‘Strengthening’ the MPA Framework

The Australian Government is calling for responses to a survey on “how to strengthen the Major Performing Arts Framework.”

By asking “how to strengthen” that Framework, the future of Australia’s arts sector is thwarted at the very outset – because we’re being asked the wrong question. 

We can’t respond to the MPA Framework without recognising the disproportionate funding it has long enjoyed. 62% of the Australia Council’s $177.1 million budget goes to the MPAs in uncontested recurrent funding. That’s $109.1 million for 28 companies as of 2016-17, while less than half that sum – $53.4 million – is granted to 590 small-to-medium organisations as the result of highly competitive funding programs. By comparison, only $4.2 million goes to the nation’s 28 leading contemporary arts organisations as part of the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy. 

So let’s reframe the question and contribute something of value.

How instead do we “foster a vibrant and sustainable” Australian arts sector? How do we champion First Nations arts? How to we redress inequity? How to we ensure that a generative ecology is supported across all artforms?

This requires ambitious thinking that takes a comprehensive look across the nation, understanding the role of independent artists and small-to-medium companies in leading the ideas and the new work that powers the arts across Australia.

Here’s BlakDance’s call to respond, which calls urgently for a significant increase in support for First Nations companies. Here’s Scott Rankin on how the MPA Framework “does more harm than good”. Here’s my response to the 2016 National Opera Review with its call to take a more realistic perspective, and my piece in Arts Hub earlier this year on “ending the streetfight” between the independents and the majors by evolving our funding models.

Australia’s independent artists and companies are too talented, too committed and too internationally acclaimed to allow policy and funding frameworks in our own country to stagnate. Let’s recognise that leadership and direct its thinking into how we invest in the arts.

The only way to “strengthen” the MPA Framework is to expose it to the same contestable funding conditions that face organisations across all artforms, ensuring that its overall funding pool is proportionate to that available for all artforms.

By all means let’s be ambitious – and let’s also be fair.

Have your say: the Australian Government has extended the deadline for survey responses to 5:00pm AEST Monday 13 August.