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PSA: Don’t Get Excited About The New Federal Arts Funding Program

Words by: Jon Davidson


Once Turnbull became the PM, the new arts minister Mitch Fifield was immediately jumped upon by artists everywhere asking him to drop the frankly retarded policies that the NPEA had just put into place. He listened – or his staff did, whatever – and today it’s been announced that the NPEA is now re-branded as “Catalyst.” 

Cool stuff, but don’t get excited. Characteristic of much pro-Turnbull fandom, the slightest amount of positive change appears to be worth far more than it actually is given the poor run we’ve had this year.

A bunch of money that was redirected by Brandis initially has been given back to other bodies, but not really enough sort of thing, which I was going to write about but then realised was extremely boring.

What isn’t boring though, is this bit:

Just the same as the NPEA, under Catalyst, individual artists are not eligible for funding. 

Catalyst is described as being different to the NPEA for its enhanced appreciation and support for ‘small-medium level organisations,’ but if a single artist wants funding, they are unable to receive it.

George Brandis himself founded the ‘National Program for Excellence in the Arts.’ It was a federal funding program designed under the Abbott government. As you probably remember, it was shithouse, and nobody liked it. Not only did it declare it would take hundreds of millions from standard funding bodies to establish itself – in which a corresponding senate inquiry checking out whether or not that could even be a thing received 2000 civilian responses – but the structure of the NPEA also established Brandis as the singular judge, who was to go on determining which artistic programs were worthy of government funding.

Brandis. The judge of artistic merit. In 2015. Somewhere in here there’s a joke about putting Jabba The Hutt in charge of a role he would be unfit for, but I’ve got nothing.

Anyway, this didn’t go down well for any artist who wasn’t in an ensemble of renowned classical musicians

So while some of the bad tracks left by Brandis have been smoothed out, it’s worthy to keep in mind that Fifield is the same guy who came out and called the senate inquiry into the legitimacy of the NPEA “absurd,” and originally fledged support to Brandis and the NPEA. 

Here’s a list of things Catalyst will not fund:

  • Individuals
  • Competitions
  • Awards
  • Business start-up costs
  • Private tuition, training or study
  • Work used for academic assessment
  • Film and television production
  • Operational funding for organisations
  • Interactive games
  • Built or natural heritage projects

Also, Australian writers are still kinda just left in the dark on all this. It’s early days I guess, but the arts community should rightfully be wary of being used as poll fodder.