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Small to medium organisations

A young boy sits in an old fashioned red cart along with a ukulele, dart board and assorted junk.
Flying Fruit Fly Circus, JUNK. Credit: OGA Creative Agency.
Vital to arts sector ecology, hundreds of small to medium Australian arts organisations occupy the significant territory between individual arts practitioners and larger scale companies. Small to medium arts organisations play a critical role in the arts landscape as a leading public activator of Australia’s arts and cultural life. Their work embraces and engages local artists and is highly accessible to national and international audiences.

Many of our small to medium companies are among the most successful Australian companies internationally. Responsive and exceptionally diverse, these companies provide an environment for creative risk, innovation and experimentation, and a platform for new and emerging work. The Council supported 518 small to medium organisations through our grants program, Four Year Funding, strategic activity and government initiatives in 2018–19.


  • $28.7 million through the Four Year Funding program
  • $10.9 million in project grants and strategic development activity to support small to medium organisations
  • $15.3 million for small to medium organisations through government initiatives, including the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy and the national regional touring programs.

The Four Year Funding program

The 128 organisations receiving Four Year Funding (2017–20) represent diverse art forms and types of practice and provide services to develop the arts sector. They include strong representation from regional Australia, First Nations-led organisations, youth arts companies, and companies that are producing and touring disability-led and mixed-ability arts practice. Four Year Funded Organisations are taking a leadership role in developing new artists and leaders, and achieving an array of artistic, social, cultural and economic outcomes to national and international acclaim.

A highly competitive application and assessment process is underway for the Four Year Funding program for 2021 to 2024. There are insufficient funds available to support all the organisations peer assessors deem meritorious of funding, including arts organisations of significant regional, national or international standing.

Creating and presenting work

Project grants for small to medium organisations fund a range of activities, including the creation of new work, practice based research, creative development, professional skills development, experimentation, collaborations, touring, festivals, productions, exhibitions, performances, publishing, recording, services to develop the arts sector and market development activity. Grants are up to two years in duration to support sustainable practice.

Small to medium companies are leading presenters of new Australian work and bring artistic talent and innovation into Australian communities. In 2018–19 project grants supported small to medium organisations to create more than 3,800 new Australia works and reach audiences of 2.3 million. Organisations receiving Four Year Funding delivered 978 world premieres of new Australian works, 362 creative developments and a further 293 new productions, arrangements or remounts of existing Australian works, reaching audiences of 12.9 million.1

Increased international engagement

The small to medium sector takes Australian arts across borders, strengthening international partnerships and enabling Australian artists to develop and flourish overseas. In 2018–19, 26 small to medium companies funded by Council project grants delivered 458 performances and exhibitions overseas, attended by 1.1 million people – a 49% increase on the previous year. Thirty-nine organisations receiving Four Year Funding delivered 976 performances and exhibitions in 37 countries, attended by 881,000 people – a 26% increase on the previous year.2

Strategic development and capacity building

The Council supports small to medium arts organisations through a range of strategic development, market development and capacity building activities. These include inbound and outbound delegations, projects, exchanges, market representation, leadership programs and the Arts Governance Program. We are currently developing a Business Model Innovation lab which will support organisations to explore and learn about new business models through a pilot learning experience.

Cross-industry partnerships driving innovation and future success

For the past 30 years the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) has been a catalyst for experimentation and innovation across art, science and technology. ANAT forges relationships with industry, academia, community and government to broker opportunities for artists. ANAT is supported through Four Year Funding (2017–20).

“Our art/science residencies bring artists and scientists together in research partnerships that generate new knowledge, ideas and processes beneficial to both fields.

We believe that artists are essential contributors to how we imagine and shape our future.

We understand that experimentation is the bedrock of innovation, and that harnessing diverse perspectives and knowledge is key to Australia’s future.” – ANAT

Two people sit watching a colourful graphic projected on a screen.
Baden Pailthorpe, Clanger (longitude, latitude, decibels), [installation view] 2018. HD video, 4.1 channel surround sound. 06.30 mins. Credit: Jessica Maurer.

Arts to film – questioning assumptions through diversity on screen

What began as a disability workshop in the late 80s has become one of our most successful and ground breaking theatre companies. An ensemble of actors identifying as having intellectual disabilities, Geelong-based Back to Back Theatre have made a body of work that questions the assumptions of what is possible in theatre, but also the assumptions we hold about ourselves and others. The company has toured the world – 83 cities in 27 countries – winning a plethora of awards along the way.

Alongside their international ambitions which have been supported by the Australia Council’s grants and strategic work, Back to Back Theatre have long aspired to expand their reach through digital platforms. Participation in the 2016 HIVE LAB (an initiative of the Adelaide Film Festival, ABC TV, Australia Council and Screen Australia) resulted in their first major foray into film: the singular comedic and dystopic Oddlands which premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2017 where it received the Audience Award for Best Short. It was broadcast on the ABC in March 2019.

Australia Council support for Back to Back Theatre as a Four Year Funded Organisation (2017–20) and strategic support through the HIVE FUND has enabled the company to unlock the potential for a whole strand of new work, which could have long-term multiplier effects for the company, for writers and actors with disabilities, and for the audiences who witness this diversity on screen. The company now have phase one development investment from ABC Drama to explore a six part Oddlands series with the potential to reach an estimated worldwide audience of three million people.

People wearing white hazmat suits sitting on a bus.
ODDLANDS, a film by Back to Back Theatre & Matchbox Pictures. Credit: Tao Weis.


  1. Project reporting is based on funding acquitted in 2018–19, which can include activity that was funded in previous years. Four Year Funded Organisations reporting is for the 2018 calendar year. The data was correct at 30 July 2019.
  2. Project reporting is based on funding acquitted in 2018–19, which can include activity that was funded in previous years. Four Year Funded Organisations reporting is for the 2018 calendar year. The data was correct at 30 July 2019.