Australia Council for the Arts

The Australia Council for the Arts, informally known as the Australia Council, is the official arts council or arts funding body of the Government of Australia.

Australia Council for the Arts
FounderGovernment of Australia
TypeCultural institution
Area served
ProductAustralian cultural education
Key people
Chair, Sam Walsh
CEO, Tony Grybowski


The Australia Council (the Council) is the Australian Government’s principal arts funding and advisory body. The Council is the national advocate for the arts and its purpose is to champion and invest in Australian arts. This national leadership role is achieved by supporting and building Australia’s arts ecology by fostering excellence in the arts and increasing national and international engagement with Australian arts.


Australia Council was formed in 1967 by Prime Minister Harold Holt as a body for the public funding of the arts[1] and was given statutory authority in March 1975 by the Australia Council Act. The Council's predecessor, the Australian Council for the Arts was established in 1968 by Prime Minister John Gorton as a division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Council then incorporated other government projects, such as the Commonwealth Literary Fund and the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board. It operates in co-ordination with the various state government agencies.[2]

The Council’s operations were independently reviewed in 2012, and the Australia Council Act 2013 (the Act) commenced on 1 July 2013.

Funding cuts (2014-2016)

In early 2014 federal Arts Minister George Brandis and Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull told artists at the Sydney Biennale that they were ungrateful and selfish to protest about the role of Transfield in the Nauru immigration detention centre. In December 2014, Brandis withdrew a large portion of literature funding from Australia Council.[3][4]

In May 2015, Brandis cut $26 million a year for four years from Australia Council arts funding, a third of its arts funding, receiving significant criticism from the arts community.[5][6] The money was reallocated to a new program, the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). NPEA in turn was criticised by many artists and arts organisations for lacking the "arms-length" funding principles that had applied to the relationship between the government and Australia Council since its inception in the 1970s. These principles have traditionally had bipartisan support.[7][8][9] Brandis was criticised previously for giving Melbourne classical music record label Melba Recordings a $275,000 grant outside of the usual funding and peer-assessment processes.[10] Brandis's changes to funding arrangements, including the quarantining of the amount received by Australia's 28 major performing arts companies, were widely seen to disadvantage the small-to-medium arts sector and independent artists.[8]

Following Malcolm Turnbull's successful spill of the leadership of the Liberal party in September 2015, Brandis was replaced as arts minister by Mitch Fifield.[11] In November Fifield gave back $8 million a year for four years to Australia Council, changed the NPEA to the Catalyst Fund, and stressed it would have a focus on smaller arts projects. The arts community was not impressed by the changes.[12][13]

As a result of the reduced funding, Australia Council cancelled project funding rounds for small groups and individuals in 2015 and then cut funding to over 60 arts organisations across the country in May 2016. Small arts organisations such as the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA), Leigh Warren & Dancers and many others were affected, forcing them to contract, merge or make drastic changes to their programs.[14]

In addition, Education Minister Simon Birmingham indicated in 2016 that the government was considering cutting funding to students who wished to undertake creative arts training, saying that he believed that training in the creative arts was a "lifestyle" choice which could not lead to a satisfactory career or economic outcome, and that he intended to cut loan support for students undertaking such courses. He would be cutting loans for over 50 arts training programs, including programs in ceramics, photography, dance, acting, animation, design, circus, music, film, fashion and journalism.[4] In October 2016, the education cuts were announced. Of 70 creative arts courses previously eligible for funding, only 13 were now going to be [15]


  1. "Australia's Prime Ministers - Meet a PM - Whitlam - Inoffice". National Archives of Australia. 2 February 2007. Archived from the original on 19 April 2013.
  2. "Our Structure - Australia Council".
  3. The Conversation, 16 October 2016, Arts training is an essential part of an innovative nation
  4. InDaily, 24 October 2016, No minister, creative arts are not a "lifestyle choice"
  5. "George Brandis turns arts into 'political football' with $104.7m Australia Council cuts". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  6. "Private arts donors Neil Balnaves and Luca Belgiorno-Nettis accuse George Brandis of neglecting arts community, politicising funding". ABC News.
  7. "The regrettable rise of the arts bureaucrat". The Age.
  8. Stuart Glover (20 July 2015). "Writers and publishers are all at sea under Brandis and the NPEA". The Conversation.
  9. "The Australia Council must hold firm on 'arm's length' funding". The Conversation.
  10. Ben Eltham. "George Brandis and the arts funding crisis: one hell of a one-man show". The Guardian.
  11. Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 2015, Cabinet reshuffle: artists call on new arts minister Mitch Fifield to 'undo the damage' done by George Brandis
  12. Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 2015, Rebranding Brandis arts fund Catalyst won't kill off National Program for Excellence in the Arts
  13. ABC News, 20 February, 2016, Australia Council budget cuts blindsided peak arts body's executive, documents show
  14. "An ACE Up Our Sleeves". Broadsheet. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  15. Watts, Richard (10 October 2016). "Student loans cut to creative courses". ArtsHub. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
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