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Jacqueline Maley, Adam Fulton

May 16, 2012

040412 - The 2012 Archibald prize, Sulmam prize and Wynne prize exhibition showing at the Art Gallery of NSW. For Story on what the publics thoughts on the exhibition are, after the critics and artists have had their say.  SMH ARTS Photo Domino PostiglioneUnder review … many people have complained that the Australia Council is more inclined to fund more traditional art forms. Photo: Domino Postiglione

THE Australia Council needs $21 million more in funding and should overhaul its grants application process to welcome emerging art forms, reversing the perceived prejudice towards big arts organisations such as theatres and opera companies.

A much-anticipated review of the Australia Council released yesterday also recommends re-constituting its board, which would in turn appoint a new chief executive, and asks for new enabling legislation to reshape the council to suit the needs of 21st-century artists.

”It seems the right time to take a fresh look at the council,” said a co-chairwoman of the review, Gabrielle Trainor.

”Its rigid structure poses constraints on what is now a free-moving … arts sector.”

Established in 1968, the council is the nation’s main arts funding body. Many in the arts community have complained it is skewed towards traditional, established art forms such as opera, theatre and the novel.

They argue this mainstream focus is out of keeping with the changed arts landscape of the 21st century, where digital art, collaborative art and commercial art forms such as craft and design proliferate.

”What came through strongly in consultation … is the way the Australia Council is currently configured was [in] silos, according to art form,” said a review co-chairman, Angus James.

”People said, ‘That was OK 30 years ago but that’s all changed’. Now people want to collaborate and do things with their art forms which don’t fit into those traditional boxes.”

The review is expected to form an important part of the national cultural policy, which will be released this year.

At present about $98 million of the council’s $164 million annual funding is quarantined to finance the major performing arts organisations, such as Opera Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Another $14 million is set aside for ”key organisations” – small- to medium-size arts bodies.

This leaves little money for emerging artists, so the review has recommended the funding pool be increased by $21.25 million. It also recommends that funding for the main performing arts organisations be subject to peer review.

”There needs to be contestable funding,” Mr James said. ”We don’t think incumbency breeds excellence.”

In what may be one of the most controversial recommendations, the review says the council should be exempt from the efficiency dividend, which mandates that government bodies save 1.5 per cent of their costs every year.

Speaking after the launch of the review, the Arts Minister, Simon Crean, would not commit to implementing the recommendations. ”I’ll be interested to see what the reaction is to it before we finalise a judgment,” he said.

Mr Crean said he believed in the principle of peer-group assessment and of grants being determined at ”arm’s length” from government. ”But I do think we need to modernise the governing structure,” he said.

The chief executive of the Australia Council, Kathy Keele, would not be drawn on the recommendations to substantially restructure the council. ”We’ll have to take a look and take some time to read it,” she said.

The executive director of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group, Bethwyn Serow, said: ”I don’t know if it’s a threat or not … there’s some good stuff in there … that we welcome.”

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