“There’s really no change to the Morrison government’s strong commitment to the arts,” Mr Fletcher told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Mr Fletcher acknowledged the unrest over Thursday’s announcement but said “the same number of people” will continue working on arts policy.
“Reorganisations within government do happen from time to time.
“It’s not uncommon for there not to be a one-to-one match between ministers and his or her department.”
Mr Fletcher also highlighted his status inside cabinet as proof that arts would not be neglected.
But former federal arts minister Peter Garrett attacked the decision, saying it was “an intolerable slap in the face to Australia’s arts community”.
“It really send the strongest of signals that the current government doesn’t value the arts – how could it be [interpreted] any other way?” he said.
Mr Garrett, who served as arts minister under Kevin Rudd’s Labor government from 2007-10, said government departmental mergers “always have impacts”.
“They always result in less opportunity, less resourcing, less political weight. That’s absolutely the truth of it.
“It’s very typical of the views of a philistine who doesn’t appreciate the significance the arts plays across all aspects of Australian life.”
National Association for the Visual Arts executive director Esther Anatolitis said the news was “enormously concerning”.
“It’s a reasonable assumption for the arts sector that this is a sign of worse things to come,” she said.
Veteran arts administrator Kim Williams said it would be “unwise not to be concerned” about the demotion of arts from the title.
“Clearly it has symbolic significance,” he said.
“There is an absence of any real policy devotion to Australia’s cultural endeavours. That’s to be regretted because Australia is a richly productive creative nation.”
Dumped arts department secretary Mike Mrdak told staff in an email on Thursday that he was not consulted and only found out hours before the decision was announced.
“We were not permitted any opportunity to provide advice on the machinery of government changes, nor were our views ever sought on any proposal to abolish the department or to changes to our structure and operations,” Mr Mrdak said.
A spokesman for Mr Fletcher said arts funding totals $749 million in 2019-20.
The Australia Council for the Arts said it was “pleased” there would be no functional changes to the arts. A spokesman for Screen Australia said he was unable to comment.
Josh Dye is a news reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.