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Australia Council Year in Review

Speeches and Opinions
Dec 19, 2014

Australia Council – 2014 Year in Review

It is a great privilege to lead our national arts agency, and to be part of an arts sector that is vibrant, diverse and ever changing. As I reflect on the year that was I’m proud of the way we have worked for the arts, and in collaboration with so many across the arts. As more Australians value and engage with the arts than ever before we can look forward to a future where the arts are a part of daily life for more Australians and we are increasingly known for our great art and artists internationally.

While the Australia Council has a unique role to play, we acknowledge that our work is done in partnership – with artists and arts organisations, with all spheres of government and other funders, and with audiences. During 2014 the Council supported thousands of talented artists and arts organisations to make and present work which showcased Australia’s artistic excellence, captured our imagination and told our stories.

To ensure we continue to support that work effectively, the Australia Council has taken a close look at how best to support an evolving national arts ecology and listened to feedback from the sector. The result is a year of the most significant changes in our 40 year history.

Early in the year we established a new peer assessment process for grants and in August launched a five-year Strategic Plan and a new grants model.

Peer assessment is fundamental to the grant decision making process and our new pool of peers contains more than 600 artists and arts practitioners from across the country. This has enabled the Council to draw on a larger and more diverse pool of experts and under the new grants model applicants will be able to choose which art form panel assesses their application.

Our five-year Strategic Plan sets out bold goals and a vision to see Australia grow its cultural ambitions.  The Council’s role in enabling this includes supporting artists to create new and daring work, expanding audiences here and overseas, ensuring the arts enrich daily life for more Australians, and increasing access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts.

We delivered key government initiatives in partnership with our colleagues at all levels, including the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, Major Performing Arts framework and Artists in Residence program, and will continue to find new ways to maximise the impact of this investment.

The most critical piece of work this year has been the development of our new grants model, opening in January 2015. We have deliberately made this an artist-centric grants model, which positively reflects extensive input from the sector, and I thank all of you who have contributed so much to this process. It has enabled us to create a model which focuses on giving artists and organisations the freedom to pitch the work they want to make or present, instead of trying to fit into narrow categories. It makes the application process simpler and more accessible, with a standard set of closing dates, and the opportunity to apply for support for all facets of a project in one application. For the first time individuals and groups can apply for development and project funding four times a year. Multi-year project funding will be offered to arts organisations four times a year, and they can apply for six-year funding. The only category remaining the same are fellowships, which continue to play a pivotal role in the careers of our most esteemed artists.

The feedback has been largely positive, but we will monitor the process and welcome your comments. As with any major change there are likely to be refinements and a new evaluation framework will ensure we have close oversight of any issues or trends emerging.

The Australia Council is dedicated to building the capacity of our artists, providing opportunities for collaboration and partnerships nationally and internationally, and growing the profile of Australian arts.

Initiatives like our Visiting International Publishers program and the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM) were highlights this year. Held in Brisbane, in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse, over 600 delegates attended APAM, including nearly 200 from overseas. They experienced showcases by Australian and New Zealand artists and companies, valuable networking opportunities and developed collaborations with industry colleagues. A highlight was the largest participation by Indigenous artists, making up 25 per cent of the program.

Four Australian works, including Nicola Gunn’s first international presentation of Hello my name is, ILBIJERRI Theatre Company’s Jack Charles V The Crown, Back to Back Theatre’s Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, and Slingsby’s The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy, were programmed in the 2014 Dublin Theatre Festival after its Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Willie White, attended APAM 2014.

In May we welcomed 150 international artists, producers and presenters to the inaugural International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (IETM) Satellite meeting in Melbourne. Held in partnership with Arts Centre Melbourne and the Next Wave Festival, IETM provided a wonderful platform for more than 80 Australian delegates to engage with their international colleagues, share information and discuss their work, and debate issues affecting the arts sector. Feedback was incredibly positive, with plans for artistic collaborations, joint programming and residency exchanges.

The Council’s Cultural Engagement Framework continues to drive our commitment in key areas such as regional arts and the arts and disability sector. We continued our long-term support for Regional Arts Australia and the Regional Arts Summit this year, with a highly successful event in Kalgoorlie in October. Just a few weeks later I was also pleased to announce a $1 million commitment over three years in dedicated funding for artists with disability, building on a successful $300,000 pilot program that supported 25 impressive projects.

An example of successful public-private arts funding partnerships saw the Australia Council provide $80,000 to support the commissioning of new work by artists as part of the inaugural Keir Choreographic Award, won by AtlantaEke’s Body of Work. This exciting initiative was a partnership between the Keir Foundation, Dancehouse and Carriageworks.

These are just a few highlights from 2014, and many will continue to have positive benefits for the year ahead. We look forward to 2015, supporting and experiencing the creative vision of our artists, and pursuing bold ambitions for the artistic and cultural life of our nation.

I wish you all a safe holiday season and a Happy New Year.


Tony Grybowski, CEO Australia Council.