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News March 20, 2017

Federal Government scraps controversial Catalyst scheme

Federal Government scraps controversial Catalyst scheme

In an unexpected move, the Turnbull Government has scrapped its controversial Catalyst funding scheme and returned the decision-making to the Australia Council.

It ends two years of anger and confrontation with the arts sector, leading to rallies, petitions and a Senate inquiry.

The Catalyst initiative was set up by George Brandis, the Arts Minister under the previous Tony Abbott Government.

Explaining that Australia Council’s funding was elitist and too partial to city-based associations and projects, Brandis pulled more than $100 million over four years from the Australia Council’s funding pool and set up Catalyst – at the time called the National Program for Excellence in the Arts – to operate from within his office.

An angered arts sector accused the new “slush fund” as being open to favouritism by the Minister, and warned it would decimate the small to medium associations who would not have funding certainty to make long-term plans.

The Australia Council had to downsize and scrap grants programs, leading many of the smaller grassroots companies to fold.

But now, current Arts Minister Mitch Fifield, who has shown a greater willingness to listen to the arts sector than his predecessor, commented on the past turn of events.

“It’s clear that there were lessons to be learnt and we’ve learnt them,” Fifield said.

A total of $80.2 million from Catalyst will be returned to the Council in the next financial year, beginning July 1.

It will also take over $12 million in funding committed by Catalyst for associations and projects, and $7.2 million for the Major Festivals Initiative and the Australian World Orchestra.

According to Fifield: “Catalyst has provided $35 million to 189 projects across the arts and culture sector, 159 of which were small to medium organisations. A total of 1086 individual activities were undertaken.

“Of these, 833 were undertaken across Australia, including 436 activities in regional and remote areas.

“Catalyst has funded a broad range of projects across all states and territories such as sculpture, music, playwriting, performances, visual arts, dance, theatre, art installations, digital arts, ballet, puppetry, tours and festivals.”

NSW had the most funding with 33% and Victoria had 27%. Queensland and SA had 9%, WA 8.5%, ACT 4.8%, Tasmania 4.7% and NT 4%.

The Dept. of Communications and Arts will keep $2 million “to ensure that organisations not receiving funding from the Australia Council can still seek support, such as galleries, libraries, archives and museums and some regional and community, education and health organisations.”

It will also continue to administer the Visions of Australia and Festivals Australia initiatives that were transferred from the Australia Council as part of the 2015-16 Budget.

Fifield could not have spelled it out clearer: “Catalyst as we know it will be concluded,” he professed.

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