AMPAG response to Independent Artist Open Letter

We are at a very serious crossroads in the sector- and respect and share the real anguish that exists across the arts ecology. While everyone in the Major Performing Arts companies agrees that the situation for the small to medium arts is of grave concern, it needs to be considered within an overall context of declining government support and strategic development for the arts across this country. It is the overall situation that needs to be addressed with increased support across the board – not by destroying one part of the sector in a bid to help the other survive. AMPAG and its members have and continue to actively advocate for increased Australia Council funding. The arts in Australia is a broad ecology, with outstanding work happening at all levels.

AMPAG response to Independent Artist Open Letter

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Disunity – will not strength

The Australian performing arts sector, encompassing individuals and small, medium and large companies – is only as strong as we were united.

We should all be united in decrying this overall funding shortage. Other western countries are lifting investment in the arts because they deliver a public good that addresses current challenges including social cohesion, mental health, national identity, supporting an innovative creative workforce and growth in the creative industries.

In Australia, it is clear that more investment is needed to address systemic fragility.

However, the solution is not to destroy the MPA Framework as if somehow that will solve all issues. The letter chooses to ignore or discount the vital role the MPA companies play in the arts ecology. There are also inaccuracies and errors in the open letter, some of which we have addressed in our attachment. We all need each other, so it is not to be solved by axing the separate funding that was granted by the Australian Government to establish the MPA Framework twenty years ago. At that point, the arts funding “pie” was made larger, not kept static and divided amongst fewer players. The complexity of the MPA agreements has sustained it, but their strong development and growth have been achieved by the additional income the MPAs leverage from the base funding and the reinvestment they make across the whole performing arts sector.

AMPAG strongly supports refreshing the Framework. We welcome new entrants, greater transparency and clear KPIs to ensure that core base national performing arts capacity, expertise and strategic development are secured for the sector.

Peer review grants process cannot provide the long-term strategic development that a framework delivers. More extreme calls to dismantle the Framework removes stability and certainty and threatens the future of over 10,300 jobs and puts at risk

the hard-won harmonisation of arts policies between state and federal governments.

What is needed now is a more ambitious road map, with appropriate funding to address fragilities, drive change, to leverage the true public good that can be generated across regional, remote and metropolitan Australia when the arts proactively partner across portfolios. The arts have a lot to offer in the government’s work to address high priority issues including closing the gap, mental health, social cohesion, regional resilience, school attendance, academic performance, arts and tourism, trade, innovation and soft power. The MPAs have shown leadership in these areas, often in partnership with other organisations and independent artists in the sector. We also acknowledge great work and innovation occurs across the ecology, beyond the Framework. It is time to stand united for strategic growth.

END

Attachment

Clarification/Corrections

This response attempts to set the record straight on data put forward in the independent artists open letter to MCM.

• The MPA Framework has successfully provided stability and certainty. This has enabled the MPAs’ capacity to plan, to manage significant exposure to risk, to leverage government funding and attract additional funds to invest in the artform and artists. Every dollar invested through the MPA framework has leveraged an additional $2.50, enabling significant additional investment into artists and art form development.

• Far from hampering the sector’s growth, in the last five years alone the MPAs have generated significant increases in employment (14.9%) new Australian works (70.6%) digital engagement (65%) and regional touring (12%).

• Audience numbers quoted in the open letter in discussing the reach of the MPAs are not comparable. The 6.87 million audience figure cited for the small to medium organisations includes visual arts, festivals, support acts and gallery attendances. The MPAs reached over 4.15 million people last year face-to face-for the duration of an entire performance as well as a further 19.8 million through digital engagement. Specific regional figures for MPAs were 323,000 last year alone.

• Proportionate comparisons of government investment between MPAs and other organisations are a blunt indication of derived value. Who and what is presented on stage and where it is presented will always play a significant part in the costs involved. The Framework has contributed to the MPAs’ capacity to produce works of scale and complexity and to build impact across a range of additional objectives- including touring, commissioning, increased access, arts education, artist development and maintaining art form infrastructure.

• The MPAs’ total direct expenditure on artists, creatives, technicians and arts administrators last year was over $325 million. They also generated secondary employment in the venues they hire, the suppliers they buy from as well as third party employment through placemaking.

• Strategic development of diversity on and off stage is actively being pursued across the MPAs.

• AMPAG has actively promoted support for the formation of National Indigenous Arts and Cultural Authority NIACA, recognises that increased investment in arts and cultural investment for First Nations is necessary to closing the gap and to building reconciliation and understanding for all Australians’.

• AMPAG supports the formation of a dedicated new investment fund for First Nations work.

• Many MPAs have pioneered partnerships with First Nations artists, providing national and international platforms for new work that celebrates Indigenous culture and enables Indigenous leadership in the arts.

• Equally, MPAs have highly developed arts education, engagement and performance programs for young audiences and reached over 600,000 school students last year, as well as having been involved in co-produced performances with leading children’s theatre companies.

• The MPAs contribute actively towards access and inclusion for people with disability, including providing programs to remove barriers impeding access and enabling engagement for people who may have a disability and producing theatre, music and dance featuring artists with disability. We note the MCM is expected to release the new Arts and Disability Strategy this week which will further guide the sector.

• There are significant systemic issues impacting regional touring and engagement. We note the Australia Council is currently calling for tenders to review the regional touring program. Touring larger casts and crew to smaller regional locations is more expensive and many MPAs carry that risk.

• The MPAs balance their national, regional and international touring with their mainstage commitments in major venues. MPAs international engagement is a mix of prestigious performances at key venues, showcasing guest artists both here and overseas, co-productions and artist collaborations including artists development and workshops.

• We agree MPAs must build on their legacy and be held to very high expectations - they are vessels where many artists and creatives are constantly joining, regrouping, developing and performing. They deliver capacity, assets, systems and knowledge that support and advance the art form.

• We are hopeful an updated MPA Framework is a step in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done – the sector needs greater investment and formation of enduring linkages across interrelated government portfolios.

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