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.
A CALL TO INCREASE INDIGENOUS PERFORMING ARTS FUNDING NATIONALLY
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.
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’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).