Saturday, July 4, 2020

Better late than never – does Powerhouse Museum turnaround signal new promise?

For years the community campaign to halt the planned closure, transfer and site sell off of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, Sydney has struggled to change the mind of a stubborn and out of touch State Government. Given that NSW had the potential to be in the forefont of the new economy – and jobs – of the future, abandoning the promise of the Powerhouse Museum and its vast collection to contribute to this exhibited mediocrity of vision and incompetent economic management. Perhaps, after all the effort by supporters of this great museum, we are now finally seeing some progress.

Breaking news this morning is that the planned closure, demolition and site sale of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has been halted by the State Government. Instead the Museum will operate from both the Ultimo and Parramatta sites.

In its own way, the Powerhouse Museum is as important a landmark as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Exactly what this will mean in practice remains to be seen, but retaining the Museum where it is and adding a campus in Parramatta could be amajor improvement – if handled properly. This is what those opposed to the closure and transfer have long been calling for.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Now for the bad news and the good news – creative sector relief package finally announced

For the creative sector it’s a case of both good news and bad news in a world that has been very much about bad news. With the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown of most of the creative sector, the announcement of massive reductions to Government support for humanities courses in universities, job losses at our major cultural institutions and continuing loss of ABC services, there has not been a lot to smile about.

First the bad news – the National Gallery of Australia will shed staff due to a range of pressures including the ongoing impact of the efficiency dividend. I’ll write about this separately later. What I want to focus on first is the good news – Arts Minister Paul Fletcher has been persuaded by relentless lobbying from the creative sector that it has been disproportionately impacted by Government action to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and needs relief.

Life saving buoy - Emergency use only.

He in turn has managed to persuade the Government it finally needs to act. There have been hints around for a while that this might occur, coming to a head in the last few days. The creative sector will get access to $250 million worth of grants and loans under a COVID-19 recovery package unveiled today.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Creative and cultural futures – understanding the creative and cultural economy

Survival in the creative sector in a post-COVID will require enhanced literacy in the opportunities of the new industries of the future, the clean and clever knowledge economy which is altering our world on a daily basis. Now a new short course delivered completely online in the new digital universe we are all increasingly inhabiting will look closely at the broader impacts of creativity and culture, both economic and social. It will outline the role of the creative sector in managing meaning and explain how telling Australian stories puts us on the international stage in an increasingly globalised world.

Survival in the rapidly changing and reshaping world of work in the creative sector post-COVID-19 will require enhanced literacy in the opportunities of the new industries of the future, the clean and clever knowledge economy which is altering our world on a daily basis. Over the last couple of years I have developed and presented a post-graduate course at the University of Canberra called ‘Impact and Enterprise’, which looks at the creative and cultural economy and its broader impacts. What is unique about the course is that it doesn’t cover only the economic impacts but also the social impacts, threading the two together.

Wheat silos with stories - the interrelationship of creativity and culture with society, community and the economy is complex and dynamic.

Economic relevance and community connection
Both economic relevance and a sense of being embedded with community are complementary aspects of contemporary creativity and culture that make it so strong a force. It links up my interest in both the economic role of culture and creativity and in their community role of building resilience, well-being, social inclusion and liveable cities. What they have in common is that both spring from the reality that culture and creativity are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Shutting down Australian creativity and culture – timeline of a trainwreck

In its response to the pandemic the current Government came a long way in terms of its narrow economic views about minimising the role of Government. However the longer history of neglect of the creative sector shows how severe the Government's economic limitations are and how its grasp of the economy (without even mentioning the social sphere) is too narrow and out of date. It has missed a whole sector of the economy that was large, fast growing and included many of the jobs of the future. It's most recent actions have merely compounded a seven year history of neglect and damage.

The not quite forgotten former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has reappeared as if from the dead to speak some disturbing truths about the current Coalition Government. It’s a reminder of the hopes raised and then dashed for a more forward-looking and relevant Liberal Party when he became Prime Minister and was subsequently undermined by the hard right of the Party.

In the park outside the fabulous Bendigo Art Gallery, a plaque reminds us of the long Australian tradition of defiance against injustice and bad Government - something that is an integral part of our culture.

Wishful thinking
At the time of Turnbull’s rise I wrote an article that now seems more like wishful thinking, suggesting that the Government might become less fixated on the dirty and dying industries of the past. The sad reality is that this current Government and its immediate predecessors under both Turnbull and Abbott have systematically shut down Australian creativity and culture.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Caught in the past – economic blindness overlooks the creative sector

The last few months have been a wild ride. First the national bushfires and now global pandemic. In February people were being encouraged to visit fire-ravaged regional centres to help boost local economies. By March they were being urged to stay home to help reduce the spread of pestilence. I’m quietly seething at governments which knew this was coming, but just didn’t have a fixed date, and thought they could make savings by pretending it wasn’t coming. Now the Australian creative sector has largely been infected as well, but without the ventilators required to keep it alive.

What I find amazing – but not unusual ­– is that for the last five years, medical experts have been predicting another pandemic. Meanwhile penny-pinching governments have been cutting funding for medical research. Now people are going to die because Government failed. Governments exist for the big challenges, the long term issues. But we keep electing politicians who can't see beyond the next election in three years time. We've had drought and massive bush fires and now pestilence. To top it off we are about to see a whole crucial economic and social force crippled, as the creative sector is largely sidelined.

Too little, too late
Unfortunately, as the ‘too little, too late’ response to the bushfires showed, our current Government is not well suited to deal with this crisis, for two reasons – temperament and ideology. Firstly, temperament – Morrison is just not a decisive, strategic leader. He's been forced to respond to the coronavirus, but it's not a natural fit. Luckily, just like Rudd during the Global Financial Crisis, he has listened to the advice of his departments and the experts, but it was not a natural or instinctive response.

Recognising the crucial role of the creative sector is central to understanding the clean and clever industries of the future - Daylesford Primary School displays its support for STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Mathematics - as the engine of the contemporary world.

Secondly, ideology – the Coalition don't believe Government should have much of a role at all and they are also fixated on the myth of the centrality of the individual above community, so they aren't very good at social mobilisation or public health campaigns. As a result they are the last people you want running this sort of whole of Government response. Hopefully they'll learn, but it goes against the grain, so they will always lag and be less decisive than needed. I am equally as pessimistic about their role in leading the economic and social rebuilding that has to happen down the track.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Arts and sport and an essential service under threat

In this dangerous age of pandemic that has succeeded our months of fire and smoke, all sorts of things we have taken for granted have become apparent. One of these is how similar in many respects the arts and sport are. The other is how community organisations are kept alive by an essential service that is often overlooked.

Amongst all the coverage of the response to this pandemic, something caught my eye. Former Socceroos player Craig Foster (the man who played a pivotal role in the release of wrongfully-jailed Hakeem al-Araibi from a Thai prison in 2019) has been mobilising the nation’s now-unemployed sporting community to volunteer with community organisations.

Strathalbyn Craft Centre in the main street - closed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

His ‘Play for Lives’ initiative enlists sporting heroes to volunteer for everything from packing food boxes to driving cancer patients to appointments.

Holding communities together 
What a tremendous effort. It reminded me of when the Arts Division of the Australia Government was developing the short-lived National Cultural Policy, ‘Creative Australia’, under Gillard as Prime Minister.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Growing up across many worlds – the daily life of ‘In My Blood it Runs’

An important new film about Dujuan, a young Aboriginal boy living in Alice Springs in the centre of Australia, is both engaging and challenging, raising major issues about growing up Aboriginal in modern Australia. ‘In My Blood it Runs’ is a film for our troubled times, that tackles the challenges of a culturally divided country, but also finds the hope that this cultural diversity can offer us all for our overlapping futures.

The National Museum of Australia recently hosted a sold-out preview screening which I was lucky enough to buy a ticket for – one of the last available. Here's hoping the film will have a wider distribution. I'm still thinking about the film, but this is an initial personal response to seeing it, coloured by more than six years working in the Indigenous language and culture programs of the Australian Government. The film unfolds slowly, capturing everyday life in Aboriginal communities in Alice Springs, and later in more remote Borroloola.

The opening frame of the film - with suggestions for action - above members of the discussion panel which followed the screening.

It doesn’t rush its story. It’s about everyday life, touching on everyday dramas and the everyday challenge of getting along. In a strange – and good – way, it's a bit like a family movie. Maya Newell, the Director of the film, commented that it was the result of hundreds of hours of filming, compressed to become the final story – and that pays off in a very powerful way. This is how we all experience the world. Hours of detail pass us by every single moment and are hardly noticed, but from them we sieve out the important things.