NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin approved only six of the 17 projects recommended for funding by an independent panel in Create NSW’s second funding round last financial year, a report by the ABC’s Michaela Boland and Penny Timms revealed this morning. Documents obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information Laws show that the Minister intervened directly to deny funding to 11 arts organisations, resulting in what has been the lowest funding round on record at $256,000, at odds with the panel’s recommended total budget of $660,000 across the 17 projects. With 222 applications received by Create NSW, the result represented a 2.7 percent success rate, leaving the funding of NSW arts and cultural projects for the 2017/2018 financial year down $500,000 from 2016/2017 and down $700,000 from 2015/2016.

“The first six recommended applications from the panel are approved, in accordance with revised budget parameters,” Harwin wrote by hand on one document, drawing a line below the funded projects and writing the word “no” in the margin.

While the names of the 11 organisations denied funding were redacted, the ABC named Sydney Fringe Festival, Articulate art space in Leichardt and artist Paula Abood as among those who missed out. The ABC has also claimed that the $404,000 not allocated to those 11 arts organisations was instead redirected – along with another $220,000 from other parts of the arts portfolio – to a special project, the name of which was redacted. According to the ABC, the Minister’s office would not confirm if the money was promised to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as part of a $1 million of special funding package.

The low yield of the funding round has caused consternation in the industry, particularly given the instability in arts funding at a Federal level over the last few years. Last month both the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Bangarra Dance Theatre explained that they had curtailed regional touring projects in NSW after failing to secure funding.

“A grant round that awards only $256,029 invests less in NSW’s creative capacity than it costs Create NSW to administer,” the National Association for the Visual Arts said in a statement in July. “Success rates of 15-30% are typical of arts funding rounds, which makes 2.7% one of the lowest outcomes in Australian history, with many artistic projects of excellence having missed out on being experienced by audiences in NSW.”

In an email obtained by the ABC, Create NSW investment director Sophia Zachariou warned the Ministry that a decision not to fund all of the recommended projects would risk a “loss of trust of agency and independence by the peers” as well as “concern that funding decisions are being politicised”.

Opposition arts spokesman Walt Secord was critical of Harwin’s funding decisions. “He’s showing that he’d rather go to events where he can wear a tuxedo, rather than small, struggling community organisations, small struggling artists,” he told the ABC.

“Funding is capped by budget availability, there are occasions when funding flexibility is needed,” a spokesman for the Minister’s office told the ABC. “This is not unusual for any government body and will continue to be the case.”


Update: 

“There are occasions when funding flexibility is needed to support emerging issues across the sector. In this case funds were diverted to the Create Strategic Support Fund. This is not unusual for any government body and will continue to be the case,” a spokesperson for NSW Minister for the Arts Don Harwin told Limelight. “A one-off grant of $1 million was made to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in June 2018 for an acoustic enhancement at the International Convention Centre. The funding agreement requires the funds need to be returned if they are not used for this purpose.”