Australia Council for the Arts

  (Redirected from Australia Council)

The Australia Council for the Arts, known as the Australia Council for some years, is the official arts council or arts funding and advisory body for the Government of Australia. It was founded in 1973 and became a statutory authority in 1975.

Australia Council for the Arts
Australia Council for the Arts logo.svg
FounderGovernment of Australia
TypeCultural institution
Area served
ProductAustralian cultural education
Key people
Chair, Sam Walsh AO
CEO, Adrian Collette AM


The Australia Council for the Arts[1] was formed in 1967 by Prime Minister Harold Holt as a body for the public funding of the arts.[2] The first chair was Dr H. C. (Nugget) Coombs.[1]

Aboriginal Arts Board (1973)Edit

The Aboriginal Arts Board (AAB[3]) was created in 1973. Comprising Aboriginal Australian artists, writers and performers, its purpose was "to stimulate Indigenous Australian arts and lead to the preservation of many art forms almost lost since the settlement of Australia by Europeans". Dick Roughsey was the inaugural head of the board, followed by Yolngu artist and activist Wandjuk Marika. One of its earliest activities was the hosting of a seminar called Aboriginal Arts in Australia at the Australian National University,[1] with around 800 attendees, with the intention of working out how government could best support Aboriginal culture and art in the future.[4]

The Australia Council became the biggest consumer of Aboriginal art, as there was not much interest in it during those years. Works were bought directly from artists, and often sent to galleries in the US and Canada.[1]

The Board was later renamed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board or ATSIA Board, and is as of July 2021 the ATSIA Panel.[5]

Change of name (1975)Edit

After being given statutory authority in March 1975 by the Australia Council Act under the Whitlam government,[2] it was renamed to Australia Council.[1] The Council then incorporated other government projects, such as the Commonwealth Literary Fund and the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board.[6]

21st centuryEdit

The Council's operations were independently reviewed in 2012, and the Australia Council Act 2013 (the Act) commenced on 1 July 2013.[further explanation needed]

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.[7][8]

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.[9][10] 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.[11][12][13] 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.[14] 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.[12]

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.[15] 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.[16][17]

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.[18]

Function and governanceEdit

The Australia Council for the Arts is the Australian Government's principal arts funding and advisory body. Its purpose is to promote and invest in Australian arts.[19] It is "accountable to the Australian Parliament, and to the Government through the Minister for the Arts".[20]

Visual Arts and Crafts StrategyEdit

The Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy (VACS), a partnership between the federal and all state and territory governments in Australia, was established in 2003, with the aim of "providing stability to Australia’s visual arts and craft sector". VACS delivers funding across all jurisdictions, with half provided by the Commonwealth and half by the states and territories. Its current policy framework runs from 2021 to 2024.[21]

ACCELERATE programEdit

ACCELERATE was a leadership program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the creative arts, run jointly by the British Council and Australia Council, in partnership with state arts agencies, between 2009 and 2016. During that time, 35 people participated in the program, with many alumni going on to excel in their fields.[22]


As of 2020, the Australia Council Awards include eight categories for achievement in various types of arts.[23] The Awards were established in or before 1981,[24] and are awarded in early March of each year.[25]

Australia Council Fellowships, worth A$80,000, "support creative activity and career development for mid-career and established artists". Past fellowship holders include: Hetti Perkins (2018), Lisa Maza (2017), Vicki Couzens (2016), Brenda L Croft (2015) and Reko Rennie (2015).[26] They are awarded in the areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts; community arts and cultural development; dance; emerging and experimental arts; literature; music; theatre; and visual arts.[27]

First Nations Arts AwardsEdit

The annual National Indigenous Arts Awards (NIAA) were established by the Australia Council in 2007.[28] Renamed as the First Nations Arts Awards in 2020,[29] as of 2021 they include three categories:[30][26]

  • The Dreaming Award, established in 2012, "to support an inspirational young artist aged 18-26 years to create a major body of work through mentoring and partnerships". Nakkiah Lui won the inaugural award.
  • The Red Ochre Award, established in 1993, a lifetime award for outstanding lifetime achievement in the arts, is awarded annually to both a male and female recipient.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Fellowship.

The awards ceremony is held event is held on 27 May each year, on the anniversary of the 1967 referendum. At the event, Indigenous Australians who have been awarded Fellowships (in 2018–2019, Vernon Ah Kee for visual art, and Ali Cobby Eckermann, for literature), and First Nations artists who received Australia Council Awards earlier in the year are also celebrated.[31]


In May 2020 the Australia Council awarded a A$25,000 grant to performance artist Casey Jenkins for a piece titled Immaculate, incorporating a live stream of Jenkins self-inseminating. Following adverse media coverage, the council suspended the funding hours before the first performance on 19 August, and formally rescinded the grant on 21 September 2020. The council stated that the withdrawal of the grant was not due to negative media coverage, but followed legal advice about the organisation's liabilities if pregnancy resulted. Jenkins said that the council had "grossly and insultingly mischaracterised my artwork". Writer and social commentator Ben Eltham wrote that the council's actions might have a chilling effect on performance art in Australia.[32]


  1. ^ a b c d e Mendelssohn, Joanna (6 November 2013). "40 years on: How Gough Whitlam gave Indigenous art a boost". The Conversation. Retrieved 27 July 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Australia's Prime Ministers - Meet a PM - Whitlam - Inoffice". National Archives of Australia. 2 February 2007. Archived from the original on 19 April 2013.
  3. ^ Wells, Kathryn (February 2011). "Clive Scollay, Maruku Arts, Punu work: history, tradition and innovation, interview". Craft Australia. Archived from the original on 20 April 2013.
  4. ^ "Foundation of the Aboriginal Arts Board". National Museum of Australia. 12 April 2018. Retrieved 27 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Our Strategy Panels". Australia Council. Retrieved 27 July 2021.
  6. ^ "Our Structure - Australia Council". Australia Council.
  7. ^ The Conversation, 16 October 2016, Arts training is an essential part of an innovative nation
  8. ^ InDaily, 24 October 2016, No minister, creative arts are not a "lifestyle choice"
  9. ^ "George Brandis turns arts into 'political football' with $104.7m Australia Council cuts". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  10. ^ "Private arts donors Neil Balnaves and Luca Belgiorno-Nettis accuse George Brandis of neglecting arts community, politicising funding". ABC News.
  11. ^ "The regrettable rise of the arts bureaucrat". The Age.
  12. ^ a b Stuart Glover (20 July 2015). "Writers and publishers are all at sea under Brandis and the NPEA". The Conversation.
  13. ^ "The Australia Council must hold firm on 'arm's length' funding". The Conversation.
  14. ^ Ben Eltham. "George Brandis and the arts funding crisis: one hell of a one-man show". The Guardian.
  15. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 2015, Cabinet reshuffle: artists call on new arts minister Mitch Fifield to 'undo the damage' done by George Brandis
  16. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 2015, Rebranding Brandis arts fund Catalyst won't kill off National Program for Excellence in the Arts
  17. ^ ABC News, 20 February 2016, Australia Council budget cuts blindsided peak arts body's executive, documents show
  18. ^ "An ACE Up Our Sleeves". Broadsheet. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  19. ^ "Home". Australia Council. Retrieved 27 July 2021.
  20. ^ "Corporate Policies & Frameworks". Australia Council. Retrieved 27 July 2021.
  21. ^ "Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy (VACS)". Australia Council for the Arts. 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  22. ^ "ACCELERATE Home". ACCELERATE. British Council. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  23. ^ "Australia Council Awards 2020". Australia Council. 1 October 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  24. ^ "Australia Council Awards". Australia Council. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  25. ^ "Australia Council Awards". Australia Council. 9 March 2020. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  26. ^ a b "National Indigenous Arts Awards". Australia Council. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  27. ^ "Fellowships". Australia Council. 28 August 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  28. ^ "National Indigenous Arts Awards". Brisbane Art Guide – BNE ART. Retrieved 27 July 2021.
  29. ^ Australia Council for the Arts. "Objective 3: First Nations arts and culture are cherished". Australia Council Annual Report 2019-20. Source: 2019–23 Corporate plan p.21.
  30. ^ "National Indigenous Arts Awards". Australia Council. Archived from the original on 10 June 2021. Retrieved 27 July 2021.
  31. ^ "Celebrating strength, pride and achievement of First Nations artists at National Indigenous Arts Awards". Australian Pride Network. 28 May 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  32. ^ Eltham, Ben (17 October 2020). "Casey Jenkins v Australia Council: When controversial art loses funding, what does it mean for culture?". Guardian Australia. Retrieved 17 October 2020.

External linksEdit