The Visual Arts and Craft Strategy (VACS) is a joint initiative of the federal, state and territory governments which aims to build a strong, sustainable and dynamic visual arts sector. Since 2003 it has increased funding to the sector, building to around $14 million a year.

The VACS resulted from determined advocacy which persuaded the Commonwealth Government to commission the first-ever Australia-wide examination of the contemporary visual arts and craft sector. NAVA played a key leadership role in securing the inquiry and the resultant funding increase.

Arts in Australia

The Arts Contribution to the Economy

Infographics by T. Andrew, 2014.

NAVA continues to assert that the Australian visual and media arts, craft and design sector needs to be adequately supported through VACS by governments at all levels to ensure its sustainability and be able to achieve its potential nationally and internationally. This includes:

  • a continuing long term funding commitment starting at the current level and indexed by CPI every year
  • new funding of $5 million per annum to establish an Artists Fees Fund administered by the Australia Council
  • new commitment of $4 million per annum for small to medium arts organisations
  • restoration by all state and territory government to the levels of funding prior to the cuts made from 2012 onwards.

In a sustained campaign, NAVA was successful in securing government commitment to VACS, resulting in a substantial funding increase for the visual arts and craft sector from 2003 to the present. In 2001, NAVA mobilised various parts of its constituency to form a representative industry group - the National Visual Arts, Craft and Design Network - to call for an in-depth study to be undertaken by government. This resulted in the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft (Myer) Inquiry conducted in 2001/02.

The resulting Inquiry Report found that “the sector is now at a point where strategic interventions are needed to capitalise on existing strengths and ensure that the obvious potential is realised."

The response from federal and all state and territory governments was to provide matching funding from 2003 for the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy (VACS) rising to almost $14 million a year. The initial four year commitment has three times been renewed since its establishment and is due for renewal again in mid 2020. The funding is invested in a variety of ways but principally supports core visual arts and craft infrastructure and grants for artists.

VACS Outcomes Evaluation

At the end of each four year funding period, the Australia Council's Visual Arts Board commissions a report that aims to evaluate and record the achievements of VACS-funded organisations and individual artists. In 2009 it found that the beneficiaries of the funds have seen huge advances and been ambitious, innovative and much more able to engage effectively with the wider community.

The Visual Arts section of the Australia Council undertook a new assessment of the outcomes from VACS investment since 2011. These were used to make the case for renewal and expansion from 2015 onwards.

What's Needed

Update October 2016

NAVA was pleased that following the Meeting of the Cultural Ministers, it was announced on 24th March 2015 that the VACS funding by federal and state/territory governments would be maintained at the level of a total $54.6 million over four years from 2015.

However, NAVA has called for this to be made a permanent commitment, fully indexed every year.

NAVA is concerned that following the funding cuts made by the Federal Government in 2015, almost half the small to medium arts organisations lost their operational funding. This was in addition to cuts made by some states to several visual arts organisations and artist grant programs. NAVA is calling for the return of funding to the Australia Council to at least 2013 levels and an increase in the base level of funding for the visual arts sector by all state and territory governments.

NAVA also wants to see additional commitments made in the 2017 Federal Budget to support new areas of opportunity identified through its own research, and backed up by Australia Council research.

To meet new needs which have become evident as the environment changes, as a minimum, NAVA is asking the Federal Government for a commitment to the following additional allocations of:

  • $5 million per annum to assist under-resourced galleries to pay artists' loan and commissioning fees for work exhibited in publicly funded galleries (and therefore not offered for sale) at least at the rate recommended in the Code of Practice for the Professional Australian Visual Arts, Craft and Design Sector.
  • $4 million per annum to enable small to medium arts organisations to keep pace with technological change in the development of their on-line business management and communication systems and to build international opportunities for artists.

From CAOS and ACDC

Two key contemporary visual arts and craft groups made a pitch for extra funding.

Read the Contemporary Arts Organisations Australia (CAOS) document 21st Century CAOS: a Forward Plan for Contemporary Art

Read the Australian Craft and Design Centres (ACDC) document 'Tipping Point: ACDC Strategy for the Future'

Take Action

To support NAVA's call for the Commonwealth Government to:

  • make permanent the VACS funding commitment starting at the current level and indexed by CPI every year
  • provide new funding of $5 million per annum to establish an Artists Fees Fund administered by the Australia Council or a peak national body like NAVA
  • make a new commitment of $4 million per annum for small to medium visual arts organisations.

1. Write to the Arts Minister Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield


Address: 42 Florence Street, MENTONE VIC 3194

2. Write to your state/territory arts minister with the same request.

In addition, if cuts have been made to arts funding in your state/territory you could ask for restoration of funding to visual and media arts, craft and design at the previous levels before the cuts.


Australia Council Commissioned Visual Arts Research

In 2013/14, The Australia Council commissioned 'Talking Points', an independent research study to gain a deeper knowledge of the sector, which has grown in depth and complexity over the last decade.

It anticipates growing audiences hungry for contemporary art and an exciting time for visual arts to be involved in a global dialogue. It reveals some of the challenges that individual artists grapple with in sustaining their practice, and those faced by organisations in sustaining their activity.

Talking Points does not claim to provide a comprehensive analysis of contemporary visual art in Australia, but rather is a scan of the dialogue currently happening in the sector and a jumping off point for continuing these conversations. It indicates how much the sector has grown and matured in the last ten years and where it might grow next.

Read the Report

Visual Arts & Craft Strategy Research

In the late 1990s, based on anecdotal evidence NAVA became more and more concerned about the health of the sector. It successfully applied for Australian Research Council and Australia Council funding in partnership with the universities of Sydney and Macquarie, Art Gallery of NSW and Simpsons Solicitors to undertake the four-year Visual Arts Industry Guidelines Research Project. In 2001 the findings were published which amplified those from an Australia Council research study, Arts Economy 1968-1998: Three Decades of Growth in Australia, which revealed that although the Australian arts economy had blossomed and consolidated during this time, visual arts and craft workers had the largest decrease in median income of all individuals in the arts industry.

Based on this, NAVA began an intensive advocacy campaign to influence the Federal Government to undertake an examination of the state of health of the visual arts sector. To engage the whole visual arts community, NAVA formed the National Visual Arts, Craft and Design Network (NVACDN) comprised of a representative from each of the sectors within the industry. Convened by NAVA, this group continues to the present to have input into policy development and to take coordinated action.

In answer to this sector-wide call for action, the then Coalition Government agreed to conduct an independent Inquiry into the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Sector (the Myer Inquiry). This was the first-ever Australia-wide examination.

When Rupert Myer presented his Inquiry Report in 2002, the recommendations led to an agreement by federal, state and territory governments to introduce the jointly funded Visual Arts and Craft Strategy (VACS). The Cultural Ministers Council - representing all federal, state and territory cultural ministers - announced the VACS and its eight aims as follows:

  1. A network of stronger and more responsive art and craft organisations.
  2. An increase in the number of high-quality Australian contemporary visual art and craft exhibitions and catalogues.
  3. New opportunities to tour major contemporary visual art and craft exhibitions.
  4. Increased grant funding for individual artists and craft practitioners.
  5. Increased professional support for Indigenous artists.
  6. Increased support for arts and craft publications to provide opportunities for discussion about individual artists and encourage debate about issues for the sector.
  7. Improved market exposure and sales opportunities for artists and craft practitioners.
  8. Greater opportunities for public engagement with visual arts and craft.