Government arts funding: Slow-motion slaughterhouse

This week saw a wave of criticism of the Australian Government’s funding cuts for small to medium arts projects, although the real wash-up is a perhaps a little more nuanced than the disaster scenarios painted in some reports in the Sydney Morning Herald. But the defunding of entities like the literary magazine Meanjin and the Centre for Contemporary Photography was a shock. Eliza Sarlos argues in The Guardian that arts workers will bear the brunt of the cuts by having to do more unpaid work.

The implicit back-story in much of this discussion is that governments have a responsibility to support the arts for the benefit of society’s broader good. I think there might have been some truth in this decades ago, but the neoliberal project (I’m feeling really cynical this week) has weakened this back story to a fading myth. Understanding the falsity behind this ‘truth’ might provide some consolation to shocked administrators wondering how they will survive the loss of grants: Arts funding is a slow-motion slaughterhouse.

What arts supporters may have missed in the media is the final cut to the Office of Learning and Teaching. During my tenure as Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) between 2006 and 2011, my team at Western Sydney University leveraged small grants from the OLT and its predecessors to put our university in the top echelon for teaching. We proudly saw Associate Professor Roy Tasker awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year at the Sydney Opera House in 2011.

The 2016 budget cuts the last $20 million dollars of funding from the OLT, demolishing the naïve dream that government ‘cares’ about improving university teaching. To put that $20 million in perspective, a private sector college has been ordered to repay $44 million to the government because of its enrolment practices, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is pursuing $460 million of taxpayers’ money from a number of private colleges. Ironic?

The arts community aren’t the only ones in the slaughterhouse.

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Stuart Campbell is nowadays a novelist and higher education consultant. You can read about his novels at www.stuartcampbellauthor.com .

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