The independent arts in Victoria are thriving. Yet while countless new works are presented, countless more will never be experienced, critiqued or toured beyond their immediate circle. Government partnerships with arts organisations are the only way to create a strategic, long-term commitment to vital, invigorating, enriching art.

Art emerges from complex ecosystems of practitioners, venues, audiences and critics. For arts organisations, multi-year government partnerships provide foundations for new creative risks. In turn, governments learn about contemporary arts practice, feeding that knowledge back into policy.

Right now, two major partnership sources are under review: Arts Victoria’s Organisations Program, which supports about 70 of the state’s 7800-plus small-to-medium arts organisations, and the Australia Council, which is under independent review alongside the development of a national cultural policy development. With the third major local investor, the City of Melbourne, having undergone this process last year, it’s clear just how important arts partnerships are for every level of government.

Community development, education and skills, design, cultural diversity, planning, tourism, employment, health — government objectives in all these areas are achieved by arts organisations. In turn, arts organisations drive innovation across all these policy areas. Substantial corporate and philanthropic partnerships support specific artworks, but only government investment builds the long-term capacities of the entire creative industry.

The Arts Victoria review has the potential to open up funding to new companies. While all companies submit competitive proposals every three years, most achieve recurrent funding across many years, making it difficult for new organisations to match their strong records. The current funding model has no room to move, and this problem is repeated federally, too. The Australia Council review has recently accepted public submissions, and Arts Victoria has just released a public survey, which is accessible via its website. They’d love to hear your thoughts.

The only way to open up successful organisation programs is to increase government investment. It’s not about substituting new players for old in a zero-sum game; it’s about investing meaningfully and strategically into that complex open system and fostering its evolution.

Let’s extend that thinking. Creative organisations command creative approaches to partnerships — this is why more and more corporates partner with the arts.

Let’s see our government partner with organisations in marketing the independent arts at blockbuster scales beyond “hidden, secret” laneways and “major event” spaces.

Let’s have arts partnerships that harness organisations’ expertise, empowering them to deliver programs at present seen as the government’s responsibility. Devolving professional developmental and leadership programs, for example, encourages experimental approaches that nurture our next generation of artists.

Let’s imagine partnerships based on a targeted stimulus approach, where organisations harness the expertise of the government in modelling ambitious expansion plans, accessing economic-impact tools, or targeting artistic projects to urban renewal priorities.

Youth literature companies could access Department of Education expertise to develop more relevant schools programs, while additional temporary funds support the organisation’s expansion. Places Victoria could collaborate with organisations creating temporary site-specific works as opposed to one-off pieces of public sculpture, with temporary stimulus funding the new work. Such short-term intensives yield dazzling long-term results as new audiences, partners and ideas are developed.

The most valuable legacy that Arts Minister Ted Baillieu can create is to expand Arts Victoria’s Organisations Program. Now is the ideal time to make an investment in the state’s creative future.



First published in The Age on 19 March 2012