The big picture on arts and culture investment by governments 

16 February 2022

A new report released today by independent think tank A New Approach (ANA) provides the latest insights into how governments are investing in arts and culture during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as long term investment trends and how Australia compares to its international peers.

The report The Big Picture 2: Public Expenditure on Artistic, Cultural and Creative activity in Australia in 2007-08 to 2019-20 is the latest in what will be a series and analyses the new Cultural Funding by Government 2019-20 Survey, which is the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ most comprehensive data on investment by all three levels of government.

CEO of ANA, Kate Fielding, said the survey data includes investments across screen, heritage and the arts from national institutions to local community festivals and helps us to understand how opportunities to engage with arts and culture are being made available to communities across Australia. 

“There is now little debate that arts and culture binds and heals communities and we recognise the great need for this following traumatic years both locally and beyond. Investments in arts and culture are critically important to ensure all Australians have access to these opportunities no matter where they live, and that Australian stories get told both in Australia and overseas,” said Ms Fielding. 

Ms Fielding also said the report captures expenditure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing an important benchmark to understand the support delivered by governments during this time and the years ahead. 

“In the last four months of the 2019-20 financial year, which were the first months of the pandemic, Australia’s arts and cultural organisations accessed more than $4 billion of COVID-19 support and 98.8 percent of that support came from the federal government.

“We know these industries have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and these effects are ongoing and will be for some time. From national events to everyday activities like going to the cinema, taking ballet lessons, visiting the library or doing a painting class, Australians have been missing out.”

Beyond this COVID-19 support, the report makes it clear that all levels of government in Australia invest in arts and culture with the federal government contributing 37.9 percent of total cultural expenditure in 2019-20, state and territory governments contributing 36.7 percent and local governments contributing 25.3 percent of the total figure of $7.26 billion.

While this investment is welcome it is not keeping pace with population growth, the report highlighting that since 2007-08 there has been a 6.9 percent decrease in per capita cultural funding by governments leading to Australia falling behind its OECD peers. 

Australia is currently ranked 23 out of 34 countries for expenditure on culture, recreation and religion and across the OECD, the average expenditure is 1.23 percent of total GDP while the Australian figure is only 0.95 percent. 

Ms Fielding said that the recently announced bipartisan recommendation of the development of a National Cultural Plan, which came from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Creative and Cultural Industries and Institutions, is a welcome opportunity for all levels of government to work together to ensure investment is more efficient and effective now and into the future. 

“Investing in arts and culture is a shared responsibility, but a National Cultural Plan would be a good way of coordinating action across federal, state and territory and local governments with one of the goals to boost expenditure as a percentage of GDP,” said Ms Fielding. 

The report includes six recommendations to ensure government investment in arts and culture unlocks opportunities across the country for Australians to create, experience and participate in a rich cultural life.

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.