The Unofficial Arts Grants Handbook

A few weeks ago I took time out from my regular weekly commitments to attend a forum on the the political necessity of Grants for the Art, organised by The Bureau of Ideas.

Organised by Marie Bonnal (Fiction and art writer, artist, art event co-ordinator), and Julian Goddard (Academic and gallerist).
speakers included

SHELAG MAGADZA, Artistic Director, Perth International Art Festival

JOHN HYDE, MLA, Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts

JULIAN GODDARD, Head of Department of Art, School of Design and Art, Curtin University.

The objective was to discuss and debate "Why do governments fund art?

The most significant shift in Australian art of the past 40 years has been the massive government investment in the Arts, yet there is little debate as to why this has happened and what are the consequences of such an intervention. This forum will look at the rationale behind state funding of the arts and question the outcomes of this involvement."

Government funding / grants for the Arts has always been a professional interest of mine. See my Honours Thesis at Curtin University (1995).

What was very obvious to me was that while the speakers were willing, they lacking a framework, and because of vested interests, unable to seriously question the system. They know the system is flawed, and perhaps morally questionable, but are socially, politically and finacially reluctants to throw any stones, or prescribe the necessary medicine to cure the system. Yet they ask the questions.


Let's look at the context, these players, the system, and possible strategies.

The Western Australian Government has been been giving financil grants to visual arts and crafts people since 1974. I went back over 34 years of Reports and collected names of these receipients, removed dulicate names and discovered that less than 1000 visual arts and crafts people have received grants from the state.

This a very small number of people, over such a long time.

Of these, approximately 100 of these people have also served as committee members passing judgement on their peers as to who received arts grants from the state government. That is, they received grants before, during or after they sat on a government arts grant committee.

These people know intimately why and how the system works, plus the consequences of the current system.

Why were they not invited to speak at the forum? Perhaps they were asked, and declined?

Maybe we need to look at the unknown names, those who over the last 34 years have not been sucessful. Lets guestimate the numbers... I selected 3 years at random (2002-2003 to 2003-2004) and averaged the number of unsuccesful applications for the 3 years (359). Using this for 34 years suggested about 12,200 unsuccessful applications. Even if you discount this by a silly 50% (for those who might have another go the next year and also those who keep work the precentages), then there is still around 6,000 unsuccessful applications.

That means that there is six times more people unhappy with the grants system, than those that are happy recipients of government grants.

This is an unfriendly ratio if you are going to hold a public discussion on the grants system.
To be continued....

(image from


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