The Adelaide Festival Centre is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. Opened in 1973, the building was completed before the Sydney Opera House, Arts Centre Melbourne and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.
South Australia was regarded as a leader of the arts in Australia for around three decades from 1970 to the 1990s and dubbed internationally the “Athens of the South”.
Since the early 21st century, other states have woken up to the benefits of the arts and are now supporting lively creative industries within their midst. South Australia though has done the opposite.
The arts are no longer seen as a priority.
Arts in the budget
In 2018, under the previous Liberal state government, the arts and cultural portfolio Arts South Australia was broken up and sent to different government departments.
Youth arts were put into the Education Department. The SA Film Corporation, the Adelaide Film Festival and the Jam Factory were relocated to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. The North Terrace cultural institutions such as the state art gallery, museum and library – while administered by the Premier’s department – are now overseen by a generic arm of the department who are not arts or cultural specialists.
The few remaining staff left from Arts South Australia were placed within a sector of the Department of Premier and Cabinet called “Communities and Corporate”, one of ten portfolios within the department.
The South Australian state budget was handed down this week. The only mention of the arts in the budget was within the major events fund where there is a commitment of $2 million over four years to the Adelaide Film Festival’s investment fund.
Within the Department of Premier and Cabinet, “Arts and Cultural Policy and Support” receives a reduction of $1.2 million from the amount actually spent on the arts in 2022–23.
There was a 6% drop in cultural spending in South Australia in 2019, and a further 3% drop in 2020.
The continued reductions in arts funding seem counter intuitive given the negative impact of COVID on the arts and cultural sector.
Adelaide’s stalled new gallery
In 2016, the Labor government and the Art Gallery of South Australia commissioned a report and undertook a design competition for the development of a new contemporary art space at the old location of Royal Adelaide Hospital on North Terrace, known as Lot Fourteen.
The new gallery became an election issue in 2018, with the Liberal party running on a platform of developing a national Indigenous arts centre.
After the Liberal party won the election, the gallery was named Tarrkarri (“future” in Kaurna language) and was due to be completed in 2023.
After Labor got back into government in early 2022, the development of Tarrkarri was put on hold while the project was reviewed by a committee appointed by the government.
As of June 2023, the site remains a hole in the ground with a potential cost blow out of $400 million while the government reviews the committee’s recommendations.
Significantly, there is no additional money promised for the project in the 2023–24 state budget, although there is a forecast completion date of 2027.
A critical lack of infrastructure
There has been a critical lack of cultural infrastructure in South Australia for many years across all artform areas.
There has been a call for a dedicated concert hall in Adelaide for many years. Despite a scoping study completed in 2021, nothing has happened so far, and the state’s music audience continues to miss out on many music groups and individuals touring the country.
In May 2023, the Malinauskas Government shelved plans to build a new storage centre for the state collections housed at the state museum, library and art gallery, citing insufficient funds.
Given the monetary and cultural value of these collections, it might be argued that not storing them appropriately is, to misquote Oscar Wilde, rather careless.
Sports are the big winners
Arts funding in South Australia has not seen any noticeable increase for several years and many agencies and arts organisations are struggling to survive.
While most other states have acquired new concert halls, new art galleries and theatre spaces over the past two decades, South Australia has remained culturally static. The only updated space is the refurbished Her Majesty’s Theatre.
South Australia is now a long way behind all the other mainland states in terms of actual expenditure on arts and culture – although it sits fourth on per capita support.
When Labor was elected in 2022 there was hope there would be an immediate revival of a government entity focusing on the arts. It was also hoped Labor would be proactive about increasing arts support and build much needed new cultural infrastructure.
Since its election in early 2022, the state Labor government has spent $35 million on reviving a car race, around $14 million on the AFL Gather Round, unknown millions on LIV Golf and committed $135 million towards the development of a new swimming centre.
Sports events are a winner under the Malinauskas Labor government. The arts do not get a mention.