Guidelines confirm no money for individuals or screen projects in Senator Brandis’ NPEA.

The Ministry for the Arts has released the first details of the guidelines to be used by the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). For almost two months, since the Federal Budget announcement in May, speculation and anxiety over what organisations will be hardest hit by the newly established fund has divided the Australian arts sector. In addition to objections over the stripping of almost $105 million from the Australia Council to establish the NPEA, suspicions that organisations from the small to medium sized arts sector and individual artists will be financially devastated by the funding reforms have provoked petitions and protests across the country.

However, one of the most contentious concerns about the NPEA is that it would ignore the impartial, peer assessment process of the Australia Council, favouring instead the pet projects of Senator George Brandis, the Minister for the Arts. The new draft guidelines say the NPEA will use “assessors” appointed by the Arts Ministry, who will be listed in a Register of Independent Assessors comprising sector and community representatives. The Ministry for the Arts will accept expressions of interest from prospective assessors as well as inviting individuals they believe have suitable credentials for the position.

Each application will be judged by “at least three assessors,” but this will include personnel from the Ministry for the Arts – a major departure from the politically “arms-length” approach of the Australia Council – and this strongly suggests that the final say on whether an application will recieve funding might lie with Senator Brandis or staff from his department. The specific sums awarded may also be kept secret under the new funding paradigm, providing ”the Minister has obtained an exemption in accordance with the Commonwealth Grant Rules and Guidelines.”

Significantly, the draft guidelines also confirmed that individual artists would not be eligible for the new fund, as well as excluding film and television projects. This admission will be a major concern for many in the Free the Arts protest movement, who have been campaigning against the establishment of the NPEA. The redirection of funds to the Arts Ministry from the Australia Council has resulted in a significant reduction in money for Australia Council programmes specifically aimed at individual artists and the small to medium scale sector, and so the exclusion of support for individual artists from the NPEA is a major blow.

One of the other major anxieties that has weighed upon the minds of many artists in Australia in recent weeks is that significant involvement by Senator George Brandis and the Ministry for the Arts in the selection process for the NPEA will disadvantage artists working in experimental or non-mainstream areas of the arts. However, the objectives outlined in the NPEA draft guidelines remain frustratingly opaque as to any aesthetic preference that might effect prospective applications to the fund, although references to “growing arts audiences” perhaps implies a skew toward commercial or more populous productions.

The NPEA says it will “deliver a wide range of quality arts and cultural experience that grow arts audiences, throughout Australia and internationally; strengthen Australia’s reputation as a sophisticated and artistic nation with a confident, outward-facing arts sector; encourage greater private support and partnerships funding for the arts; support collaborations to develop arts and culture initiatives including in specific regions or priority areas.”

The announcement coincides with a meeting today in Sydney of the Free the Arts movement to discuss advocacy, policy and funding of the arts in order to strategise methods of supporting areas of the arts sector that may be detrimentally impacted by the introduction of the NPEA. One crucial item on the agenda is a workshop on writing submissions for the upcoming Senate Inquiry into the NPEA, which is due to investigate why the Ministry for the Arts failed to seek any formal consultation with the arts sector before announcing the radical arts funding reforms.

The Free the Arts National Arts Sector Meeting takes place today at the Australian Theatre for Young People, Pier 4/7 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, Sydney, between 5:30pm and 8:30pm.

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