Monday, December 9, 2019

Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture

Understanding, assessing and communicating the broad value of arts and culture is a major and ongoing task. There has been an immense amount of work already carried out. The challenge is to understand some of the pitfalls of research and the methods that underpin it. Research and evaluation is invaluable for all organisations but it is particularly important for Government. The experience of researching arts and culture in Government is of much broader relevance, as the arts and culture sector navigates the tricky task of building a comprehensive understanding in each locality of the broader benefits of arts and culture. The latest Arts restructure makes this even more urgent.

I have spent the bulk of my working life – and most of my non-working life, as well – in various parts of the arts and culture sector. Even when I worked in Government I was mostly in the section of it responsible for arts and culture. In that time, across all those areas, it became absolutely clear how critical research, evaluation and measurement is to understanding what the arts and culture sector does and what works best.

Research and evaluation - drawing class outside Mary Quant exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2019

In July 2016 I listened with great attention to the outline by Professor Geoffrey Crossick of the massive Cultural Value project of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, summed up in its major report, ‘Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture’. Following this, in July 2017 I was closely involved in organising the Arts Value Forum, a major event in Canberra which looked at valuing arts and culture. This was presented by independent ACT arts advocacy body, the Childers Group, in conjunction with the Cultural Facilities Corporation of the ACT Government.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Making a living – building careers in creative and cultural futures

Making a living in the developing creative economy is no easy task. For a viable career, flexibility and creativity are crucial. For this a strategic outlook and a grasp of the major long-term forces shaping Australian creativity and culture is essential. To help foster this amongst emerging cultural sector practitioners, a new flagship course, a Master of Arts in Creative and Cultural Futures, was launched at the University of Canberra in 2019, building on earlier experiments in aligning research and analysis with real world cultural sector experience.

A vast transformation of contemporary culture not seen since the breakdown of traditional arts and crafts in the industrial revolution is under way due to the impact of the digital and online environment. Not only artists, but also culture managers and cultural specialists today are confronted with radically different challenges and opportunities to those they faced in the 20th Century.

Dior exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2019.

In parallel with the traditional focus on the arts and arts funding, there has been growing interest in the broader area of the creative or cultural economy and the related, more commercial, creative industries. While the arts and culture sector cannot be reduced simply to economics, it would be a mistake if, for that reason, we ignored the fact that it plays an important economic role. The economic role parallels the broader social role it plays. What the two roles have in common is that both spring from the reality that creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The future of arts practice – navigating the creative economy

In a rapidly changing and difficult environment, it often seems a miracle that artists can continue to practice at all – and even sometimes make a living from their art. Increasingly we need to try to answer some important questions, including: ‘What does a sustainable arts practice mean and what does it look like’, and ‘how does the business of art affect the practice of art?’ These questions about the role of artists in the cultural sector, let alone in the broader society and economy, are important because they are linked to a range of crucial issues for the future of our society.

In a rapidly changing and difficult environment, it often seems a miracle that artists can continue to practice at all – and even sometimes make a living from their art. Canberra arts advocacy body, the Childers Group (of which I have been a member for the last couple of years), with the support of ACT Government agency, the Cultural Facilities Corporation, will tackle this complex issue at a forum towards the end of this year. ‘Sustainable arts practice: creativity and business’ is on Friday, 1 November 2019, from 3.30pm to 6.30pm at the Theatrette at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG), London Circuit, Civic in Canberra.

Breakout forum at Arts Value Forum, 2017.

This is the most recent of a long series of both large and small forums addressing crucial issues in the arts and culture sector, that have been jointly presented by the Childers Group and the Cultural Facilities Corporation. The previous event, in June 2017, was the well-attended Arts Value Forum, which I reported in my article What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture

The business of creativity
For a nominal contribution of $15 towards costs, attendees can join the Childers Group, supported by the Cultural Facilities Corporation, renowned cultural economist, Professor David Throsby, and a local panel that includes novelist Nigel Featherstone; theatre maker and musician Chrissie Shaw; contemporary Indigenous artist Krystal Hurst and dance artist and choreographer Alison Plevey. The forum will be moderated by Cultural Facilities Corporation Board member Genevieve Jacobs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Why Australia still needs a cultural policy – third time lucky?

It’s no longer the pre-election campaign we had to have. It’s become the election campaign we can’t avoid. We are spiralling inexorably towards election day and Ministers and members have been plummeting from the heights of the Coalition Government like crew abandoning a burning Zeppelin. We may wake on 19 May to find we have a national Labor Government. With Labor pledging to implement an updated version of the short-lived ‘Creative Australia’, its national cultural policy, first promised by the Rudd Government, it’s a good time to reconsider its importance.

National cultural policies come and go – but mainly go. If the relentlessly negative election campaign currently being waged by the Coalition doesn’t succeed, we may find on 19 May that we once again have a Labor Government.

The school student strike against climate change inaction in March 2019 highlighted this as a pressing issue for our political leaders - Australia's culture and its relevance to Australian society is less obvious and more easily overlooked.

It’s certainly strange for an incumbent Government seeking a third term to make absolutely no mention of any achievements in its political advertising – but perhaps there’s a good reason. Depending on how the day turns out, it seems we may be entering a moment in Australian history where once again consideration of the potential of a cultural policy becomes relevant. If so, it will be only the third national cultural policy in our history.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity

When I was visiting Paris last year, there was one thing I wanted to do before I returned home – visit the renowned French bakery that had trained a Melbourne woman who had abandoned the high stakes of Formula One racing to become a top croissant maker. She had decided that being an engineer in the world of elite car racing was not for her, but rather that her future lay in the malleable universe of pastry. Crossing boundaries of many kinds and traversing the borders of differing countries and cultures, she built a radically different future to the one she first envisaged.

To appreciate how creativity manifests itself and what drives artists to create, we don’t need to look only in the immediate world of arts, culture and creativity. Examples of this crop up in the most unexpected of places.

Bakery Du Pain et des Idees, Paris

What strikes me about arts, culture and creativity is that at heart it involves crossing boundaries and frontiers – of accepted forms of expression, of widely shared tastes, of expectations, and also of countries. It also requires studying for years to gain skills or qualifications or both so it’s possible to make a career and a living from the training and experience.

‘Abandoning the Formula One racing world, she persuaded the owner to take her on as an apprentice, which he did, recognising the same passion in her as the one that drove him.’ 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Creativity and culture in change: Change in creativity and culture

A vast transformation of contemporary culture not seen since the breakdown of traditional arts and crafts in the industrial revolution is under way due to the impact of the digital and online environment. Artists, culture managers and cultural specialists today are confronted with radically different challenges and opportunities to those they faced in the 20th Century. There are a number of strategic forces which we need to take account of in career planning and in working in or running cultural organisations.

DESIGN Canberra is an illuminating example of many of the major contemporary trends in the creative and culture sector. Having heard about many of the issue it throws up, I’d like to talk briefly about some of the general issues this raises – moving from a specific case study to more strategic issues.

Panel at 'Creative and Cultural Futures: Leadership and Change' - a symposium exploring the critical issues driving change in the creative and cultural sector. 

It’s easy to appreciate why someone would seek a career in the creative and cultural sector (‘whatever that is’, as my philosophy professor used to say). It doesn’t usually pay that well (but better than cleaning, or digging ditches – or filling them in again), but it’s interesting and fulfilling work.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Who owns Australia’s ‘soul’? Our cultural institutions, our history and our future

The announcement of a substantial sum from the Government for expansion of the Australian War Memorial has highlighted some crucial issues around shrinking support for our cultural institutions, recognition of our history and heritage, and sponsorship in a time of diminishing budgets. The Director of the War Memorial has commented that ‘the Australian War Memorial is…a place that reveals our character as a people, our soul.’ In the end though, Australia's ‘soul’ might turn out to be larger, longer and wider than our history of wars.

In a time of tight budgets and creeping efficiency dividends on cultural institutions that cripple their ability to do their job, it seems the Government can manage to find an odd 500 million dollars for an expansion of the Australian War Memorial. Director of the War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, has commented that ‘the Australian War Memorial is…a place that reveals our character as a people, our soul.’

It’s generated some heat for them in the world of culture and heritage and some incisive commentary beyond that, but with the Government’s much bigger problems, I suppose they will be unlikely to notice. Still, it’s a pity about all the other declining national cultural institutions which care for our heritage – including our military heritage, witness the extensive war records held by the National Archives of Australia.

Our major national cultural institutions, such as the National Library of Australia, amongst many others, are battling neglect to maintain their services in the face of growing need.