A Call to Respond [-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.

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



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
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

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

The MPA Survey asks 12 questions - BlakDance and BPAA urge you to complete the survey. Or send us an email for future discussion on admin@blakdance.org.au

We call for the Australian Government to uphold the standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in particular Articles 5 and 8 that state;

Article 5

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.

Article 8

1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:

  • Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;

  • Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;

  • Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;

  • Any form of forced assimilation or integration;

  • Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also states that Indigenous performing artists need to be able to self-determine their own representation and visual identity.

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?

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

Please feel free to include any of these points in your response

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 put forward your opinions in the MPA Framework Survey and email us with your suggestions for a national campaign admin@blakdance.org.au




The Indigenous arts sector is a major economic contributor to the arts economy and responsible for some of Australia’s most valuable and important works of art. In many of our communities, income from arts and cultural activities is the main source of income. Art has been the most effective tool for building relationships and awareness between Indigenous peoples and the wider community.

Arts Nation; an arts overview of Australian Arts published by the Australia Council for in March 2015 stated that;

  • 28% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people creatively participate in Indigenous arts.  As an expression of culture, arts are an important part of daily life for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. In 2013 over one in four participated creatively in Indigenous arts activities such as writing, telling stories, Indigenous arts and crafts, music, dance or theatre.

  • 92% of Australians agree that Indigenous arts are an important part of Australia’s culture.

  • 64% of Australians have a strong or growing interest in Indigenous arts.  Only 24% of that desire is served by work available.


Additional findings from Australia Council research projects—Building Audiences: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts (2015); and Showcasing Creativity:  Programming and Presenting First Nations Performing Arts (2016) highlight a range of opportunities and challenges to be addressed by the performing arts sector – noting in particular that national mapping of the programs of 135 Australian presenters found that First Nations performing arts are under-represented in Australia’s mainstream venues and festivals. They comprised around 2% of the almost 6000 works programmed in 2015 seasons.

In 2016, 7 million Australians experienced First Nations art. This is double the number from 2009. This increase demonstrates a growing audience and consumption of First Nations arts.

The Australia Council’s current strategic goal four articulates Cherish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts which demonstrates there is a logic for more funding within the Australia Council which should go towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and projects.

In addition, the Australia Council’s submission to the Closing the Gap Refresh advocates for increased investment in First Nations arts and cultural expression, cultural maintenance, and First Nations-led culturally based solutions across portfolios.

It draws on the growing body of evidence showing that participation in arts and culture supports outcomes across the Closing the Gap framework. It states that, for decades, First Nations peoples have advocated for the critical role of culture – as a necessary part of the solution to Indigenous disadvantage, and for the healing and strengthening of individuals and communities.

However, culture has been the missing element from the Closing the Gap framework to date. Funding for First Nations culture made up just 1% of total direct government expenditure for Indigenous Australians in 2015–16, and cultural outcomes have not featured in the measurement framework.

MPA Framework Survey Analysis

Included in the survey:

[Question 6] It needs a new guiding principle: Having a vibrant major performing arts sector that prioritises First Nations arts and culture.

[Question 7] It need a new criterion: A demonstrated, measurable and monitored commitment to ensuring that the company board, management, staff, artists and the work itself reflects the diversity of the Australian population.

[Question 9] MPA’s should have to contribute to the government’s priority of achieving gender equity. It is a major problem in the artistic leadership of the MPA organisations and yet it is not explicitly addressed.

[Question 11] Contestability is needed. Long-term funding cycles (e.g. 8-year funding) could replace the current framework. This would create proper entry and exit processes which are not currently applied.


  • There needs to be a formal and transparent mechanism for companies to grow and enter the MPA cohort. Currently, they are all capped at $300 p/a funding per year, so there isn’t even a pathway to growth.
  • What percentage of ‘New Australian Work’ is needed to meet this criterion? Is one studio presented ‘new’ work ok in a season of 12 main stage classic concerts?


Questions/issues not included:

We need to review and update the whole funding strategy – not just the MPAs. For example, theatre and circus get a fraction of the MPA funding compared to the orchestras. What is the mechanism for reviewing current levels of funding within the MPAs?

Contestability aside, peer input could be useful to help define KPIs, ascertain artistic vibrancy, review priority areas.

The current funding pool is not big enough to support a ‘vibrant’ and ‘financially viable’ major performing arts sector AND a vibrant and financially viable small to medium sector – where is the advocacy (and the vision!) to increase arts funding overall?


A Canadian Comparison

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 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.

"My concern with regard to the Australia Council cuts is that they are substantial and they are hitting an area that we cannot afford to lose momentum in—that is, the small and medium sized organisations. In Canada the Canada Council spends 70% of its operating budget on small and medium organisations and individuals. In Australia we spend 70% on the major organisations, a complete inverse in terms of fertilising and giving content to the emerging, which features risk, new opportunities and experimentation. What we are doing with these new funds and with the funds that have been removed from the Australia Council is making deeper cuts into the 30% that is meant to go to the small and medium sized organisations” - Steven Pozel, Director Australian Design Centre.

[Source] http://bit.ly/SENATE 

Based on 2016/2107 Australia Council figures, for Australia to achieve a similar investment ratio (without cutting MPA funds) it will require an additional annual investment of $166m.

[Source] www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/fed-govt-cultural-investment-1.4723395


A Call to Respond 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.