The Big Picture: Public Expenditure on Artistic, Cultural and Creative Activity in Australia 

To find out more about our latest research request a briefing from our staff.

Request Briefing

This report looks at more than a decade of expenditure on arts and culture by the three tiers of government in Australia (2007-08 to 2017-18).  Current and credible data sources have been utilised and it is the most comprehensive study of its type. It identifies some basic international comparisons and, by synthesising available data, enables meaningful comparisons to be made now and into the future between different years, different levels of government and different areas of expenditure. One of our hopes is that people will realise the value in capturing, analysing and disseminating relevant data to ensure an even clearer picture of the funding environment and return on investment in all its forms.

As the first output of an ambitious research agenda, the report provides new insights and also raises many questions.

We enjoy a range of cultural, economic, social and personal benefits from making and participating in creative and cultural activity at all stages of life — The Big Picture

Key Findings 

Finding 1

Australian public expenditure on arts and culture reached its highest point in 2017–18, while fluctuating during the previous decade (using adjusted figures). Cultural expenditure is not matching population growth. Per capita public expenditure on culture has dropped by 4.9% over the decade 2007–08 to 2017–18, and expenditure as a percentage of GDP remains below the OECD average.

Finding 2

The ABS and MCMO-SWG dataset shows, local governments and state and territory governments have increased their per capita expenditure on culture. Local governments have increased per capita expenditure by 11% while state and territory governments have increased per capita expenditure by 3.9%. The federal government is committing 18.9% less expenditure per capita to culture than it did a decade ago.

Finding 3

Responsibility for cultural expenditure is split more evenly between the levels of government than it was a decade ago. As a proportion of the total, the federal government now contributes 39.0%, down from 45.7%. State and territory governments contribute 34.8%, up from 31.9%. Local governments contribute 26.2%, up from 22.4%.

Finding 4

Capital expenditure is typically a minor part of the total cultural budget, significantly outweighed by expenditure on recurrent activities. However, it is increasing as a proportion of the total. Between 2007–08 and 2017–18 capital expenditure per capita increased by 47.6%, while recurrent expenditure per capita decreased by 11.7%.

Finding 5

Federal, state and territory government expenditure on culture is split fairly evenly between three overarching categories: Film, Radio and Television (32.5%); Museums, Art Museums, Archives, Libraries and Cultural Heritage (37.7%); and Arts (29.7%).

Opportunities for governments 

Opportunity 1

Introduce greater strategic collaboration between all tiers of government with clear recognition of the increasingly significant contribution of local governments to cultural funding.

Opportunity 2

Identify steps to maintain a commitment to meeting the long-term per capita average of the last decade as a minimum.

Opportunity 3

Consider measures and incentives needed to boost cultural expenditure to average OECD country levels within the next decade.

Opportunity 4

Provide clearer policy leadership to ensure outcomes of cultural expenditure are better communicated.

Opportunity 5

Ensure current and accurate data about cultural spending by government is freely available.

Opportunity 6

Given that significant capital expenditure on cultural assets may come through government programs without a specific cultural focus, identify opportunities to ensure investment decisions are made using relevant cultural expertise and that these opportunities are made more visible across the sector.

Suggested Citation

A New Approach. September 2019. The Big Picture: public expenditure on artistic, cultural and creative activity in Australia. Produced by A New Approach (ANA) think tank with lead delivery partner the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Canberra.

Report Design

Zeil (


A New Approach (ANA) was established in 2018 with a $1.65 million commitment by The Myer Foundation, the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation and the Keir Foundation. The Australian Academy of the Humanities was the lead delivery partner for the initiative for the period 2018-2020, and this publication was produced during that period. It is reproduced here with the permission of the Academy.

This report was prepared by ANA. The data collation and preliminary analysis underpinning the report was provided by Tracker Development.

Expert analysis and input was provided by ANA’s Research Working Group, chaired by Professor Malcolm Gillies AM FAHA, with Distinguished Professor Ien Ang FAHA, Professor Tony Bennett AcSS FAHA, Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham AM FAcSS FAHA and Professor Jennifer Milam FAHA, and from ANA Reference Group members led by Chair Rupert Myer AO.

The opinions in this report do not necessarily represent the views of ANA’s funding partners, or the individual members involved in the governance or advisory committees.

© Australian Academy of the Humanities
This work is copyright. All material published or otherwise created by A New Approach (ANA) think tank is licenced under a Creative Commons—Attribution—Non-Commercial 4.0 International Licence.

New Approach acknowledges that it meets, works and travels on the lands of First Nations peoples. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and to all First Nations peoples.