Arts funding – Federal budget follow-up

Well despite all of the doom and gloom, the Federal budget wasn’t as dire as we were led to believe it would be. Included in the Government’s key pledges to the Arts were:

  • $10m in new funding to the Aus Co to distribute (over five years) to artists across all artforms
  • continuation of funding to support its Contemporary Music Touring Program to the tune of $400,000/yr (bad pun!!) and;
  • $56m in support of TV and film production.

In terms of the new $10m funding, this will be used to support artists to produce new works, undertake fellowships and give additional presentations of their work to audiences around Australia. Grants of up to $80,000 will be made available for new work and up to $50,000 to support presentations. For a government with stretched resources to find an additional ten million dollars to support this kind of work is testament to the community value of the Arts in this country.

The shift in funding focus away from arts organisations towards individual artists appears to be a response to Aus Co’s 2010 Artist careers research. The research identified that for artists to create inspiring new work they need time, space and financial support. It also responds positively to the  New Models New Money paper, launched in early 2010 by the Queensland Government and the Centre for Social Impact, which highlighted the value of the arts in Australia and the importance of the individual artist to the growth and health of the sector. For funders with an interest in supporting artists the New Models New Money full discussion paper is well worth a read.

This provides a good segue to an interesting recent development in philanthropic funding of the Arts in Australia…. the new Sidney Myer Fund Arts and Humanities funding model. Full details aren’t due to be announced until later in the year, but what the Fund has revealed is that from 1 July 2011 it will give about 15 artists from around the country $80,000 per year for two years, seemingly with very few ties and binds. For a funder that has for so long supported Arts orgs via commonly used grant-making protocols, this is a huge change in direction. It’s great to see a big philanthropic taking risks and changing direction. I’m sure many artists, arts organisations and grantmakers will be watching with great interest.

Going back to Government funding of the arts in general, though, this time looking to the longer term. I mentioned in my last blog ( Arts Funding: England vs Australia ) that in April this year Harold Mitchell was tasked with leading a major review of private sector support for the Arts in Australia. The review will report on current Government arrangements for encouraging private sector support for the arts, consider potential new models for encouraging private sector support and develop policy options in the context of the long awaited National Cultural Policy. It doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the type of stuff happening in the UK that I talked about last time, where government is trying to leverage greater private support to try to take financial pressure off itself.  There’s been a broadly positive reception of their actions, and no doubt the same will be true here too.  The review is scheduled to be reported on in late October 2011.

It looks like there are some interesting times ahead!

  

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Philanthropivot

In a recent blog post, Jennifer Barry, CEO of Footscray Community Arts Centre ponders “how useful the multi-year business plan is as a management tool in a super-charged, fast changing world”.  While acknowledging that business planning is essential to understanding where you’re headed as an organisation, she questions whether our obsession with KPIs and outputs is necessarily the best use of our time.  Jen suggests a middle ground, “an intelligent and intuitive balance between Control and Chaos”.

As Jen rightly says, the need to find the balance between control and chaos is not just true for arts organisations, but across the entire spectrum of the not for profit, and for profit, sectors.  And I think it’s something particularly pertinent for philanthropic funders to consider.

I’ve been pondering the same questions as Jen recently, but from the other side of the fence.  While Jen talks about the reporting requirements of government funders, I’ve been thinking about the reporting we expect as philanthropic funders, and wondering if we could look at things differently.

When we’re assessing grants it’s necessary to do the due diligence.  We look at an organisation’s business plan, the leadership, the financials, and the nuts and bolts of the project we’re being asked to support.  While I think this is perfectly reasonable – we want to be sure we’re supporting good organisations – I think we could perhaps be a little more flexible when the project is actually in funding, and in our expectations at the completion of the project.

At the Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Chicago last year, Joi Ito, soon to be Executive Director of MIT Media Lab, gave a presentation entitled ‘Living the Pivot’. Pivot is the capacity to change direction when things aren’t working out as you’d planned.  And more than that, it’s the ability to use the things you’ve learnt along the way to inform your change of direction.  The Pivot concept is currently hot in techno-land.  Some well known techno-pivots include Flickr, which was originally an online game, and YouTube, which was originally a video dating site.

I like the thought of applying the Pivot idea to philanthropy.  Much of the time we expect our grant recipients to report against the objectives stated in the funding proposal.  But what if we encouraged the organisations we support to be creative?  What if we said that it’s ok to fail, or ok to change direction?  What if we allowed for the possibility of a Pivot mid-grant?  Both Jen and the Pivot-geeks acknowledge there’s a much bigger risk of failure when you don’t stay on the prescribed path, but that’s the beauty of it.  As Jen says, “the failures aren’t a waste of time… they just bring us closer to a better solution.”  If we allow for, and even encourage, creativity and flexibility, there’s a possibility we might stretch some boundaries.  We might start to think about things in different ways and create new possibilities.  And we might fail more often.  But isn’t philanthropy the perfect vehicle to take some risks..?

You can follow Debra Morgan on Twitter @debmorgan22