New CEO for the Australia Council

The number of grants categories will be slashed from about 150 to no more than 12 under the vision of the new Australian Council CEO.

Newly appointed CEO Tony Grybowski said the massive streamlining effort was designed to make the application process for funding much easier for artists. ‘We have 150 categories and about 300 criteria that have evolved over time. I think we can do a lot better to streamline that so that when an artist sends in an idea we don’t say “Does it fit in the box?” we say “Who is the best peer expert to assess this?” and get on with it.’

Grybowski said he anticipated 10 to 12 grant categories, which would be decided upon by the end of the year so they could be publicised early next year and be implemented for the 20014-15 financial year.

A career arts manager, Grybowski was named today as the new CEO of the Australia Council for the Arts, in an announcement by Minister for the Arts Tony Burke at Parliament House. He is an internal appointment, having served as Executive Director of the Major Performing Arts Board since 2007 with previous private and public sector experience including Sydney Symphony, Musica Viva Australia and seven years as General Manager of the Australian Youth Orchestra, as well as a period at Arts Victoria.

The appointment came at a momentous time, in the week that the increased arts funding in the Creative Australia policy was passed by the Federal Budget and on the day that the Parliament had the Second Reading of the Australia Council Bill.

‘It’s really a moment in time. In the 40 year history of the Australia Council, this is the first time we have had new legislation and we now have the opportunity for the arts to be supported and to grow with this really important flexibility underlying it.’

Streamlining the grants system to make the application process simpler is part of Grybowski’s vision ‘to be the best national arts funding agency in the world’.

‘We are up there,’ he says, pointing to the Council’s work with the International Federation of Arts Councils, its data analysis, its online application process and its system for developing artistic vibrancy. ‘Our work on artistic vibrancy is recognised worldwide. It’s used by the American Symphony Orchestra League as a key component in training orchestral managers.’

But Grybowski says there is more the Council can do to improve systems and support artists. He says the new governance under the Australia Council Act will have big practical dividends. Currently the Government appoints all members of art form boards and the Council is chosen from representatives of these boards. This is a cumbersome process which prevents flexible boards that are responsive to new art forms.

Under the new system the Government will appoint the 12 members of the Council and those members will appoint the boards. Grybowski gives the example of music, the art form in which he trained as a tuba player. ‘In music we have about 10 different genres – hip hop, classical, jazz blues. It’s pretty hard to have the art form board be experts in all those genres. This way if we get an avalanche of applications in jazz or hip hop we can set up a specialist board to assess them.’

This week’s budget locked in an additional $75 million in funding for the Australia Council including $15 million for ‘unfunded excellence’. Grybowski said this money will go to proposals that were assessed as worthy of funding by art form boards but had previously missed out on funding because of budget constraints. He said the ‘unfunded excellence’ money would not be spread equally between art forms. Music and literature will be the primary beneficiaries.

One of Grybowski’s pet projects is the development of cultural leadership through a mentoring and partnership program to support mid-career artists and arts managers.

He is also keen to leverage the information the Australia Council collects as a funding body to produce better trend analysis that can be valuable to the whole sector. ‘There’s great potential there. There’s a real gap in data and it really comes down to being the best advocates and leaders we can be for the arts and culture.’

Though it is an exciting time to be taking over at the Australia Council, there is also uncertainty with an election in September but Grybowski is optimistic. The increase in funding is provided for in this year’s Budget and the structure that places art funding decision at arms length from the government of the day is established.

‘If you look at the history of the Australia Council there have been few times when governments have significantly reduced funding. The arts enjoy bipartisanship. Different governments have different policies but the important things is that the arms length process is retained. We have to be nimble and flexible.’

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