Just as the arts lend constant support to community life, the debate about the appropriate level of arts funding is ongoing. While this debate may not occupy the centre stage of political life, it is nonetheless a debate that is deeply felt in many and varied parts of the community. The importance of arts funding in areas outside the Sydney CBD was recognised in a recent report of the Legislative Assembly's Standing Committee on Public Works. Another recent contribution to the debate is a discussion paper by Arts Queensland which identifies the need to develop new funding models to support individual artists and creative work. 

Rather than engaging in the wider debate, this paper intends simply to provide an overview of arts funding in NSW, including trends over the years. It outlines the funding streams of both the NSW and Federal Governments, presents data on total levels of funding and support for the main art forms, and it provides some interstate comparisons. Information is also presented on levels of public arts funding in other countries. Finally, the paper looks at levels of private support for the arts and Government measures to increase private support. 

It is important to define what 'the arts' includes for the purposes of this analysis, and also to acknowledge that there will be different opinions on what should be included. While it is clear that any definition of the arts should incorporate art-forms such as music, literature and visual arts, more problematic are other areas such as
television, libraries and art galleries. As Throsby notes, 'in any definitional exercise involving the arts, there are going to be difficult decisions as to inclusion or exclusion, and that no boundary line around the arts is ever going to be watertight'. Subject to two exceptions, this paper adopts the classification system used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its publication Cultural Funding by Government.

The ABS classifies 'cultural activities' into two major groups: 'the arts' and 'heritage'. In our definition of the arts, we have included all of the ABS 'arts' categories except for 'radio and television services'; and we have excluded all of the ABS 'heritage' categories except for 'art museums'. The 'heritage' categories that have been excluded are: 'other museums', 'environmental heritage', 'libraries', and 'archives'.  Funding of the arts by local government is not discussed in this paper as there is limited information available. It is, however, a major funding source. In 2008/09, local government in NSW contributed $29 million for art museums, $37 million for performing arts, and $67 million for 'cultural or arts services'. By way of comparison, in the same year the NSW Government spent $34 million on art museums and $72 million on performing arts and their venues.

Image: Vanessa Pike-Russell / flickr

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