Australia Council for the Arts

The Australia Council for the Arts, informally known as the Australia Council, is the official arts council or arts funding and advisory body for the Government of Australia.

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 (the Council) is the Australian Government's principal arts funding and advisory body. The Council is the national advocate for the arts and its purpose is to champion and invest in Australian arts. This national leadership role is achieved by supporting and building Australia's arts ecology by fostering excellence in the arts and increasing national and international engagement with Australian arts.[citation needed]


The Australia Council was formed in 1967 by Prime Minister Harold Holt as a body for the public funding of the arts. After being given statutory authority in March 1975 by the Australia Council Act[1], the Council then incorporated other government projects, such as the Commonwealth Literary Fund and the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board. It operates in co-ordination with the various state government agencies.[2]

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]

Funding changes (2014-2016)Edit

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.[3][4]

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.[5][6] 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.[7][8][9] 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.[10] 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.[8]

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.[11] 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.[12][13]

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.[14]


Self-insemination grantEdit

In May 2020 the Australia Council awarded a $25,000 grant to performance artist Casey Jenkins for a piece titled Immaculate, which "would feature a live stream of Jenkins – who hopes to fall pregnant – self-inseminating with donated sperm, while discussing their past experiences with conception". 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. The council stated that the withdrawal of the grant was not due to negative media coverage, but instead followed legal advice about the organisation's liabilities if pregnancy resulted. Jenkins subsequently said that the council had "grossly and insultingly mischaracterised my artwork". Writing for Guardian Australia, Ben Eltham said that the council's actions might have a chilling effect on performance art in Australia.[15]


As of 2020, the Australia Council Awards include eight categories for achievement in various types of arts.[16] The Awards were established in or before 1981,[17] and are awarded in early March of each year.[18]

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).[19] 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.[20]

First Nations Arts AwardsEdit

The annual First Nations Arts Awards ( previously National Indigenous Arts Awards or NIAA), include two categories:[19]

  • 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 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.[21]


  1. ^ "Australia's Prime Ministers - Meet a PM - Whitlam - Inoffice". National Archives of Australia. 2 February 2007. Archived from the original on 19 April 2013.
  2. ^ "Our Structure - Australia Council".
  3. ^ The Conversation, 16 October 2016, Arts training is an essential part of an innovative nation
  4. ^ InDaily, 24 October 2016, No minister, creative arts are not a "lifestyle choice"
  5. ^ "George Brandis turns arts into 'political football' with $104.7m Australia Council cuts". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  6. ^ "Private arts donors Neil Balnaves and Luca Belgiorno-Nettis accuse George Brandis of neglecting arts community, politicising funding". ABC News.
  7. ^ "The regrettable rise of the arts bureaucrat". The Age.
  8. ^ a b Stuart Glover (20 July 2015). "Writers and publishers are all at sea under Brandis and the NPEA". The Conversation.
  9. ^ "The Australia Council must hold firm on 'arm's length' funding". The Conversation.
  10. ^ Ben Eltham. "George Brandis and the arts funding crisis: one hell of a one-man show". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 2015, Cabinet reshuffle: artists call on new arts minister Mitch Fifield to 'undo the damage' done by George Brandis
  12. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 2015, Rebranding Brandis arts fund Catalyst won't kill off National Program for Excellence in the Arts
  13. ^ ABC News, 20 February 2016, Australia Council budget cuts blindsided peak arts body's executive, documents show
  14. ^ "An ACE Up Our Sleeves". Broadsheet. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Australia Council Awards 2020". Australia Council. 1 October 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Australia Council Awards". Australia Council. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  18. ^ "Australia Council Awards". Australia Council. 9 March 2020. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  19. ^ a b "National Indigenous Arts Awards". Australia Council. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  20. ^ "Fellowships". Australia Council. 28 August 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  21. ^ "Celebrating strength, pride and achievement of First Nations artists at National Indigenous Arts Awards". Australian Pride Network. 28 May 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2020.

External linksEdit