Local Gov behind 26% of Australia’s arts and cultural investment: study

Image shows City of Belmont staff with a "Belmonster" costumed character

Local Government contributes more than a quarter of total national expenditure on Australian arts and cultural activities, a new study has found.

Demonstrating the increased importance of art and culture to local communities, the 26.2 percent local government proportion was up from 22.4 percent a decade earlier, The Big Picture report said.

Each year Australian governments together commit almost $7 billion to the arts.

“Governments have always played a leading role in funding Australia’s arts and culture for the social, cultural, economic and personal benefits they provide,” said report author, Kate Fielding, director of the independent think tank A New Approach.

“This report shows a shifting and increasingly volatile trend, with more public funding at a grass roots level from local government which is closest to the community.

“This increased per capita commitment of 11 percent by local government signals that local leaders are seeing the relevance of cultural activities to their communities, and that we should ensure this level of government is recognised as a key partner in our overall cultural ecosystem.”

Over the decade to 2017, spending by state and territory governments increased by 3.4 percent per capita, while federal funding fell by 18.9 percent.

Public expenditure per capita dropped by 4.9 percent between 2007 and 2018, well below the average of other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members, the report said.

Australia’s arts and culture sector contributes more than $111 billion to the economy, or 6.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product, and employs around 600,000 people, or 5.5 percent of the workforce.

It said spending on culture is split roughly evenly across three categories – film, television and radio, museums, art museums, libraries, cultural heritage and archives, and arts.

Local government’s spending is typically capital expenditure such as buildings and their maintenance, and recurrent programs such as art and cultural activities like festivals.

Combined, this investment forms the building blocks of cultural experiences and life in local communities, be they in metropolitan, regional or remote locations.

In one example, a West Australian local council used a children’s book and costumed characters to promote its community.

City of Belmont won a 2019 National Award for Local Government for its Adventures of the Belmonsters book. (pictured above)

One secondary benefit was that the book inspired children to physically explore their communities with their families, City of Belmont officials said.

The Big Picture report’s five recommendations included a greater strategic collaboration between all tiers of government with clear recognition of the increasingly significant contribution of local governments to cultural funding.

“What is very clear from the data is that without a strategic and coordinated effort across all levels of government, Australia risks a deterioration of its cultural fabric and a loss of the significant benefits it provides,” report author Kate Fielding said.

“Our population has increased by 17 per cent over the past decade, however, support for Australia’s culture and heritage isn’t keeping pace with this growth.”

Image: Rosita the Belmonster (centre) with City of Belmont CEO John Christie (left) and Manager Community Place Making Natasha Griggs (right). Photo courtesy City of Belmont.