Australia Council and end of Catalyst
Arts minister Mitch Fifield. Picture: AAP.
Matthew Westwood, Last arts grants as Catalyst winds up, The Australian, 3 November 2017
The Coalition has quietly awarded a final tranche of Catalyst grants, ending a two-year experiment in federal arts subsidy that diverted cash from the independent Australia Council to establish a ministerial “slush fund”.
The Adelaide Festival, Sydney’s Belvoir theatre and the SA Writers Centre are among the final 15 recipients of Catalyst grants valued at $2.1 million after federal Arts Minister Mitch Fifield announced in March that the contentious program would be scrapped.
The grants laid to rest an upheaval in arts subsidy that started when former arts minister George Brandis cut $105m from the Australia Council and established a separate funding program where grants were approved by the minister.
The program, branded a slush fund by Labor, was wound back by Senator Brandis’s successor, Senator Fifield. In March he returned $80.2m of committed and uncommitted funds to the Australia Council, with a final round of Catalyst grants still to be awarded. He also retained $2m for grants to organisations such as museums and galleries that may not otherwise have access to Australia Council funding.
The Adelaide Festival has received $250,000 to stage the first Australian performances next March of composer Brett Dean’s opera Hamlet, while Belvoir has the same amount to develop a play about a Tamil boy and a Yolngu girl, called A Counting and Cracking of Heads.
Adelaide youth theatre company Slingsby has $110,000 to take its play The Young King to North America. The company was unable to renew its multi-year grant from the Australia Council last year, partly because of the government’s funding changes.
Artistic director Andy Packer said supporters had collectively donated $160,000 — “a remarkable amount of money for a company our size” — and the state government also had contributed interim funding.
But Packer said uncertainty over funding had restricted Slingsby’s ability to make long-range plans and it was now a “slightly more speculative company”.
Catalyst awarded 203 grants valued at $37.5m since the first were announced in February last year. Contracts relating to current Catalyst grants have been transferred to the Australia Council.