The state’s new arts funding policy has been developed after a year of consultation with the sector.

Given the string of gouging cuts Australia’s creative industries have suffered in the past 12 months, and with the 2016/17 Federal Budget on the horizon, the arts community are once again braced for bad news. In Victoria, however, a new cultural policy announced this week by the Andrews government is cause for celebration.

A pledge of $115 million investment in arts and culture initiatives over the next four years will support a range of different activities including the biggest losers of the NPEA (rebranded the Catalyst Fund), games development and film and television projects.

The bolstered funding platform is in response to a year of consultation with artists and members of the public resulting in a Creative State strategy which will introduce a number of reforms. Among the most significant provisions will see the commissioning of “landmark works” that will be “ambitious and groundbreaking.” These new works will premiere in Victoria, but will have the potential to tour interstate and overseas. In an apparent response to the devastation wrought by the NPEA, a particular focus on funding will be aimed at the small to medium scale arts organisations, as well as introducing a new “creators fund” that will support individual artists undertaking research, development and experimentation.

Three of Melbourne’s most important cultural institutions, the State Library of Victoria, the Arts Centre Melbourne and the Melbourne Recital Centre, will have access to a $50 million reserve to cover the operational and programming costs associated with presenting new work. This sum will be in addition to the money already received from Federal sources.

The Victorian government has also made a pledge to become more proactive within the state’s crowded Festival circuit, ensuring that scheduling information is properly distributed to prevent the ever-contentious issue of event clashes.

Victoria’s Creative Industries Minister, Martin Foley, has appointed an expert panel of arts leaders who will advise the ministry on the most worthy proposals to fund. The advisory panel consists of Collingwood Arts Precinct chief Marcus Westbury, ACMI director Katrina Sedgwick, singer-songwriter Ella Hooper and Indigenous artists and theatre practitioner Richard Frankland.

In an interview with Fairfax media, Foley made an explicit reference to the disastrous tack taken by the former Federal Arts Minister, Senator Goerge Brandis. “We don’t want to go down the Brandis path of a Minster determining these things [where funds are spent]. By all means, through the consultative process that we have, let’s set the policy frame at arm’s length and have those assessments come back through the peer-review process.” 

The scale of the investment is all but guaranteed to make an impressive return. The creative and cultural industries contribute over 8% of the state’s annual economy, injecting around $23 billion and providing almost 225,000 jobs. However what seems more impressive about this new policy is the level of consideration and consultation behind it – a missing aspect of the NPEA that was roundly slammed during the Senate Inquiry into the now defunct programme.

Monica Curro, violinist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and founding member of contemporary music ensemble PLEXUS, said she welcomed the announcement wholeheartedly.  “Nourishing the souls and minds of Australians with all expressions and manifestations of art should always be a top priority,” she added. “This is how we build a strong sense of cultural identity. We already have this in Victoria but much of the activity is self-funded or relies on the generosity of enlightened philanthropists. We can’t wait to see the artistic explosion that this announcement could bring.”