The Australian
Seasonal present for arts sector
Victoria Laurie | December 13, 2007

AUSTRALIA’S richest indigenous art prize will be part of a bumper Christmas present for Western Australia’s cultural sector – a sudden $70 million arts announcement to be unveiled today by Premier Alan Carpenter.

The Premier, who faces a state election next year, will release details of an almost 50per cent boost to the state’s $168 million arts budget that will flow into theatre, dance, music and the fashion industry.

It is believed to include a $1million fund to sponsor Australia’s richest indigenous art prize over four years, with several categories for individual and group artists.

It appears likely to award bigger prizemoney than the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art award, which offers a $40,000 first prize.

The package comes after Western Australia’s resource boom delivered a $2.2 billion surplus in the state budget, but failed to provide any real increase in arts funding.

It will be the biggest single injection of funds into the cultural sector in the state’s history.

Mr Carpenter is understood to have recently dined and consulted with individuals from the state’s art gallery, ballet and opera companies and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

Perth’s corporate sector, which outspends the state in its support of major arts organisations such as the WASO, has lobbied the Government to open its coffers to support culture.

WASO received $3 million in corporate donations last year, mainly from companies such as Woodside Petroleum, Chevron, Wesfarmers and BHP Billiton. The state’s contribution was $1.8 million.

Unlike some other past and present state premiers – Don Dunstan and Mike Rann in South Australia, Neville Wran and Bob Carr in NSW and Jeff Kennett in Victoria – Mr Carpenter has shown little inclination until now to attend cultural events or promote the arts portfolio.

But observers say Mr Carpenter, who has been in office nearly two years, is now keen to spread the Government’s resource wealth more widely to raise the state’s cultural profile.

He took a personal interest in the plight of underfunded artists earlier this year when WA Ballet dancers went on strike over salaries as low as $38,000 a year. He is understood to have personally intervened to secure more company funding to better pay dancers.

Funds were also found at short notice after he learned that an annual Shakespeare in the Park event could be cancelled for lack of funds.