Thursday, September 15, 2016

Making ends meet – the brittle new world of arts funding

Everyone is still recovering from the shock of the announcement by the Australia Council back in May this year of which organisations had been successful in obtaining four year operating funding – and which had not. It’s not so much directly due to the transfer of funds from the Australia Council but more a matter of new applicants applying in a competitive funding round, with an expanding sector, yet limited funds and a shrinking arts budget. Planning how to operate in the arts landscape of the future is something everyone needs to do. Having a Plan B and Plan C will be critical.

Everyone is still recovering from the shock of the announcement by the Australia Council back in May this year of which organisations had been successful in obtaining four year operating funding – and which had not. For the moment life goes on for everyone involved, with both those funded and those not, trying to adjust to the brittle new world of Australian arts funding.

Limited and locked up arts funding has always been an issue with a growing population and an expanding arts and cultural sector - in an era of shrinking funding, the problem becomes accentuated.

On a rainy Canberra afternoon I thought ‘this will be good for farmers’, as I headed off to a briefing by the Australia Council for successful ACT recipients of four year funding for organisations. I was there because Craft ACT, an organisation I am on the Board of, was a successful, if small, applicant and needed to know how the funding will operate, what we need to do and what it means for the future.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Banish the bland – Kim Williams spells out a positive Australia

Australia needs more far-sighted strategic vision and discussion and less of the self-serving waffle we get from too many of our politicians. The creative and intellectual capacity of our people is central to a bright, ambitious and optimistic future and essential to avoid a decline into irrelevance, according to Kim Williams, former media executive and composer. He is an Australian who values ideas and his vision for a positive Australia is firmly focused on our artists, scientists and major cultural and scientific institutions.

The National Library of Australia puts on some fine talks, quite a few of which I have attended. Last night I went to hear Kim Williams, with his background as a media executive and a composer, talk about the promotion of a positive Australia. Williams has had a long and complex career and while the careers of all interesting people inevitably get mixed reviews, his seem to be more mixed than most.

Ignore all this and his talk was fascinating, especially in the historical moment in which we find ourselves. He ranged across many topics that resonated with my interests in Australian culture. I was particularly struck by his discussion of philanthropy, because it is an immediate practical issue for one of the projects I work on, Design Canberra.

The Kenneth Myer lecture was presented by the National Library, one of the institutions responsible for our national memory that Kim Williams values for Australia's future.

His talk, ‘Holding to true North’, the latest in a long-running series of annual Kenneth Myer lectures, managed to roam widely, as befits someone who has an extensive arts and business background. As the Library noted he has headed prominent organisations such as Musica Viva Australia, Foxtel, the Australian Film Commission, the Sydney Opera House Trust and News Corp Australia. How he ever survived as head of News Corp is hard to imagine - but then the answer is, he didn't.

‘Falling down in our education of future generations is the grand failure of our intergenerational duty of care’.

There needs to be more of this sort of talk in Australia and less of the self-serving, short-sighted waffle we get from too many of our politicians. Thanks are due to the National Library for providing the opportunity. Canberra seems to be the venue for both the best and the worst of what passes for our national political life.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Greater than the sum of the parts: cultural funding and the power of diversity

Cultural diversity is critical to the richness and energy of Australia's arts and culture life and has a crucial role to play in innovation, that favourite word of the era. Where cultures intersect and different world views and perspectives meet, innovation is far more likely to occur. Unfortunately the importance of cultural diversity to our cultural life is not always reflected in what government chooses to support in the arts sector and how enduring that support is. As Parliament resumes after the election, talk will turn to the need for savings and the importance of innovation for Australia's economy. This is when clarity about the role of Australian culture is essential.

Cultural diversity underpins so much of value in Australia. It creates an exciting country which is enjoyable to live in. It also ensures innovation flourishes, because where cultures intersect differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged.

This innovation, and the creativity that underpins it, is essential to the new clever and clean industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape.

The Aboriginal Memorial, 1987-88 Ramingining, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, natural earth pigments on wood. An installation in the entrance National Gallery of Australia of 200 hollow log ceremonial coffins from Central Arnhem Land. The Aboriginal memorial was created in response to the Bicentenary of Australia, which marked 200 years of European settlement. This is the single most important work in the Gallery and a powerful expression of the centrality of Aboriginal culture to Australian culture.

Culture and creative industries are pivotal to jobs and to income. For Indigenous communities in particular one of the most important economic resources they possess is their culture. It may not be mining but it mines a far richer seam in the long term – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal.  

'It may not be mining but it mines a far richer seam in the long term – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value'

But how does government help cultural diversity grow – or not – through its support for culture? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans

In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. The many promises of design come together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

In a rapidly changing world, heading inevitably down a path of greater globalisation, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international), between globalisation and regionalism. It’s apparent across Australia, not least in the regional centre in which I live, Canberra – a town which also happens to be the nation’s capital.

‘There is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international), between globalisation and regionalism’

In recent years Canberra has reached a cultural critical mass, attracting more people to live, work and study in the city. This has been reflected in an increased level of positive national and international recognition. The annual Design Canberra festival is one sign of this.

Ceramics by artist Tjimpuna Williams, Ernabella Arts Centre, in a Design Canberra pop up, 2015. Design Canberra is firmly based on local creativity, but as a national festival located in Australia's capital, it has broad links. In a perfect example of cross-cultural and cross-national collaboration, the ceramics were created during a residency in Jingdezhen, China, in early 2015, with long-time Craft ACT member, Janet deBoos as host and mentor.

A vision for the designed city – design comes of age in the city of Burley Griffin
A celebration of all things design, Design Canberra is one of the most exciting initiatives of Craft ACT. Having started in 2014, Design Canberra is now entering its third year, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

Design Canberra: clever and clean – the knowledge economy of the future

See main article, 'Designs on the future'

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

Increasingly the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape are both clever and clean. They are mainly service industries that make up the knowledge economy, based on intellectual enquiry and research and exhibiting both innovative services or products and also new and innovative ways of doing business.

At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.

Managing meaning
The creative industries are underpinned by the arts and culture sector and the artists and arts and cultural organisations, mainly small, that make it up and create the content which feeds into and inspires other sectors.

Design Canberra: culture in the backyard – the thread of design connects arts, culture and creative industries

See main article, 'Designs on the future'

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

When I worked in Canberra on national arts and culture programs and policy for over 13 years I had little to do with Canberra itself. My focus was firmly everywhere else in Australia, rather than my own backyard. 

The OZeCulture conference, the national series of conferences for artists and cultural organisations using the web, was the reason I first moved to Canberra in late 2000. I had come from the Powerhouse Museum to join the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts to organise the first of the OZeCulture series and I was closely involved with all the subsequent conferences.

Culture in the backyard
Since leaving the Australian Government Ministry for the Arts in 2014, and moving into a new stage of my career in the arts and cultural sector, I have found myself much more engaged with local arts and culture in Canberra. 

As part of this I have become involved at the heart of developments with Australian design. Since leaving the Australian Government I have been a member of the Board of Craft ACT since late 2014 and, in parallel, an Adjunct with the University of Canberra through the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research in the Faculty of Arts and Design. 

All of these strands come together with my previous involvement in research and policy for creative industries in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra. The promise of Design Canberra was a major reason I was attracted to Craft ACT in the first place.

The thread of design
Looking back, almost 16 years later, it shows how design flows through so much of the arts and culture sector. It is illuminating to see how this thread connects Design Canberra with work I was lucky to be party to over more than a decade, within museums and other cultural institutions, government departments and creative industries.

See main article, 'Designs on the future'

See related article:
Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

Design Canberra: a whole world out there – building global connection through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

See main article, 'Designs on the future'

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was created in 2004 to promote cooperation between cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The 116 cities which currently make up this network work together towards the common objective of placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level. The Network covers seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Arts; Media Arts; Film; Design; Gastronomy; Literature; and Music.