A Call to Increase [-o-]

We’ve got a major groundswell of First Nations performing arts

The Federal Government has recently released a survey “to identify opportunities to strengthen the National Framework for Governments’ Support of the Major Performing Arts Sector (the MPA Framework)“. The MPA Framework Survey has reignited some really big questions for arts and cultural funding nationally. Whilst it is important that we all respond to the survey it is in reality a very limited set of questions focused on 'strengthening the MPA framework’, not on addressing the structural inequities that things like the MPA agreement have enshrined in the federal funding system over the last twenty years.

The broader arts industry needs to come together to address the challenge of strengthening arts investment as a whole. What are the questions we need to address and how should go about addressing them? How do we establish proper First Nations cultural authority and respond to the massive need for investment in work that is controlled and led by First Nations independent artists and organisations? What are the models that deliver equity and better outcomes for everyone?

Canada is held up as the international benchmark for government funding in the arts. What is the secret to their success? In Australia 70% of government funding goes to MPA’s with just 30% going to small to medium companies and independent artists. In Canada the reverse is true with 70% of investment going to small to medium companies and independent artists. For Australia to achieve a similar investment ratio (without cutting MPA funds) it will require an additional annual investment of $166m.


Bayal buri waakuja  (men's fire dance). 2018 Photo by Mimi Tannaka. Courtesy of Pauline Lampton

Bayal buri waakuja (men's fire dance). 2018 Photo by Mimi Tannaka. Courtesy of Pauline Lampton


In light of the MPA Framework Survey, BlakDance and Blackfulla Performing Arts Alliance (BPAA) are calling on the Australian Government to increase Indigenous performing arts funding nationally.

There are 28 major performing arts organisations in Australia, of which only one is Indigenous led, Bangarra Dance Theatre. This means that of the $109.1 million dollars of funding for the majors from the Federal government administered by the Australia Council for the Arts, only 2.3% goes to an Indigenous led organisation.

While there has been an increasing commitment to produce ‘Indigenous’ work by the rest of the major performing arts companies, producing Indigenous work without a framework for national standards such as Indigenous creative control, authorship, distribution and ethical collaboration means this process is largely unsatisfactory.

The growing demand for First Nations work in this country is obviously a great thing, presumably it shows a want to know more about and engage with the First Nations people of this land, and ultimately the repositioning of First Nations peoples as the original inhabitants of this land as significant and a respected, valued part of who we are as society. But until we are able to make the critical distinction between ‘First Nations works that are MADE BY US’ and ‘works that are NOT made by us’, we will continue to see the racialisation and the ongoing oppression of a marginalised people. Not dissimilar to what we see in the visual arts: it is not the First Nations peoples who are profiting or benefitting from the “FAKE ART” trade.
— Rachael Maza, Artistic Director, ILBIJERRI Theatre Company

We recognise and uphold Bangarra as one of our country's most important and trailblazing companies that has carved out pathways for generations of Indigenous dancers. The importance of Indigenous young people seeing themselves represented on the world stage can not be underestimated. In fact, the success of Bangarra has been so significant and critical to increasing demand, that we are now faced with a burgeoning cohort of Indigenous dance companies and independents. Alongside two national training institutes, NAISDA and ACPA, who for decades have been training and graduating Indigenous dancers and performing artists, we are on the cusp of transformation- a small to medium Indigenous dance sector in Australia  is on its way.

It’s in this context that we ask you to think about our Indigenous performing arts sector more broadly - is one major organisation reflective of the diversity and abundance of our arts and cultural communities?

We are strong in our cultures and have inherited deeply, the responsibility and obligation to pass this on intergenerationally. However, it has taken decades for us to understand the requirements and economic drivers of what it takes to be a multi-year funded organisation. This flies in the face of many thousands of years of cultural continuum, reducing it to four-year funding cycles. This road is long and hard, and while we are now almost there, an increase to the amount of funding available to the Indigenous performing arts sector would give us the capacity and the stability we need to go the distance.
— Rita Pryce, Pryce Centre for Arts and Culture


Should there be more small to medium organisations on multi year funding like ILBIJERRI, Moogahlin, Marrugeku and Yirra Yaakin ? We think so and so does Stephen Page, Artistic Director Bangarra;

Our survival is our future. We are constantly mentoring the next generation of Indigenous choreographers. The legacy and the energy of our sector must continue, and we wholeheartedly support an increase to Indigenous performing arts funding for organisations, new companies and independents nationally.
— Stephen Page, Artistic Director, Bangarra

We’d like to see more Indigenous led organisations with the same level of investment for companies like NT Dance Company, Pryce Centre for Culture and Arts, Kurruru, Miriki Performing Arts, Wagana Aboriginal Dance Company, Ochre [Dardark] Contemporary Dance Company, Digi Youth Arts and Karul Projects -  to name but a few. We’d also like to see more funding for our dynamic independent sector, who are making world class work, sold out tours and undertaking critical form exploration.

We know that there is unmet need:

“In 2015, the Australia Council received Expressions of Interest from 43 First Nations-led small to medium arts and culture organisations for multi-year funding that equated to a total request of $12.5 million per annum. We were only able to support 16 organisations with a total $3.5 million per annum, declining over 60% of the organisations that applied and leaving unmet demand of over 70% in terms of dollars – the demand far outweighs the funding available.” Australia Council for the Arts, Submission to the Closing the Gap Refresh (April 2018)

After seeing the opportunities for young black dancers in the US, can you imagine if our communities and the next generation had that? That is what we need to work toward.
Miriki performing artist (16 yrs old) seeing the lack of support for black arts upon returning from the International Blacks in Dance Conference 2018.
We need to change the landscape and be serious in support for the diverse and vibrant Indigenous performing arts sector.
— Pauline Lampton, Artistic Director, Miriki Performing Arts
As a senior First Nations creative my dream is to one day tour NT Dance Company’s work to the world stage. My choreographic language is sensual and evocative, presenting the best of contemporary dance rooted in the traditions of Indigenous Australia. With just a small amount of sustained investment, we could travel throughout the Nation and share my people’s stories with communities and audiences completely engaged in our work.
— Gary Lang, NT Dance Company
Dancers of West Australian Ballet and NT Dance Company in  Milnjiya, Milky Way — River of Stars  .  2018 Photo by Sergey Pevnev. Courtesy of NT Dance Company

Dancers of West Australian Ballet and NT Dance Company in Milnjiya, Milky Way — River of Stars. 2018 Photo by Sergey Pevnev. Courtesy of NT Dance Company

Kurruru has been around for 30+ years and I think it’s important for people to recognise the work we do for our community and the artistic contributions we make in the wider arts sector. There is nowhere else available in SA offering what we provide. Increased funding for Kurruru would allow for some much needed stability to continue the important work that we do.
— Deon Hastie, Artistic Director, Kurruru
Funding First Nations led arts organisations allows our communities to continue cultural resurgence through our creative practice free from the constraints of Western-led institutions.
— Alethea Beetson, Artistic Director, Digi Youth Arts

What does this mean in relation to the MPA Framework? 

  • It means that it is our right as First Peoples, to see diverse and multiple Indigenous-led organisations flourish in Australia.
  • It means that it is our right to develop and maintain Indigenous led organisations
  • It means that the Australian government has a responsibility to provide financial resourcing to enable this to happen in a much more rigorous way, because of the impact of colonisation.

We want you to ask yourself the question; Why are European Heritage arts the centrepiece of Australian Culture, when we all know that as Australia’s First Peoples, we are the world’s oldest continuing culture with richness and artistry 100,000 years in the making?

The obvious need for Indigenous people to control the means of representation is part of the reconstructive process from a culture of resistance to a culture of repair. In that respect, there’s still a long way to go.
— Wesley Enoch, 1994

If you think opportunities and pathways for more Indigenous performing arts organisations need to be created and more Indigenous performing arts organisations should be supported and stabilised through long term investment, then email us with your suggestions for a national campaign admin@blakdance.org.au


A Call to Increase was developed by BlakDance and Blackfulla Performing Arts Alliance in collaboration with ILBIJERRI, Yirra Yaakin and Moogahlin with assistance from Arts Front, Theatre Network Australia (TNA), Karilyn Brown, Wesley Enoch and Collette Brennan.