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HomeVolume 28Minister Paech needs to face the music

Minister Paech needs to face the music


The chamber music ensembles in Alice Springs and Darwin are at risk of closing because the NT Government has reduced or cut funding.

The groups are almost entirely run by volunteers: The one in The Centre, tongue-in-cheek called the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra (ASWCO), was enticed to go through the cumbersome incorporation process last year only to be told that there’s no money for them.

They performed to a full house last week but will be struggling to stage performances in August and October.

Says Public Officer Maya Cifali: “We cannot survive. We don’t know where we are standing.”

A small grant received from the Alice Springs Town Council will allow to hire Witchetty’s at Araluen for the remaining concerts this year.

“We don’t know what we will be doing” after that, she says.

The government funding process is convoluted and not transparent.

Arts Minister Chansey Paech, the only NT Government front bencher in The Centre, is the obvious go-to but he is passing the buck.

He “does not consider grant applications,” his minder tells us.

While he is the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage he “has no input into the allocation of grants.

“These are questions for the Department. I can forward your email to the TFHC media unit now.”

That’s the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities

“Just looking at this, and on advice from TFHC, I’m thinking it might have been a CBF grant in which case it is best to contact media [at] DITT.”

That’s the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.

The Alice Orchestra is hardly asking for much, $60,000 a year, reduced from $75,000, to pay its artistic director Markus Kuchenbuch who’s been doing the as a consultant for minimal pay for nearly the past five years.

Ms Cifali says she confronted Treasurer Eva Lawler during a small, exclusive Budget launch in Alice Springs about millions of dollars being spent on roads serving gas fracking companies in Beetaloo.

Would there not be a “small pocket somewhere” from which the measly grant could be funded? Ms Lawler promised to look into it.

Ms Cifali says she will soon be writing to the Treasurer to enquire how her deliberations are progressing.

The creative director of the Arafura Music Collective in the Top End, Claire Kilgariff, a flautist, also says funding has been reduced by reducing the number of funding rounds available each year.

Other “small organisation” are in the same position, she says.

Two funding rounds a year have been cut to one, and the word on the street is that the funding has been redirected within the Department of TFHC to “non arts portfolios” causing “major impact on organisations and innovative arts performances across NT”.

With the ASWCO, the bulk of the work is done by volunteers. The musicians in the ASWCO are not paid. They have to hold other jobs to pay the bills.

Some money comes from private donations, including one for $2000 in Alice Springs. Admission charges help. There is income from merchandise. 

Some 120 people were at the ASWCO concert on May 20, which turned out to be the last for its director, with visiting composer Romano Crovici from NSW.

Ms Kilgariff says the Arafura performances – around six a year – are generally sold out, with up to 230 people at the larger performances. But revenue from ticket sales is simply not enough.

The positive impact of the local chamber orchestra on the image of the town is substantial, says Ms Cifali, vital at a time when Alice Springs needs “new positiveness as a counterpart to the negativity”.

The WCO provides a focus for the towns people to be proud of the achievement of their artists, she says.

All this makes a farce of government hype about its Arts and Culture Grants Program which “offers various grants for projects that explore, develop and profile arts and culture in the Northern Territory. These grants are important to the health and wellbeing of our communities.

“They also support economic recovery of the NT by providing opportunities to grow the creative and cultural sector, encourage artistic excellence and achievement and promote community participation in arts and culture.”

The ASWCO dates back some sic years, in its early days playing on the Mall lawns and in the Anglican Church.

Mr Kuchenbuch led the group from 2018. Now he is leaving town.

PHOTO at top: Mr Kuchenbuch at left during the concert last week, and in the video, inviting the audience to show appreciation for the musicians. 


UPDATE May 29:

A spokesperson from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade provided the following statement:

 The Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra Inc. lodged an application under the Community Benefit Fund seeking $253,727 over three years.

Community Benefit Fund grant programs receive significant interest from community groups seeking funding.

Applications are assessed by the Community Benefit Fund Committee and recommendations are made based on the strength of all applications lodged and the available budget. It is not possible to fund all applications to the Community Benefit Fund.

The Community Benefit Fund team provides assistance to organisations in addressing program guidelines as best they can. This opportunity is available to all organisations including the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra Inc. should they decide to apply again in the next major grant funding round, which opens on 1, July 2023.

The Arafura Wind Ensemble received $12,092 under the Community Benefit Fund in 2020 to take part in the Australian National Band Championships. However due to the COVID-19 pandemic the event was cancelled and the grant was repurposed to a regional tour of the NT.

The Arafura Wind Ensemble has not received any further Community Benefit Fund grants since then.


  1. Minister for Arts and Culture? But if I am correct his knowledge is more from the fields of environmental and land management, conservation and horticulture.
    Horticulture may be an “art” but more the science for the development, sustainable production, marketing and use of high-value, intensively cultivated food and ornamental plants, nothing to do with chamber music ensembles.

  2. Minister Chansey Paech, the only NT Government front bencher in The Centre is also the Minister for Justice but claimed that he was not responsible for opening the grog and gambling floodgates of our beleaguered town.
    He was once considered one of our own who would fearlessly represent and support our interests but he has turned out to be a miserable failure.
    You have to ask?
    Does he have the courage, the ticker, to do what we elected him for?

  3. Using “world” in the title of the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra is a little confusing.
    On one hand people may think it is a Centralia piece of irony, on the other hand, some may consider it to be part of the “world music’” movement as coined by Peter Gabriel.
    Millions of punters tend to consider “world music” as the bringing together of the the world’s non western traditions in one big happy melting pot, others point out that it is the cynical watering down and commercial exploitation of what’s left of authenticity in many aural traditions.
    Either way the existence of any live music these days is a struggle and a rarity, as the general public will not pay what it costs to put a living breathing musician on stage.
    Please support the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra at their next concert!

  4. @Jon Rose. A spot of irony is most welcome. Your comment on the “world” brought to mind Billy Connoly’s World Tour of Australia (and New Zealand and Scotland).
    As for the funding of art and culture, multi millions for consultancies and buildings and other empire building and photo opportunity endeavours but SFA for the struggling artists.
    Incidentally regarding funding you can replace “art and culture” and “struggling artist” with anything else and the same applies.
    Joni Mitchell’s song “For Free” is well worth listening to.

  5. Thanks to Jon Rose and Frank Baarda for their comments. Indeed the name of AS World Chamber Orchestra was discussed at incorporation time.
    It was kept because music lovers in Alice Springs were already used to it after the previous four years of performances, but mainly to insist on the World Modern Classic type of music chosen and performed by the musicians of this ensemble.
    Music of any type remains the oxygen of our community.

  6. With reference to the update of 29 May.
    As far as I am aware, a grant application over three years was not lodged to by any authorised ASWCO Inc officer.
    The application to “major community grant” was lodged on 27 Feb 2023 for $75,000 for 2023.
    This was replaced on 7 March 2023 by a similar application on the right form for “events”.
    No CBF grant (minor nor major) was ever allocated to Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra Incorporated.


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