Article categories: Issue 77
August 12th, 2011

The continuing economic uncertainty we are experiencing sets the stage for an interesting international experiment; one you wouldn’t deliberately engineer, but informative because of its far-reaching impact. In retrospect, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was not so global – in Australia there was an initial, short-lived impact which was devastating for some, but ultimately not economically significant for the country.  In contrast, Europe and North America are still experiencing ongoing collapse and austerity. This contrast makes it possible to test where arts and culture fit in the hierarchy of need in modern capitalist-based democracies.

Image: Carrie Cizauskas. Licensed under Creative Commons License 2.0 ::

In Australia, where the GFC’s impact has been relatively slight, funding for the arts and culture has remained relatively untouched. Arts and culture was not an area considered significant enough to the economy to warrant stimulus spending, but nor was the GFC seen as an opportunity to cut spending. Contrast this with the effects of the GFC on the U.S.A and Europe and a clear picture emerges of the importance of art and culture, particularly if you focus on recent, more inclusive art forms emerging from technology-based practice. In short: they are not considered important at all. It is perhaps not surprising that the U.S.A decided that the arts was an “expendable line item in times of budget crises”[1] as public financing of culture is in conflict with America’s ideological focus on the individual, but what is telling is the response from normally progressive, socially-orientated countries like the U.K and the Netherlands, where technologically-based art and new media funding was severely cut to near non-existence. If you are an artist, or work in the arts and culture, you probably suspect that, if it came to the crunch, Australia would do the same. Knowing this, why do we persist in arguing that the arts and culture offer so little value that public subsidies or private donations are the only possible solutions to arts and culture funding?

In an era of social enterprises[2], venture philanthropy[3], low profit limited liability companies[4] and the community interest companies[5], there are plenty of commercial options open for mission-driven organisations; and with these mechanisms and models at our disposal, it is a good time to question a dogged focus on public subsidy and philanthropic giving.  If you rely heavily on grant funding, public subsidies or gifts, you probably have an understanding of the downside of these revenue sources. Relying on this type of revenue is out of your control; you can work harder and produce better work, but the allocation of limited funding resources may not be swayed by this as the distribution of limited resources can never be as inclusive as the funders or society would like. This is not to say that the arts should turn their backs on public subsidies or giving; business benefits from public subsidy just as sport and culture does, but it is through this reliance on public subsidy and giving to the exclusion of enterprise that arts and culture have painted themselves into a revenue corner.  Through an emphatic avoidance of any instrumental outcomes, the arts have argued that their contribution to society is not a broad public good – and that is a very difficult value proposition when times become tough.

We often talk about the value of art and culture. This value has been demonstrated by outcomes such as urban renewal projects[6], the development of creative language for conceptual thinking[7] and an expression of personal and cultural aspects of the human condition, but there seems to be a shying away from embracing a commercial value.  The unwillingness to convert this social, intellectual and cultural value to cash seems counterproductive and prevents a discussion about how arts and culture can create an environment where enterprise complements, rather than constrains, creative and artistic output.  The real issue is presenting the totality of artistic and cultural value in a way that others can recognise and find ways to make it easy for them to pay for it. This social entrepreneurial mindset, where you deliver a social, or cultural good while still making money, it is not about selling out to commercial interest. It is about doing what you do and then creatively recontextualising it so others can gain value from it. If you could have a rich, cultural and aesthetically mature art work that had commercial outcomes that didn’t impinge upon the creative process, why wouldn’t you want it?

There lies before us a window of opportunity for the arts and culture to take a lead role in the economy, where arts and culture can carve out a central place in the economy without giving up the very creative practice that creates value in the first place. ANAT believes that this opportunity is so important to the long term viability of the arts that it is tackling this problem – or at least starting the discussion.

Gavin Artz

ANAT’s CEO Gavin Artz’s  business management experience ranges from multi-national companies to not-for-profit community organisations. He holds a BA in Politics, an MBA from University of South Australia and has studied Double Bass and Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Gavin advocates for new approaches to creative commercialisation and has written and presented on IP and commercialisation both in Australia and internationally.


[1] Heartney, E,  “Art & Money: UMBILICAL CORD OF GOLD” Viewed 10th August 2011,

[2] Yunus Centre, Viewed 10th August 2011

[3] European Venture Philanthropy Association.“European Venture Philanthropy Directory 2010/11.” Viewed 6th July 2011

[4] Lang, R. “The L3C & Economic Development.” 2010 Americans for Community Development LLC, NY.

[5] Community Interest Companies. “Community Interest Companies.” Viewed 6th of July 2011.

[6] Renew Adelaide, Viewed 11th August 2011.

[7] Housen, A.C. 2002. “Aesthetic Thought, Critical Thinking and Transfer.” Arts and Learning Research Journal, Vol.18, No.1. pp 99-132.



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