On Friday 13 May 2016, the Australia Council for the Arts released the results of that agency’s ‘Four Year Organisations’ grants. The result was a bloodbath: 65 organisations were defunded, and more than a hundred that applied were also unsuccessful. The arts sector dubbed it ‘Black Friday’.
The defunding of a slew of Australia’s best-known smaller arts companies derived from the funding cuts and changes made by the Abbott Government. All told, according to the Australian Labor Party’s Mark Dreyfus, the Coalition cut approximately $300 million from federal cultural funding prior to this defunding.
Before the 2013 election, arts funding had been a more-or-less bipartisan policy area, supported by both major parties. But bipartisanship disappeared in the ideological environment of the new government. The Coalition didn’t just slash the Australia Council’s funding. It launched a new attack on arm’s length arts funding itself — a principle that has enjoyed four decades of bipartisan support. Why did George Brandis and the Coalition do this? What accounts for this assault on the cultural sphere?
This essay is an attempt to tell that story, and to question what it means. Australian culture is being attacked by political actors, beholden to an ideology of privatising the cultural space. But if there are troubling realities, there are also opportunities.