Catalyst for what?

Artists as Catalysts - Alhondiga, Bilbao, 2013

Image: Ars Electronica via Flickr

Richard Watts’ Arts Hub article titled Sector responses to Catalyst range from caution to dismay gives an overview of the recent reaction to Federal Arts Minister Mitch Fifield’s announcement to return of some funding to the Australia Council and introduce Catalyst, the new funding program set to replace the unpopular National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA).

Sector reaction was varied but on the whole appears to be ‘positively cautious’ and welcomed the Minister’s measured and receptive tone. In response to widespread criticism of the NPEA and cuts to Australia Council funding announced by the previous Minster, $8m will be returned to the affectionately known OzCo, with $12m set aside to fund new programs separately under the Ministry of the Arts run Catalyst fund.

However, according to Watts’ article, caution and disappointment remain—along with a level of dismay—that despite the passionate and cohesive debate, the unprecedented number of written submissions to the Senate Committee, and clear articulation that all funds should be returned to OzCo, it appears to some that Fifield’s response fails to address and dismisses significant issues raised by the sector.

Proof of the pudding and any real impact assessment of these changes will lie in future funding announcements.

Perhaps correctly, the Minister notes that Catalyst’s peer review process is not dissimilar to assessment models run by most state jurisdictions. He also disputes the argument about a duplication of bureaucracy stating emphatically that existing Ministry for the Arts staff and application/assessment procedures will be used, not new ones.

Time will tell, and arguments continue. Proof of the pudding and any real impact assessment of these changes will lie in future funding announcements. It is then that these changes can be properly assessed: in the meantime let’s have a look at what Catalyst offers courtesy of the extract from the press release announcing its creation.

“The program aims to forge new creative partnerships and stimulate novel ways to build participation by Australians in our cultural life. It will enable access to high quality arts experiences in regional communities and international activities that achieve cultural diplomacy objectives, and recognises the essential role of small to medium arts organisations.

Catalyst will be administered by the Ministry for the Arts and will work in a complementary way with the Australia Council, Creative Partnerships Australia and other programs.

There will be $12 million annually available through Catalyst.

Catalyst funding will be available from three streams: partnerships and collaborationsinnovation and participation; and international and cultural diplomacy.

The new Catalyst fund is open to small, medium and large arts organisations at a national, regional and community level. It will support projects that demonstrate innovation, increase access and participation in the regions and enhance our international reputation. Funding can also be used to help attract further private sector support to arts projects including infrastructure.

Applications will be assessed with the assistance of independent assessors. More than 300 assessors are registered with the Ministry for the Arts including artists, curators, philanthropists and audience members.

The guidelines and information on application opening dates are available on the Ministry for the Arts website at

The Ministry for the Arts goes on to emphasise that Catalyst will work in a complementary way with the Australia Council, Creative Partnerships Australia and other programs,and that what is described as a rebalancing of funds will provide the Australia Council with greater capacity to meet the needs of small and medium organisations and individual artists.

In its response, Museums Australia released a statement welcoming the recently announced arts funding changes. Linking opportunities associated with the creation of Catalyst to long-held objectives aimed at improving digital access to collections and strategies towards strengthening the representation of indigenous cultures in our collecting institutions. 

Watch this space.

Michael Rolfe, CEO M&G NSW


Editor’s note: Richard Watts’ article is published on Arts Hub as premium content. If you are a subscriber the article can be read here.

The ABC published Catalyst: new arts policy name, same old story which more or less reinterates the sentiment in Watts’ article.

ABC’s Radio National interviewed Minister Fifield about the NPEA roll back.

ArtsHub’s article Catalyst contradictions revealed at Senate Estiminates explores further.

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