The Big Picture 3: Expenditure on Artistic, Cultural and Creative activity by governments in Australia in 2007–08 to 2020–21 

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The report provides an updated overview of trends in arts and culture expenditure by governments in Australia between the years of 2007–08 and 2020–21. The research draws on a new release of Australia’s most comprehensive dataset on this topic, the cultural funding by governments series (CFG). This report also explores the opportunities for change based on the CFG survey of agencies and its administratively collected data as well as cross-country comparisons produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

This Insight Report is also available to read via The Big Picture interactive platform, which allows you to engage with the data and download the graphs. For more information on how to use this platform, view our explanatory video.

Please note ANA has made revisions to this report since first released resulting from errors in our analysis. The revisions relate to the figures in the report by jurisdiction (figures 19, 20, 21 and 22). We have also made minor revisions to text surrounding these figures. If you notice any further errors, please get in contact.

Australia is still spending less as a share of GDP on recreation, culture and religion compared to most of its OECD peers, ranking 23rd of 31 OECD countries in 2020 in this internationally comparable area of government spending. — The Big Picture 3

Summary of key findings  

Finding 1

Since the start of the pandemic, governments have directed $12.5 billion to cultural and creative industries in response to COVID-19, in the form of targeted COVID-19 support and wider economy COVID-19 support. This represents 46% of total government expenditure on cultural and creative industries (both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 expenditure) in the last two financial years. $8.1 billion of this was in 2020–21.

Finding 2

Government spending on recreation, culture and religion in Australia is below that of many of our international peers. In 2020, OECD countries on average spent 1.35% of total GDP for the purposes of recreation, culture and religion; Australia spent 0.98% of its GDP, placing us ahead of other English-speaking countries (the United States and United Kingdom) yet 23rd out of 31 OECD countries. Australia has remained below the OECD average from 2017 to 2020.

Finding 3

Non-COVID-19 expenditure on arts and culture across the three levels of government was $7.2 billion in 2020–21. This is a 1% decrease from 2019–20 when adjusted for inflation, a reduction of $85.6 million in real terms.

Finding 4

Non-COVID-19 expenditure on arts and culture is not keeping pace with population growth. Australia’s population increased by 20% between 2007–08 and 2020–21 to around 26 million, while expenditure on arts and culture over that time increased by 10%. In 2020–21, per capita government expenditure on arts and culture was $279. For comparison, the figure in 2007–08 was $307 per person when adjusted for inflation.

Finding 5

In 2020–21, the state and territory governments’ share of non-COVID-19 expenditure on arts and culture was the highest on record (37%), and the federal government’s share was the second lowest on record (38%). The local government share has decreased every year since a peak of over 27% in 2016–17; in 2020–21, it was less than 25%.

Finding 6

Capital expenditure has slowly but steadily increased as a share of non-COVID-19 expenditure on arts and culture in Australia. Capital expenditure represented 17% of non-COVID-19 expenditure on arts and culture during 2020–21, significantly up from 11% in 2007–08, though slightly down on the 18% recorded in 2017–18.

Finding 7

In 2020–21, Museums, Libraries, Archives and Heritage accounted for 38% of government expenditure on arts and culture (including targeted COVID-19 support and excluding local government spending). Arts accounted for 32%; Film, Radio and Television accounted for 30%. The long-term decrease in the share of this expenditure on the Film, Radio and Television category continues. Conversely, the Arts category has increased its share and, in 2020–21, reached its highest level.

Finding 8

Since 2007–08, the federal government has typically contributed more than 90% of government expenditure on the Film, Radio and Television category (exclusive of local government). State and territory governments have typically contributed more than 60% of the public investment in both the Arts category and Museums, Archives, Libraries and Heritage category (exclusive of local government).

Summary of opportunities and implementation pathways 

Opportunity 1

Construct a partnership framework to underpin the Australian National Cultural Policy, elevating collaboration as a competitive advantage; describing existing intergovernmental arrangements and the potential for new agreements and/or accords; and outlining the desired relationships with different agencies, portfolios, industry operators, philanthropic entities and investors that are required for success.

Implementation Pathway: Pilot and evaluate the impacts of a partnership framework around cross-portfolio themes such as ‘health’, ‘place’ or ‘productivity’.

Opportunity 2

Include in forward estimates a funding envelope to establish an infrastructure and workforce development pipeline.

Implementation Pathway: Consult a representative sample of receiving institutions on an investment approach that considers capital and recurrent costs. Use the reconvened intergovernmental meetings between Commonwealth, state, and territory cultural ministers and the Australian Local Government Association to understand impacts on local governments.

Opportunity 3

Devise a multidecadal plan identifying short, medium and longer-term goals and minimum required investment for the pipeline of infrastructure and workforce development.

Implementation Pathway: To inform the measures in a plan, the bipartisan proposal for a Productivity Commission inquiry ‘into the legislative arrangements that govern funding of artistic programs and activities at all levels of government’ should proceed. Its report to government should:

  • Analyse the cross-sectoral enablers of productivity identified in the most recent five-year productivity inquiry as they specifically apply to arts and culture.
  • Identify a cross-portfolio theme for coordinated, temporary government assistance in arts and culture to be less funding-driven and to take advantage of the relative strengths and legal responsibilities of the different levels of government (see Opportunity 1).
  • Consider including ‘arts and cultural services’ in future iterations of the Report on Government Services (see Opportunity 5).
  • Examine and quantify the costs and benefits of government assistance in arts and culture, comparing the quantum of this assistance with the ‘value added’ and social and policy objectives of these activities (e.g. access to diverse cultural and creative experiences).

Opportunity 4

To ‘preserve’ and ‘strengthen’ the financing of culture – which UNESCO has declared a global ‘public good’ – review examples of countries in the OECD with outstanding investment in arts and culture, including from government and other investment sources.

Implementation Pathway: Support people-to-people exchange and collaborate with civil society organisations at both national and regional levels on this topic.

Opportunity 5

To enhance the transparency of investments under the Australian National Cultural Policy, and noting the cultural funding by more than one hundred government departments and agencies identified in the CFG survey, experiment with deeper granularity of the data collection and reporting instruments (e.g. ‘by portfolio’ and ‘by postcode’).

Implementation Pathway: Review other countries’ methods for estimating and reporting on expenditure on arts and culture. Consider performance reporting on ‘arts and cultural services’ in future releases of the whole-of-government Productivity Commission’s annual Report on Government Services (See Opportunity 3).

Opportunity 6

To inform decisions about any future temporary financial measures, and as the COVID-19 financial measures are phased out, conduct a national environmental scan.

Implementation Pathway: Build and regularly update shared understanding of the different strategies and policies concerning arts and culture across Australian jurisdictions and the impacts of dynamic public health and economic pressures.

Suggested Citation

Vivian, A., Fielding, K., Acker, T., March 2023. “The Big Picture 3: Expenditure on Artistic, Cultural and Creative activity by governments in Australia in 2007–08 to 2020–21”. Insight report no. 2023-01. Produced by A New Approach (ANA). Canberra, Australia.

Report Design

Glider Global (@lifewithglider)


A New Approach (ANA) is Australia’s national think tank focused on arts and culture. We believe Australia can become a cultural powerhouse whose compelling creativity is locally loved, nationally valued and globally influential.

Through credible and independent public leadership, ANA helps build an ambitious and innovative policy and investment environment for arts, culture and creativity.

We work to ensure Australia can be a great place for creators and audiences, whoever they are and wherever they live.

ANA acknowledges the cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia and their continuing cultural and creative practices in this land.

This report was written by Angela Vivian and Kate Fielding from A New Approach (ANA) and Tim Acker from Tracker Development. The primary research underpinning it was led by Tim Acker.

Expert advice was provided on early drafts of this report by artsACT and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts. However, any errors are our own. If you notice any errors, please get in contact at the contact details provided on this page.

ANA thanks all the people who generously reviewed this paper for their time and excellent feedback, including members of ANA’s Board and Reference Group.

The opinions in this Insight Report do not necessarily represent the views of ANA’s funding partners, the individual members involved in governance or advisory groups, or others who have provided input.

© A New Approach This work is copyright. All material published or otherwise created by A New Approach think tank is licenced under a Creative Commons – Attribution – Non-Commercial 4.0 International Licence.

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