Today the Australia Council for the Arts reported a return of $20 million on their Capital Fund for the Arts for the 2025/26 financial year, to be invested in the form of grants, loans and patient capital for the development of artists and cultural enterprises across the nation. The Chair of the Australia Council acknowledged the work of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who established the Fund in 2016 after a tumultuous two years of uncertainty and set backs for the sector.
At the time Turnbull stated ‘The contribution that the arts and cultural industries make to the health and well being of our nation; our understanding of who we are as individuals and as a nation, as well as to the innovation required across industries for our economic future cannot be overestimated. Regardless of the ups and downs of the fiscal cycle, we must continue to invest in the growth and resilience of individual artists, arts organisations and creative businesses to help build a socially cohesive, innovative and forward looking Australia’.The 10 Year Plan that Prime Minister Turnbull put in place at that time is changing the face of cultural and creative activity across the nation. It has increased employment and commissioning of artists, the levels of engagement and participation by communities, the resilience of arts organisations with a raft of international accolades for their work, and of course the perception of Australia overseas. The main beneficiaries have been individual artists and those organisations once known as the small to medium sector. Through the new integrated reporting framework, both are proving time and time again the public value they generate across Australian society.
The creation of the Capital Fund (in partnership with a group of Australia’s leading philanthropists and in recognition of the need to increase investment at a ‘system’ level) was just one aspect of the Plan. Others of course included the formation of a Cultural Ministry building on the portfolio of Communications and the Arts and bringing together all aspects of the federal government’s engagement with the cultural sectors, its institutions and the creative industries; increased investment in the Australia Council over the last 10 years to match the partnerships created with philanthropists for the Fund; and the formation of a permanent Cultural Policy Institute to ensure independent and long term research and reporting on the benefits of this investment to the nation.
Ongoing evaluations of the Plan’s impact published by the Institute have shown sustained growth in all sectors of the cultural economy since the first iteration of the Plan, for artists, independent arts organisations, our national organisations and cultural institutions; and commercial creative enterprises as well as significant impact across wider government policy agenda’s in the key areas of health and well being, export earnings and employment.
Securing cross-party support as well as partnerships with the private sector were seen as crucial to the success of the Plan, which through successive governments has ensured a strategic approach to the development of our cultural and creative life and the building of strong and resilient organisations and enterprises. Over and above additional support being provided through the Fund, the Plan has also ensured a significant new stream of finance directly into the sector from those individuals seeking cultural and social, as well as financial returns for their investment. At the same time we have seen the implementation of a wide range of new business models and partnerships, particularly for those organisations with the capacity to increase their earnings through the exploitation of assets and digital distribution.
The turmoil created in 2015 by the then Arts Minister George Brandis seems a long time ago. Perhaps it was exactly what was needed to bring about the changes to the system required to place Australian artists, arts and culture into the heart of our development as a 21st century nation.
Cathy Hunt is a cultural strategist and the co-director of Positive Solutions. She explores these ideas and more in Platform Paper no 45 – ‘Paying the Piper – There has to be a better way’ published by Currency House on 1st November 2015 to be launched at the Brisbane Powerhouse on 12th November and Malthouse Theatre on 17th November