Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why cultural diversity is central to Australia’s future promise – a refocused Labor arts policy?

Can Australia successfully navigate the treacherous and confusing times in which we live? Understanding the crucial importance of our cultural diversity to our cultural, social and economic future will be essential. Applying that in the policies and practices that shape our future at all levels across Australia can ensure we have a bright, productive and interesting 21st Century. An important part of this are the political parties, major and minor, that are increasingly negotiating the compromises that shape our world. The recent launch by the Labor Party of a new group, Labor for the Arts, is an important development. Combining as it does a focus from an earlier time on both arts and multiculturalism, it could potentially open the way for some innovative and forward-thinking policy.

Without a grasp of the importance of Australia’s cultural diversity to its future – culturally, socially and economically – we will find it impossible to navigate the treacherous and confusing times in which we are living. Due to failures of leadership and lack of vision we have drifted into a world in which diversity is increasingly under attack and borders are closing.

Innovation is applied creativity – and it’s more than a catchphrase
In this landscape it cannot be stressed too many times that cultural diversity is inextricably linked to pressing issues such as innovation – which is, after all, just applied creativity – because where cultures intersect, new ideas flourish. It fosters new approaches and helps breed the innovation needed for the modern knowledge economy and our creative industries.

Where cultures intersect, new ideas and approaches flourish.

However, for this to be reflected in strategic policy and the day to day decisions that flow from it, it is critical that decision-making bodies that affect our future understand it and its implications. This includes an array of organisations across Australian society at all levels – small and large businesses and their industry bodies, community organisations and local, state and territory and national governments. This includes the political parties, major and minor, that are increasingly negotiating the compromises that shape our world and determine our future.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future

The real danger for Australia’s arts and culture is not funding cuts but steady, unending neglect. The decline of Government arts and culture support can be attributed to four long-running factors. This is what I call a quadruple whammy, caused by lack of indexation, the cumulative effect of ‘efficiency dividends’, the trend towards project funding rather than operational funding and falling behind as the population and economy expands.

The real danger for the future of arts and culture in Australia is not so much big cuts to funding by government. Though they are always possible, expenditure on arts and culture is so small relative to the rest of government spending, that there aren’t really the savings to make it worth while,

Drawing on the strengths of the communities underpinning Australia's cultural diversity can help provide partnerships and support and build a truly broad and representative contemporary culture.

Much more likely and more dangerous is that the arts will stagnate and decline by being ignored or sidelined, with support steadily eroded. That’s where the ‘efficiency dividend’ is so dangerous.

Four long-running factors add up over time
The decline of Government arts and culture support – and hence a negative impact on Australia’s arts and culture – can be attributed to four long-running factors, what I have called a quadruple whammy. Get to know them well because they will be closing or limiting an existing service or preventing the startup of a new service near you at some stage in the immediate future. The process is already well underway.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles

After three weeks travelling round the North Island of New Zealand, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of the clean and clever industries of the future and the skilled knowledge workers who make them. In the capital, Wellington, instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta. It’s clear that the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. These skills which Weta depends on for its livelihood are also being used to tell important stories from the past.

I’ve just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable three week visit to the North Island of New Zealand. Despite landing only two days after a major 7.8 magnitude earthquake that produced long-lasting damage and thousands of aftershocks for several weeks afterwards, it was a country I felt very much at home in.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture

Australia’s arts and culture is at a critical stage. One of the issues confronting it is lack of any kind of shared sense of what the role of government is in encouraging our arts and culture. The whole set of interlinked problems with the relationship between government and Australia’s arts and culture can be reduced to a lack of strategic vision and a long-term plan for the future. This deficiency is most apparent in the lack of any guiding policy, like trying to navigate a dark and dangerous tunnel without a torch or flying at night without lights or a map.

This is the second in a series of two articles. The first one, ‘If the arts are important but not enough people know it, are they really important?’ looks at some of the critical issues raised by the current malaise in the arts and culture sector in Australia. This second article discusses some of the ways available to address it.

Australia’s arts and culture is at a critical stage. One of the issues confronting it is lack of any kind of shared vision about what the role of government is in encouraging our arts and culture.

Without a cultural policy to map out the destination, it's difficult to find the road forward, especially in unexpected circumstances.

Many of our current problems with Australia’s arts and culture come down to a lack of policy. If the Government doesn't have a policy that spells out what it thinks is important about arts and culture – and why – and what it intends to do about it and what that will lead to, then the present ad hoc and inconsistent situation will continue.

Monday, October 31, 2016

If the arts are important but not enough people know it, are they really important?

As the new landscape of Australia’s arts and culture emerge in the post-Brandis era, we are starting to see how organisations are adapting and the issues they are facing in doing so. To a lesser degree we are also seeing how artists themselves are responding. It seems clear that the absence of any overall strategic approach to arts and culture – whether from the Government or from the arts and culture sector – is having a deadening effect.

This is the first in a series of two articles. This one looks at some of the critical issues raised by the current malaise in the arts and culture sector in Australia. The second article, ‘Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture’, will discuss some of the ways available to address it.

We are starting to see what the new landscape of Australia’s arts and culture will begin to look like post-Brandis and his merry band of bright ideas. Now he’s no longer Arts Minister he can turn his full attention to the legal system – but at least the arts might be spared more havoc.

'Advocating the arts' forum panel at Canberra School of Art.

The week before last I went to a forum at the Canberra School of Arts about advocating for the arts. It covered a wide range of topics but I thought there were several things that emerged that are worth noting. I had planned to publish this article earlier but I’ve been distracted by all the events that have been on or are about to happen as part of Design Canberra 2016. I’ve been covering some of those but the implications from the presentation at the School of Arts are long term and worth considering more closely.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Putting culture on the main agenda – the power of policy

With the ongoing malaise due to the absence of national arts and cultural policy in Australia, it's worth reminding ourselves what beneficial impact good policy can have. To understand the power of policy to make an impact in the world, it’s worthwhile contrasting two recent major Australian Government cultural policies – the National Cultural Policy and the National Indigenous Languages Policy. This helps illuminate how cultural policy can promote the long view, innovation, breadth and leadership. Both policies showed that more important than funding or specific initiatives was the overall strategic vision and the way in which it attempted to place culture not just on the main agenda, but somewhere near the centre of the main agenda.

Government can do some very important things, but usually doesn’t. Sometimes in despair at the shortcomings of government, I’ve been forced to comment that it’s better if government is ineffective, so it does less damage.

The power of policy to connect - in an increasingly interconnected world it's crucial not to miss the boat.

However, when it works, even if it only moves the world one centimeter, because it is able to move everything that one centimeter, it can change the world. When I worked as Membership Manager for the iconic Powerhouse Museum in Sydney I was able to achieve some very useful things but they were mainly only of value to the Museum and its supporters.

'Government can do some very important things, but usually doesn’t'

In contrast when I worked for twelve years in the arts and culture agency of the Australian Government – under the various names and in the assorted departments through which it travelled – the policies and program I was involved with developing had an impact across a whole country.

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.