Arts community broadly welcomes National Cultural Policy initiatives – plus a stack of cash.

An overhaul of the Australia Council, more investment in young artists, greater resources for indigenous languages and location sweeteners to increase the competitiveness of the Australian film industry, are top of the list of new initiatives announced yesterday.

''It's not just the enjoyment they bring, I see the artist as central to us as a nation and to securing its future,'' said Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean in a statement to the National Press Club in Canberra that has been broadly welcomed by arts organisations across the country. The raft of new measures will inject a substantial $235 million into the arts economy.

Six organisations in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia will receive an extra $9.3 million in funding for touring and education. The companies who benefit are Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre, Malthouse Theatre in Melbourmne, Circus Oz, Black Swan Theatre Company from Perth and the West Australian Ballet.

Arts education is a big winner. The extra money includes a 30 per cent funding increase for six key institutions including the National Institute of Dramatic Art and the Australian Ballet School, while Federal MPs get to share out $8.1 million as part of a ''Creative Young Stars Program”. Some $3.4 million goes to a scheme to help job seekers and school leavers hoping for a career in the arts while $14 million will go towards helping preserve indigenous languages. The University of Tasmania will receive $37 million to create a new arts academy in conjunction with the Theatre Royal, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of Old and New Art.

The corporate and philanthropic arena is also seen as key. A sum of $8.5 million has been allocated in an attempt to stimulate private sector giving, an area seen as crucial to the economic future of many arts organisations. The “sweeteners for films” deal will see $20 million spent to lure foreign filmmakers to our shores.

Simon Crean has never made a secret of his passion for the arts and yesterday’s announcements can be seen as a vindication of his personal advocacy. In what came across as a decidedly “modernist” approach he stressed the social and economic dividends, citing productivity, jobs and economic growth as among the key benefits of a strong arts policy. The Prime Minister, who spoke of the importance of Indigenous culture and the need to build new opportunities in the digital age, backed up his announcements maintaining that the arts need to be more accessible and central to Australia's social and economic life.

The largest slice of the cash pie is the $75.3 million, which has been allocated to revamp the Australia Council. The reforms come on the back of a report commissioned to look at the organisation’s grant-giving policy in the light of up-to-date practices in the arts. While red tape and structural matters are crucial to render the Australia Council more “nimble and responsive”, the key initiatives will see the organisation broaden its outlook to embrace emerging artforms and collaborations between practitioners from different disciplines. Peer review, however, is expected to remain at the heart of the system of assessments. “The Australia Council will be a more responsive funding body with a new purpose to support and develop artistic excellence – distinctively Australian, wherever it is found and across the artforms as they develop in the 21st century,'' said Crean, announcing that $60 million of “critical funding” is expected to flow directly to artists and arts organisations.

Industry leaders were quick to praise the new initiative. The Sydney Symphony was among the first to welcome the announcement. “A nation’s investment in its arts and culture is the sign of its sophistication”, said Managing Director Rory Jeffes. “Today Australia has demonstrated its keen understanding of this. This is not just about new money for the arts, but an investment in the cultural fabric of our nation. The SSO is especially gratified by the announcement of a National Arts and Cultural Accord with the provision of an ‘excellence pool’ of funds for the 28 major performing arts companies, of which the SSO is one.“

Despite a few reservations regarding investment in career sustainability, Tamara Winikoff, Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) said: “It is an important milestone for the arts to have a comprehensive policy statement from national government which weaves together the many threads of the arts’ contribution across almost every aspect of life and enterprise.”

Rupert Myer, Chair of the Australia Council, summed up the positive mood saying, “Creative Australia symbolises the importance of the arts to a vibrant, innovative and healthy Australia. It is an opportunity to reposition artists and creativity at the centre of Australian life.” He went on to praise the notion of inclusivity adding, “Creative Australia embodies the principle that the arts are for everyone, and experienced in many ways in every community – from Indigenous arts and cultures across the country, to opera on the harbour, blockbuster exhibitions in our galleries, and local performing arts centres”.