Cultural Funding by Government

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The Data



The Australian Bureau of Statistics has collected data on government cultural funding for over 20 years. The totals for each main geographic division form a consistent time series apart from a major revision in 2007-08 which mainly affected the statistics for the Australian (federal) government.[1]

The main distinction is between “heritage” and “arts”, with five categories of the former and 14 arts categories. This classification is common to the Australian government and each state and territory government. Local government funding is only available in total (apart from attempts to provide some detail between 2006-07 and 2009-10).

Cultural funding can cover recurrent or capital expenditure. Capital expenditure fluctuates more than recurrent expenditure due to its project-based nature.

As this article will show, the division between recurrent and capital expenditure varies across several criteria including level of government (relatively less capital funding from the Australian government), and among individual heritage and arts categories.

The 14 arts categories include three that are purely music-related, and six with “some” music content – all available for the Australian government and each state and territory government. They are discussed in the concluding section. Meanwhile, the statistics also have to be viewed in total, since music is an integral part that becomes affected when the total changes.

As the box to the right shows, this research effort made us curious about cultural funding in other countries, such as the United States and Germany. We plan to write an international comparison but at this stage could only come up some preliminary indications, mainly because of structural differences between the main variables.

Level of Government

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The full time series is shown in Table 1 for each level of government. It covers “heritage” as well as “arts”, which are identified in Table 8 in the concluding section, with the arts split into three categories according to their estimated music content. "Heritage" includes art galleries and all other museums, environmental heritage, libraries and archives. Table 1 is intended to illustrate the general priority given to public cultural funding in Australia. It is necessary to refer to the whole subject of cultural funding to put the arts, and music, into proper context.

In accordance with the usual practice in the Knowledge Base, the numbers are in constant values to eliminate the impact of inflation. Total funding has increased in real terms (net of inflation), but the contribution to the total increase varies significantly between the three levels of government. Funding by state and territory governments more than doubled from $1.5 billion in 1992-93 to $3.3 billion in 2012-13. The local government component increased from $810m to $1.4 billion — a total increase of 72% but with much of the increase in the four initial years of the 1990s.

This leaves cultural funding by the Australian government, which was subject to significant revision due to improved collection methods from 2007-08. We have estimated the impact to be a 15% change, which when applied to each year up to 2006-07 results in the zero-growth long-term trend shown in Chart 1. It is based on the assumption that there was no real increase in Australian government funding in 2007-08 compared with the last year of the previous classification, 2006-07. [2]

In terms of Table 1, therefore, federal Australian government cultural funding should be increased by 15% on the additional assumption that this ratio applies to each year (again impossible to check).[3] For 1992-93, this lifts the figure from $2.12 billion to 2.45 billion, an estimate that is higher than the actual total for 2012-13 ($2.36 billion).

Chart 1 shows the adjusted series for cultural funding by the federal Australian government. The trend line through this series is indistinguishable from zero growth over 21 years. (To remove the break in the series in Table 1, add 15% to federal Australian government funding for each year before the break. It has the effect of adjusting the 1992-93 total for all three levels of government from $4.45 billion to $4.65 billion, which is still much lower than the actual total cultural funding of $7.05 billion in 2012-13.)

This implies 52% growth in total cultural funding over the 21 years, boosted by state and territory governments and to a lesser extent by local governments. The growth was entirely due to state and territory government funding increasing by 3.2% per annum, and local governments with a 1.5% pa rise.

Chart 1 also shows, however, that practically all the growth in state and territory government funding occurred in the first half of the period, whereas the trend between 2002-03 and 2012-13 has been much more modest. The same generally applies to local government. The impact on total cultural funding by all three levels of government since 2002-03 has been slightly negative as shown by Chart 1 — this was entirely due to a distinct downtrend in federal government funding since 2000-01.

Alt=Box 1

Over the most recent six years, cultural funding by the Australian government declined from 37.4% of the total for all three government levels in 2007-08, to 33.5% in 2012-13 (Box 1). States and territories increased their share from 45.5% to 46.7%, and the share of local government rose more strongly from 17% to almost 20%.

Alt=Box 2

The picture gets worse when considering that Australia’s population increased from 17.6m in 1993 to 20.2m in 2005 and 23.1m in 2013 (Box 2). Furthermore, there has been a significant increase in the annual rate of population growth from 1.1% between 1993 and 2005, to 1.7% between 2005 and 2013. The pattern has been quite consistent: in the first period, there was not one single year when population growth exceed 1.3% — recently, there has been no single year when growth was less than 1.4% (further detail in Box 2).

To take federal government funding as the most telling example, the 1992-93 total of $2.45 billion was “shared” by an average resident population of 17.58m for the financial year ($139 per head). This compares with a slight fall in 2004-05 (funding $2.68 billion, average population 20.09m, average per head $134 at 2012-13 values). There was then a plunge to 2012-13: funding $2.36 billion, population 23.0m, per head $103.[4]

We conclude that cultural funding levels have fallen significantly at the same time population growth has accelerated. The growth in total population was boosted by a significant increase in net migration from an average of 49,600 net permanent migrants between 1998-99 and 2004-05, to an average of 63,000 between 2005-06 and 2012-13 (+27%).[5]

The falling trend in the federal government's funding per head of population gains further perspective in the light of the 2014-15 budget, which is discussed in Federal Budget Hits Arts, Culture, Heritage and Environment. The major federal funding body, the Australia Council, received a cut of about 4%, but funding of major organisations which receives most of the Council's allocations, would not be touched. The implication is that the grants to individual artists and small organisations which provide much of the creative power for Australian arts, are likely to be cut, not by 4% but by an estimated 20%.

A Note on Local Government

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Local government statistics on cultural funding remain disappointingly incomplete. The only window we have into any sort of detail is for four years from 2006-07 to 2009-10 when the published statistics specified five different funding categories, most of which are classified as heritage with libraries the major group. For the four years as a whole, 64% of this funding was for libraries and another 8% for art and other museums and cultural heritage — leaving 28% for arts funding (performing arts about 6½%, cultural and arts services “not elsewhere classified” 21½%).

These statistics are classified by state and territories (not reproduced here), but there is nothing further. It may be assumed that a substantial proportion of this funding by local governments is of a capital rather than a recurrent nature, that is, funds provided for new or refurbished buildings and other structures.

In summary, these statistics, which the ABS itself discontinued, may be indicative but they are certainly not conclusive. This is one statistical gap which we hope will be filled in the not too far distant future.

Heritage and Arts

Alt=Table 2
Alt=Chart 2

The distinction between heritage and arts is available for the Australian, state and territory governments but not for local governments (except for the rudimentary data shown in the previous section). Table 2 shows the statistics back to 1998-99 when the distinction between arts and heritage was first applied. The statistics are as usual expressed at 2012-13 values and the break from 2007-08 is indicated for federal Australian government funding but not for the states and territory governments where it appears to have had minor effect.

On Chart 2, the adjustment has been made to produce one trend measure, as in Chart 1 discussed above. The trend rates of annual change are indicated above each line to the right of the chart. The main adjustment from 2007-08 was to federal government heritage funding (+28%), compared with 11% for arts.

The first indication is that funding of heritage has been severely rationed since 1999. The trend in the value of heritage grants from the federal government more or less broke even over the full period shown on Chart 2, but it has been distinctively falling since 2003-04. Heritage funding by the states and territories fell along a -1.8% pa trend line after reaching a maximum in 2000-01.

Among the arts, the trend line says minus 0.5% pa, but the period is divided between modest growth from 1998-99 to 2005-06 followed by subsequent decline. This leaves the only significantly growing component on Chart 2 to be arts funding by state and territory governments, with consistent growth since 2000-01.

Alt=Table 3

The largest component of cultural funding comes from the states and territories is for heritage, amounting to 43% of total cultural funding from 2007-08 to 2012-13. Heritage funding from the Australian government added another 12%, leaving 45% of total cultural funding by these levels of government to the arts. Arts funding by the Australian government accounted for 31% of total cultural funding over this period, with the remaining 14% coming from the state and territory governments.

Table 3 shows that the average amount of arts funding per person over the six years to 2012-13 was $115: $80 from the Australian government and $35 from states and territories. Heritage funding averaged $143 — $111 from state and territory governments and $32 from Australia.

State and Territory Governments

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New South Wales accounted for the largest proportion of total heritage funding by state and territory governments in 2012-13, as was indeed the case in each year since 2007-08 (Table 4). Queensland showed the second-largest heritage total except in 2011-12 when it was overtaken by Western Australia, and in 2012-13 when it was pipped at the post by both Victoria and WA. Over the six years, NSW, Vic, Qld and SA recorded largely downward trends in state and territory heritage funding, while WA, Tasmania and the two territories showed rising trends. The Australian total showed a minor decline.

This pattern contrasts with arts funding by state and territory governments where NSW showed a strong upward trend, ahead of any other state or territory. It also took NSW from a humble fourth position in 2007-08, to first in 2012-13.

Victoria was another state with high arts funding, being in first position in the first five years before NSW overtook it in 2012-13. Arts funding in 2012-13 was relatively strong in NSW compared with heritage, at 28.7% and 26.9% of the respective Australian totals. The same goes for Victoria with a heritage share in 2012-13 of 17.9% and an arts share of 22.8% — in fact the relative difference is higher for Victoria.

The biggest discrepancy, however, was in South Australia, with a modest heritage share (6.9%) and a much stronger arts share (11.0%). Conversely, Tasmania had a much stronger heritage share in 2012-13 (5.0% compared to a tiny 1.4% of total state and territory arts funding). So to a lesser extent did the Northern Territory (3.8% of heritage funding, 1.4% of arts). The shares of total Australian funding by states and territories were closer in Queensland (heritage 16.4%, arts 15.8%) and the ACT (a larger gap in relative terms: 4.8% for heritage, 3.7% for arts).

There would be many reasons why the patterns differ among the states and territories. The environment is more demanding of funds in Tasmania and the Northern Territory; the distribution of urban and other communities differ; the federal government takes a relatively strong role in places like Canberra and the Great Barrier Reef; there are numerous other possible differences in the pattern of particular funding items; and the statistics are affected by occurrence of large projects as discussed below in the comparison of funded recurrent and capital expenditure. We cannot go into these matters in this article, but there is room for a deeper geographical analysis of the two main categories of state and territory cultural funding.

Chart 3 provides a graphical picture of the numbers in Table 4, again showing 2012-13. In the heritage area, the main impression is the high level for WA — far exceeding SA. Among the arts, the funding level is ranked as one would expect from population statistics: NSW, Vic, Qld, WA, SA, Tas.

This ranking, however, tells only part of the story when funding is expressed per head of population (Table 5 and Chart 4). For heritage, the lowest performance was in Victoria ($77 per person), followed by Queensland and NSW. Even SA showed a significantly higher per capita level of heritage funding — though nothing to match WA, Tasmania and (especially) the two territories.

Arts funding per head (shown in red) was not correlated to the same extent with total population (the levels in each state and territory are far from similar). It was lowest in Tasmania ($23), followed by the three most populous states, Queensland, NSW and Victoria ($29 - $34 per head). Significantly higher levels ($49 - $56) applied in the Northern Territory, WA and SA. Perhaps predictably, the ACT enjoyed the highest state and territory government funded level of $82 per head.

Summing Up Heritage and Arts Funding

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Box 4 omits the state and territory detail, concentrating on total Australian cultural funding and the total for state and territory governments in 2012-13. Again, the statistics are unavailable for local government.

Cultural funding in 2012-13 amounted to $5.65 billion, of which $2.36 billion (41.8%) was from the Australian government and $3.29 billion (58.2%) from the states and territories. Arts in 2012-13 accounted for 46% of total cultural funding, compared with 54% for heritage. Funding of the arts by the Australian government represented 31.1% of total cultural funding, while states and territories accounting for 14.9% (adding to the 46% of total cultural funding just shown). The distribution of heritage funding was heavily tilted towards the states and territories, amounting to 80% of the total with the Australian government contributing only one-fifth. Consequently, heritage funding by the state and territory governments absorbed 43.3% of the grand total of cultural funding for the year, compared with the Australian government’s 10.7%.

Recurrent and Capital Expenditure

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The distinction between funding of recurrent and capital expenditure is important and serves further to differentiate between the various components of cultural expenditure. The statistics are shown for 2012-13 in Tables 6 and 7 for the Australian government and each state and territory government. The year is sufficiently representative to reveal the essential patterns, but could of course be augmented with additional years.

Recurrent expenditure, as the name implies, refers to the ongoing funding of cultural facilities and programs. Capital expenditure implies some structural change, generally of a project nature and therefore showing greater fluctuations. While the statistics in this section refer to a single year, we know from the previous sections that trends can vary considerably.

The capital component in 2012-13 amounted to 18% for heritage funding and 10% for the arts (14% for total cultural funding). The proportion was much smaller for Australian government funding: 12% for heritage and 4% for arts (6% overall).[6]

The capital funding proportion varied quite widely in 2012-13 across state and territory governments — for heritage from 36% of total cultural funding in the ACT to only 6% in Queensland (average for all states and territories 20%). The capital content for arts was also highly variable, from 39% in NSW to only 1% in Tasmania. The total capital share for arts in all states and territories was of almost the same magnitude as for heritage: 21% compared with 20% (20% for all cultural funding).

Clearly, not all arts-related projects have a significant capital component. Table 7 separates the most “capital-intensive” arts categories: publicly funded radio and television services and performing arts centres. By far the largest arts component under the federal government is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), for which the capital component was the largest recorded in the statistics ($66.6m). It still accounted for only 5% of the total federal government funding of broadcasting services — a massive $1.28 billion in 2012-13. (State and territory government funding of radio and TV services as a modest $10.5m only, including $1.4m capital.)

Alt=Chart 5

The other main difference in government expenditure on cultural funding was associated with performing arts centres, which was not funded at all in 2012-13 (or in most other years) by the federal government. By contrast, it was a major factor in state and territory government arts funding. These governments funded $270m of performing arts venues, of which 46% ($125m) was capital.

Deducting public broadcasting and performing arts centres leaves (only) $475m or 20% for all other arts funding by the Australian government. There was very little capital expenditure in this, only $10m (2% of $475m).

State and territory government capital funding was concentrated on performing arts centres, but there was a considerable component of $93m in the residual group of all other arts (9% of total funding).[7]

Chart 5 illustrates the role of the capital component of total cultural funding, again relating to 2012-13. In all four components — heritage, public broadcasting, performing arts centres, and other arts, the capital element is much higher in state and territory government funding than for the Australian government.[8]

Music-related Cultural Funding


Table 8 contains cultural funding statistics specifying the categories of heritage and arts, the latter split in three groups based on whether music is likely to be a significant component. The data cover the fiscal years 2007-08 to 2012-13.

The heritage group shows museums to be the largest items of Australian government expenditure (including art museums, which form a minority compared with general museums and cultural centres). Smaller grants go to archives, environmental heritage, and libraries. The funding of these categories, however, accounted for only 20% of total heritage funding by the two top levels of government (and would have been less, especially for libraries, if we had a decent coverage for local government).

Alt=Chart 6

The arts contain three categories that are 100% music-related: music performance, music theatre and opera, and a very small category of music composition and publishing. The total funding of these “100% music” categories in 2012-13 was $174m, of which $91m came from the Australian government and $83m from states and territories.

The second group consists of categories where music plays a significant but undefined role. It includes the largest of all arts categories, radio and television services, which in 2012-13 were funded to the tune of $13 billion, of which all but $11m (less than 0.1%) came from the Australian government.

On a cost basis, or any other criterion, music would be an integral part of total broadcasting, but it would vary considerably over the programs that the ABC and SBS provide. The music content could be 5% or less for news, sport and commentary programs, and approaching 100% for programs generally devoted to music. One of the future challenges will be to provide a more exact measure of music content for our major public broadcasting organisations.

The second-largest category was a collection of “other arts”, most of which would have a substantial music content. The list specifies musical instruments which would be “100% music”, arts education (excluding schools and mainstream courses in colleges, universities and conservatoriums) which would have a significant music content, copyright collection agencies (ditto), recorded media manufacturing (which would be nearly 100% music), and “arts not elsewhere classified”, of which little or nothing is known from the published data. Funding of other arts totalled $372m in 2012-13, split between state and territory governments ($226m) and Australia ($146m).

The third category is performing arts venues, which in 2012-13 was entirely funded by the states and territories ($270m). Musical performances make up a considerable proportion of total performances, and music is also a component of other performances such as dance.

Film and video funding came fourth with $192m, of which $100m came from the federal government. Funding of dance totalled $37m, split roughly between the two levels of government. Multimedia attracted $26m, normally dominated by state and territory government funding but showing a strong increase in Australian government funding in 2012-13.

Alt=Box 5

The final arts group (“Arts III” in Table 8 and Chart 6) contains little or no music. It consists of visual arts and craft ($65m in 2012-13), drama ($62m), other performing arts ($53m, which would be the only category in this group to have any music content), literature and print media ($46m), and design ($11m). State and territory governments contributed $134m of the total funding of $237m in 2012-13.

We cannot establish an exact music content from these statistics, but it is legitimate to make a “guesstimate”. Music would be the 100% driving force for the three “Arts I” categories, which totalled $174m in 2012-13 (Australia $91m, states and territories $83m). Our guess for the largest group, “Arts II”, is between 20% and 30% music content (music is not the driving force, but an important component that is measurable in principle, for example relative to total operating costs). Box 5 shows the estimated proportions relative to total arts funding in 2012-13 of exactly $2.6 billion. Depending on the assumption for "Arts II", the estimated music content is between 24% and 32%. [9]

We haven’t taken this analysis further at this stage. But the most recent factor, as this article reaches its conclusion, is the Australian budget that was brought down in May 2014. We have already referred to our article, Federal Budget Hits Arts, Culture, Heritage and Environment. The realistic expectation must be that the federal government’s arts allocations will remain under a cloud, and that the positive trend in arts funding by state and territory governments over the next few years will be difficult to maintain. This will affect the level as well as the distribution of cultural funding allocations, as is indeed indicated by some forward estimates in the budget documents. Priorities will almost inevitably change.[10]


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, entered 7 July 2014. Some revisions and additions 12 July 2014.


  1. There were other revisions according to the ABS (Cat 4183.0), including changes to the state and territory government statistics in 2007-08, but they don’t seem to have disrupted the basis to a significant extent. Previously, the funding categories were revised in 1999, so only the total forms a time series going back to 1992-93.
  2. There is no available classification of what the figure would have been in 2007-08 if the system hadn’t been changed.
  3. Put another way, we accept that the estimates for 1992-93 to 2006-07 are comparable with 2007-08 to 2012-13 — so the 15% added to the previous figures reflects the general trend to yield a consistent 21-year time series.
  4. Average population across the financial year was substituted for the end-of-June population. This is the correct procedure but the difference is marginal.
  5. This happened despite a significant impact following the Global Financial Crisis, with falls to 54,300 in 2009-10 and 39,000 in 2010-11, before recovering to 71,500 in 2011-12 and 60,700 in 2012-13.
  6. These calculations were derived from Table 6 but are not explicitly shown there.
  7. Some of this capital funding may be associated with the residual statistical class of “other arts”, discussed in the next section.
  8. The fragmentary statistical information on local government expenditure (Box 3) suggests capital funding is also significant at this level of government.
  9. The estimated shares are of course reduced is total cultural funding is used, consisting of $2.6 billion for the arts and just over $3 billion for heritage. But it is reasonable to take a more arts-oriented view here.
  10. The public reaction against the 2014-15 budget has been widespread and vociferous to date. The timing of this article coincides with the swearing-in of a new Senate with some quite unprecedented features including a spate of small and hitherto unknown parties. This Senate will debate the budget starting around now and it is uncertain how many of the budget measures, and which, will survive this debate.
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