The report, titled The Big Picture 2: Public Expenditure on Artistic, Cultural and Creative activity in Australia in 2007-08 to 2019-20, was prepared by A New Approach (ANA), which describes itself as “Australia’s leading arts and culture think tank”.

It examines data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to analyse spending on arts and culture at all three levels of government in Australia since 2007, as well as looking at the various programs and measures undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its findings are stark.

In the 2019–20 financial year, Australia’s three levels of government spent $11.58 billion of public funds on arts and culture, representing 1.46 per cent of the total expenditure across all levels of government. However, that figure includes $4.27 billion of COVID-specific measures; without that, total government expenditure on arts and culture drops to $7.26 billion, or a mere 0.9 per cent of combined total expenditure.

This figure includes funding given to organisations such as the ABC and the Australian War Memorial that receive significant public monies, making the pool of funds available to thousands of smaller organisations across the country dramatically smaller.

  • Australia ranks 23rd out of 34 OECD countries; in 2019 the OECD average for expenditure on culture, recreation and religion was 1.23 per cent of total GDP, while Australia spent only 0.95 per cent;
  • Arts expenditure has only just outpaced inflation, increasing by just 0.6 per cent in real terms between 2017–18 and 2019–20;
  • Although the total amount spent on culture has increased, it has gone down when calculating per capita: in 2007-2008 it was $303 per person, while in 2019-2020 it had dropped to $282 per person.

The report attributes much of this drop in real terms to the federal government, whose share of expenditure on the arts has fallen from 45.7 per cent in 2007-2008 to 37.9 per cent in 2019-2020, a fall of 17 per cent over 13 years – a trend established long before the pandemic ripped through the industry.

However there is some sense of optimism in the report. CEO of ANA, Kate Fielding, referred to a recent bipartisan National Cultural Plan as a welcome opportunity for all levels of government to work together to ensure investment in the arts is more efficient and effective.

“Investing in arts and culture is a shared responsibility, but a National Cultural Plan would be a good way of coordinating action across federal, state and territory and local governments with one of the goals to boost expenditure as a percentage of GDP,” said Fielding.

For its part, the ANA report includes seven opportunities it believes will help government investment in arts and culture unlock opportunities for Australians across the country to create, experience and participate in a rich cultural life.

  1. Develop and implement the National Cultural Plan, a bipartisan 2021 recommendation from the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into Creative and Cultural Industries and Institutions. This will facilitate more effective collaboration between federal, state and territory and local governments and cross-portfolio strategic initiatives. Clearer policy direction and coordination will ensure that the benefits of cultural expenditure by governments are available to all Australians.
  2. Within the context of the National Cultural Plan, and with bipartisan recognition of the positive cultural, social and economic impacts of arts and cultural participation, design and implement mechanisms to boost cultural expenditure by governments as a percentage of GDP to at least the OECD average within the next decade.
  3. Create a standing item on the development of the National Cultural Plan on the National Federation Reform Council agenda.
  4. While COVID-19 is still disrupting the operations of arts and cultural organisations and special support mechanisms are in place, conduct the CFG survey every financial year.
  5. The proposed Productivity Commission inquiry “into the legislative arrangements which govern funding of artistic programs and activities at all levels of government” should proceed and take a broad approach towards understanding the source and intended purpose of this investment, including the expected cultural, social and economic benefits from this investment. Noting expenditure is only one of the policy levers available to governments; they can also consider if Australia has a fit-for-purpose legislative, regulatory, tax incentive and investment environment.
  6. Build on the work of Infrastructure Australia to 1) implement a coordinated national approach to arts and cultural infrastructure and 2) facilitate greater collaboration between federal, state and territory and local governments for cultural infrastructure programs.
  7. Take an industry transformation approach to supporting arts and cultural organisations in expanding digital offerings and access, given the importance that Australians are now placing on digital engagement with arts and culture.