Arts organisations say they feel betrayed by Labor’s 2022 budget, which allocated additional funds for this financial year but represents a 21 per cent decrease in real terms by 2025-26.

Federal treasurer Jim Chalmers said his “budget repair package”, announced last night, would ensure every dollar spent is driving Australia’s economic growth.

However, for the arts and culture sector this means large budget cuts forecast for the next three years. A $340 million increase in federal funding over the next financial year will steadily decrease by $250 million by 2026.

For organisations in the small to medium arts sector, still recovering from the decimation of COVID-19 and the lack of support from the previous Coalition government, it was a devastating blow.

Carl Sciberras, general manager of Western Sydney dance company Dance Makers Collective (DMC), told Central News the Albanese government had offered the industry false hope during its election campaign.

“We’re on a starvation diet as it is,” he said.

“It’s just disappointing, the government campaigned to the sector on a promise that the way the previous government had treated us was about to go… there’s no improvement on that.”

Audience attendance in Australia is at an all-time low and, like most small to medium arts organisations, DMC is heavily reliant on government funding for operational costs.

Carl said the issue was specific to the small to medium arts sector as larger national arts organisations had bigger platforms and larger reach, meaning more ticket sales and more investment.

“The reach is smaller, the impact is more localised, and in my view it’s deeper, it’s more meaningful,” he said. “In order for us to do what we do, which is to support people locally, to develop the sector and support artists, we can’t do that without other support, and for the most part, that is definitely government funding.”

The government campaigned to the sector on a promise that the way the previous government had treated us was about to go… there’s no improvement on that.

In 2020 The Australian Institute reported the arts and culture sector contributes $14.7 billion per year in market value and employed approximately 195,000 Australians, almost four times the number of Australians employed in mining.

UTS social impact specialist Rachel Bertram believes it’s these statistics that prove how grossly underestimated the federal funding in the arts and culture sector really is.

“Arts and culture has… incredible economic value, offers so much to the jobs economy, and we miss that through a prioritisation of other sectors and that’s what needs to change,”  she said.

Bertram said the arts and culture sector is unique by how widely integrated it is with other industries like hospitality and trade that stimulate economic growth and create high employment opportunities across multiple industries. She emphasised the industry’s positive impact on the emotional, mental and physical wellbeing of Australians.

“That’s a real challenge for organisations that are dealing with things that are somewhat intangible, the joy of sitting at a theatre, the confidence that comes with standing on a stage,” she said

Bertram argued the holistic value of the arts should be a driving force for funding.

“There is a strong focus on freeing up people to work… the question I would ask to that is what is that for? What’s the result of that?… Wellbeing budgets need to take it a step further and look at how does this contribute to the quality of an individual’s life. How does this enhance their experience of community,” she said.

Bertram said Australia needs to be re-educated about what the arts and culture sector achieves. Pointing to the ABC mini-series Keep On Dancing, that explores the power of dance for people over the age of 65, she emphasises the social and health wellbeing outcomes associated with creativity and dance.

“That’s the broader lens we need to be looking at justifications for spending through,” she added. “There’s a lot more nuance in that conversation that can’t be distilled easily down to a 30-minute budget presentation.”

Main image by Budgeron Bach/Pexels.