end of JobKeeper/JobSeeker.  

Claire Sourgnes, Australian Craft & Design Centres

Prepared points:

  1. A major issue is the lack of innovation in how organisations are funded. Being able to build a resilient sector must involve strengthening the core of organisations. We need an approach that invests in core operations, capacity and development of organisations and arts workers to support the next generation of curators, artistic directors and administrators who will then go on to leadership roles in the future.
  2. A VACS strategy needs to be considered in a broader arts policy framework – we need a structure where major visual arts organisations are funded similarly to Partnership Organisations/AMPAG; where the S2M sector is supported as well as the major arts organisations; some sense of transparency around funding scales and their value in the eyes of Aus Co.; and where organisations can deliver on their remit without having to apply for a multitude of project grants.
  3. The craft and design sector remains structurally disadvantaged through strongly defined hierarchies that exist within the art schools, collecting institutions and commercial galleries. This paradigm impacts how decisions about funding are made.

Briefly discussed:

Claire Sourgnes (ACDC), emphasised the importance of funding in the S2M sector and pointed to the critical nature of trained arts administrators in supporting artists. 

Alexie Glass-Kantor, Contemporary Arts Organisations Australia

Prepared points:

  1. S2M Return on Investment: CAOA exemplifies the importance of the small to medium sector in the way it provides inspiring, innovative, ethical sector leadership, commissioning artists to make new work, engaging First Nations and CALD communities, strengthening community exchange, and delivering significant return on investment – both culturally and financially, with every dollar from federal government sources matched by two dollars from other forms of funding and earned income.
  2. Strategic planning and policy development: The recommendations of the Report into the Visual Arts and Craft Sector (The Myer Report), and the subsequent establishment of VACS, led to considerable growth, achievement and social impact over the past two decades. CAOA’s strategic plan, and 2030 Vision, seeks to renew this investment and capacity building, research and development for the sector for the decade ahead.
  3. Increased support to the Australia Council: CAOA acknowledges the critical role played by the Australia Council to support and promote a vibrant cultural sector. Static funding, exacerbated by COVID-19 impacts and disruptions, have challenged the Australia Council’s ability to invest in capacity building for the sector. CAOA endorses recent calls for increased funding to the Australia 

Briefly discussed:

Alexie Glass-Kantor (CAOA), experienced some issues with internet interruptions but sought to emphasise the importance of coming together during times of crisis, and that we need a broader purview for developing creative capacity. She noted that there is no consistency or continuity in who receives funding, and that a modest investment in operational sustainability creates a huge impact.  

Joann Russo, Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre

Prepared points:

  1. Governance levels and structures: recognition that cultural governance is very different to corporate governance. Sometimes it can be hard to balance Indigenous cultural expectations, with the requirements set out by government or funding bodies.
  2. Indigenous cultural knowledge is a tangible skill that must be recognised in the same way that tertiary education and industry experience is and should be paid for appropriately. And based on the principles of self-determination, Indigenous funding programs should go direct to community and not to non-Indigenous organisations.
  3. Engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be broad. You will not get a true reflection of issues by speaking to one person or a small group. We work as collectives, not as individuals. One individual is not representative. There is not one voice, there needs to be many voices. Cultural protocols may determine steps A, B, C and D before coming back with response. We all need to be included in talking points: administrators, artists and Elders. 

Briefly discussed:

Joann Russo (Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre), noted that Indigenous cultural knowledge is handed down and inherited, that cultural governance is very important to us and how we operate and we feel as though on many occasions that it's not respected or observed in what we do, but that it is critical to progression. Engagement with First Nations Peoples is to be performed on a collective scale, that the points above need to become a part of all other policies and procedures in an equitable and shared way to that of mainstream colleagues.  

Anne Robertson, National Public Galleries Alliance

Prepared points:

  1. NEED 1: development of an overarching framework (as part of a National Art Policy) that identifies and addresses funding gaps, short-falls and priorities in the arts and cultural heritage sector nationally. 
  2. NEED 2: sector recognition – elevating Australia's public gallery network and the visual arts craft and design sector, and championing its value within the nation's arts ecology/wider communities/stakeholders.
  3. NEED 3: national research which demonstrates the size and impact (social, cultural and economic) of the visual arts sector = demonstrates benefits of investing (currently research is all encompassing, including film, television, performing arts, cinemas, libraries, museums, galleries, etc. This makes it difficult to drill down and draw out information.)

Briefly discussed:

Anne Robertson (NPGA), noted that the museum sector was not considered a part of the art sector, which needs to change. Anne also pointed out that the current research undertaken, particularly by the ABS, is all encompassing, covering film, television, performing arts, which makes it difficult to draw out information specific to visual arts. We need a way to bring all this research together and pursue it in a more strategic manner for the benefit of the visual arts. 

Penelope Benton (prepared with Georgia Mokak), National Association for the Visual Arts

Prepared points:

  1. Shifting the lens to genuinely invest in, develop and deliver a First Nations first framework, starting with championing a First Peoples network and investing in the existing resources and peak bodies across the sector.
  2. Public policy and investment has not kept apace with industry growth and diversification. Australia’s artists work under increasingly precarious conditions, and their rights are increasingly under threat. The application of best practice standards declines under diminished funding. Organisations can’t prioritise the costs they perceive as obstructions to deliver policies on diversity, accessibility and best practice. 
  3. Professional skills gaps and barriers to career advancement need to be redressed. This includes legal, financial, communications and management skills that practitioners need to orient and establish themselves in professional practice. With increasing cuts to the funding of art schools, education and training in professional practice is becoming more and more inaccessible. Even after course completion, too many obstacles undermine a career in the arts. For those who want to make a career as an artist, the industrial conditions for artists do not match those for the general population.

Briefly discussed:

Penelope Benton (NAVA), emphasised NAVA’s first point of championing a First Peoples network, a NIACA or otherwise, and investing in existing resources and peak bodies across the sector. Noting that there are many organisations already contributing to what could be a really positive way of collaborating. Penelope went on to reflect some of today’s comments that the conditions that Australia's art practitioners work under are increasingly precarious and that the independent or small to medium art sector should be recognised as the engine room for the arts. 

Summing up, Esther Anatolitis, NAVA

Esther Anatolitis (NAVA), noted that the issues raised are what we have been talking about for some time. We're not just in a pandemic, we've come through a period of fires, floods, toxic air and are on the back of a period of a number of years of declining public investment and other structural changes, which adds a dimension of challenge to our issues.

Esther briefly summarised some points raised by our colleagues, noting similar themes:

  • The critical importance of operational sustainability;
  • Education;
  • Artist representation and artist engagement;
  • The vital urgency of developing First Peoples strategy and leadership.

4. What are the current policy and funding settings? What’s working well, and where are the gaps?

Local government: Francesca Valmorbida, Municipal Association VIC

Prepared points:

Partnership Approach – equal investment should mean equal contribution to sector development and delivery, and Integrated Planning – 3 governments to work with the sector and allied industries including health, tourism and sport

Direct Funding – benefits of having councils responsible for local delivery especially around recovery and Strategic Investment – LGAs are a valuable part of the ecosystem (advocates, ambassadors and local specialists)

Collaboration – leverage comradery across most of the sector to develop long-term and impactful strategic plans, with Consistent Messaging – plain language tools illustrating value, benefits, jobs, future career prospects, education, etc


Briefly discussed:

Francesca Valmorbida (Municipal Association VIC), noted that a lot of what she heard today is being reiterated around the country, and that the overarching message is that collaboration is key to a strategic approach to our future. While it is such a significant portion, it is evident that local government is not considered part of the art sector in consideration of planning, funding and staff. Francesca describes her recent work, noting that without the funding needed it has taken her 3 years longer than it should have. She has recently discovered that the Australia Council started assisting local councils with the funding of community arts officers from its inception in 1973. This framework established 50 years ago is still benefiting communities - what can we do to maximise this now? 

State government: Sue Procter and Peter White, Create NSW

Prepared points:

In 2019/20 Create NSW delivered a significant reform of the NSW Arts and Cultural Funding Program and introduced ten new Artform Boards, including a Visual Arts Board.  Led by Simon Mordant, the Board consists of industry leaders with significant experience in regional galleries, leading visual arts organisations and Aboriginal visual arts practice.  In addition to assessing applications through Create NSW’s competitive rounds, the Board advises the Minister on issues relating to visual arts practice in NSW. 

Create NSW is developing a new Aboriginal Strategic Framework with a key focus on NSW Aboriginal Visual Arts development – A NSW Aboriginal Visual Arts Action plan will address the long term issues that have impacted the viability and growth of our sector within NSW. Key elements are broadscale ecology mapping of the sector and needs analysis in areas of NSW Aboriginal market development, presentations and promotion, and cultural viable and sustainable training and professional development pathways.

Create NSW is working closely with other departments of NSW Government in delivering significant investment in public art especially along the new Metro light rail. To support this investment, Create NSW is developing a best practice guide: The Public Art Toolkit, which is due to be released later in 2020.

Briefly discussed:

Sue Procter (Create NSW), noted that what she is hearing today is the same perennial problem - there isn’t enough money to do everything we want to do. She discussed opportunities to leverage further funding from within government, but also from outside sources. Create NSW is doing a lot of work to try and make connections with other departments with money. In the creation of artform boards, they are trying to create a mechanism by which the arts are more valued. Sue noted that as funding remains unchanged it is difficult to move money around, to defund some organisations in favour of others. She also spoke of moving to the department of Premier and Cabinet, and that this is helping to perpetuate the argument that the artists are a basic human right, but that in a world of COVID-19 everything is off the table. Create NSW are currently working to reduce the burden of applications. In a final note, Sue spoke of private funding and how she is personally interested in investigating how they can support organisations to better capture the philanthropic dollar. 

Peter White (Create NSW), spoke to a new Aboriginal strategic framework. He is asking the question: What does it mean when you put culture at the centre of everything? Aboriginal people have the right to maintain and develop and control their own cultural heritage, but we need effective measures. We as Create NSW are only part of the solution, the real knowledge is out in the sector - we need broad-scale ecology mapping. Peter discussed bringing greater visibility to the NSW art sector in particular. He further discussed how to create these changes, that this can be through co-design which can bring innovation in collaboration. Peter made a final note about First Peoples moving from resilience to prosperity and growth - taking our role and that's what leadership is.

Federal government: Caroline Fulton, Office for the Arts 

Briefly discussed:

Caroline Fulton (Office for the Arts), thanked everyone for their insights and remarked that the Office of the Arts team had taken everything on board. Caroline outlined current funding streams, the recently announced creative economy package from the federal government and additional support to IVAIS. She noted that operational support is very critical in terms of supporting the broader ecology of the sector. Subject to approval process, Caroline hopes that the guidelines to the federal arts package will be released within the next few weeks. 

Jade Lillie and Andy Donovan, Australia Council

Briefly discussed:

Andy Donovan (Australia Council), outlined the Australia Council’s response to COVID-19 and the recently announced programs that are a variation on what would normally be available. The Australia Council are looking at these all through the lens of COVID-19 and will be expecting people to refer to the pandemic in their applications - how will they manage the risk related to COVID-19 in terms of the presentation and creation of work? Andy emphasised that both the Australia Council and applicants will need to be agile moving forward. 

Jade Lillie (Australia Council), noted a recent change resulting in the sector development team at the Australia Council. A lot of work has been in the sector recovery space over the last few months, including the Reignite framework that has been released to support organisations and artists in a COVID-safe planning context and how to prepare for reopening. The team is about to kick off a sector consultation phase which will include conversations around mobility and exchange, leadership, diversity, access and inclusion, investment models and what they look like in the future, capacity building, training, etc.  

5. What’s next?

Esther Anatolitis (NAVA), recapped the key points from today’s discussion, noting a deep precarity being experienced by both artists and organisations, indicating a need for:

  • Widening our view of the sector; 
  • agility on the part of policymakers and funders so that the sector can move beyond fragility;
  • overarching frameworks, overarching policy;
  • ambitious research and specific forensic work to see the sector clearly and advocate for what comes next; 
  • collegiate work and discussions to be retained and pursued;
  • balanced investment across the sector.

Esther thanked all participants and attendees, and committed to report back to the National Visual Arts Roundtable to determine next steps together.