Documents obtained by the ABC have shown NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin personally killed off funding for certain projects, with $404,000 stripped from the funding round used for a special unnamed project.

17 arts projects in NSW were supposed to share in an overall pool of $660,000. These projects included Sydney Fringe Festival ($35,000), Articulate art space ($50,000), Paula Abood ($46,000), Cement Fondu ($32,000).

As reported by the ABC, only six funding projects received $256,000, with the decisions handed down by Don Harwin resulting in some arts groups being forced to cancel their programs entirely.

A handwritten note from Harwin on ABC-obtained documents said: “The first six recommended applications from the panel are approved, in accordance with revised budget parameters.”

It’s not clear exactly what the ‘special project’ is that required the $404,000, as the name of it was redacted in the documents.

The ABC did however obtain an email trail between the Minister’s office and Create NSW, which brought to light what the ABC is calling “a frantic search for money to fund that project.”

Even more concerning is an email obtained by the ABC, which sees Create NSW investment director Sophia Zachariou requesting a ministerial adviser think against redirecting the funds.

Create NSW investment director Sophia Zachariou
Create NSW investment director Sophia Zachariou

In a dot-point outline of the “issues/risks if Create were not to fund all of the recommended projects in Arts and Cultural Projects in Round 2”, Zachariou listed:

  • “Concern that funding decisions are being politicised”
  • “Loss of trust of agency and independence by the peers”

The ABC sought comment from Opposition arts spokesman Walt Secord, who said: “I think it’s absolutely disgraceful and he’s robbed hundreds of artists to showcase their work.”

Arts Party leader Barry Keldoulis told the ABC: “There’s clearly a $400,000 hole in this funding cycle which aligns with ever-reducing funding for arts and cultural opportunities.”

The ABC asked Harwin’s office whether the funds stripped from eligible arts projects was the first injection of $1 million promised to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

A spokesman from Harwin’s office delivered the below statement to the ABC:

“Funding is capped by budget availability, there are occasions when funding flexibility is needed. This is not unusual for any government body and will continue to be the case.”