Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


State support for the arts is not a new phenomenon but a tradition that can be traced to ancient times. Then as n o w a tension has existed between supporting a few excellent projects found in or associated with certain established art forms (now reflected primarily in opera and classical orchestral music), rather than the bulk of art forms that exist in the community at large, that is elitism versus egalitarianism in the arts. The question that has arisen in recent times, especially since the decades after World War II when governments started to provide direct support for the arts, is one of relative emphasis between elitism and egalitarianism.

This study addresses the question from the origins of Commonwealth Government support for the arts in Australia, and support for music specifically, through to the present time. Many changes have taken place in Australia's artistic life especially since the 1960s. These changes are partly a result of a dramatic transition in the size and cultural composition of Australia's population and partly of much stronger international influences brought about through revolutionary changes in transport and communication technologies. As a result enormous growth has occurred in the number and diversity of art forms, along with increased community interest in the arts and public demands for governments to provide more support for the development of quality arts activities. The Australia Council was established to meet such demands and to give effect to the development of an arts charter for the future.

This study goes beyond a descriptive account of the development of Commonwealth Government support for the arts in Australia from 1908 to 1991, to analyse the nature of the changes that have taken place in the artistic life of Australia and h o w well the Australia Council, as the Commonwealth Government's main agency charged with the support and promotion of the arts, has responded to these over time. It also identifies what emphasis the Australia Council has given elitism versus egalitarianism, and what the music community's perceptions are in relation to this emphasis and the associated choices the Council has made in the distribution of support for music art forms. The Australia Council Act expresses a dual policy of excellence and participation, and while the concurrent achievement of these two goals m a y not be impossible, there is an inherent tension between them. The Council, through its art form Boards and panels of experts, inevitably faces difficult questions of choice in its attempts to achieve a balance between quality of achievement and equity of access and participation.

In the initial years of government support in Australia, music policy was fundamentally elitist in its emphasis and related essentially to the maintenance and development of an established hierarchy of certain music forms and activities. A marked shift in emphasis occurred in the 1970s when arts policy broadened to include government support for new populist music forms. Government policy since then has attempted to establish a more middle ground between elitism and egalitarianism.

Despite the attempt to achieve balance between excellence and equity, there is growing dissatisfaction among the music community with the way in which the Council is performing its complex and difficult role and the way it has distributed arts support between competing interests. The commonly held perception is that choices made give preference to elite interests. The dissatisfaction has been exacerbated in part by the increased claims on public subsidy since the 1970s without comparable growth in Government support.

A national survey was conducted with individual musicians and music organisations to determine their respective views about the importance of and perceived effectiveness with which the Australia Council's Performing Arts Board conducts its various functions. The results indicated that both individual musicians and music organisations hold similar views about the effectiveness of the Board, namely that it is not very effective in fulfilling most of its functions. Musicians perceived it to be least effective in informing the music community about its role, while organisations perceived it to be least effective in business and industry support. The results showed no significant difference between musicians and organisations in their perception of which Board functions are most important. Organisations specifically perceived the equitable distribution of financial sponsorship to individuals, groups and organisations, and representing the needs of the music community to government as high priority areas, while musicians gave the highest rating to promoting Australian music and music performance overseas.

Some differences emerged between the Performing Arts Board's self perceived role and the music community's expectations of the Board. Generally the Board considered it was attending to most of its functions at a satisfactory level, and that top priority should encouraging diversity and innovation in music. The perception among musicians and music organisations is that the Council needs to reconcile more successfully the diverse interests and needs of arts producers, consumers, as well as Government.

Two central themes to emerge from the thesis are the need for improved communication to occur between the Performing Arts Board and the music community as a whole, and for the music community to work together as an integrated network to promote its collective interests more successfully not only to governments, but also potential private sources of support and to the public at large.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.