Saturday, August 1, 2020

Out of sight, out of mind – building knowledge on sustaining the creative and cultural sector in regional and remote Australia

Creative organisations and artists often collect information and research in order to report to funding bodies about how grant funding has been used. Apart from the need to report on funding or to make a case to government, or society in general, the creative and cultural sector also needs evidence and understanding for its own purposes. While government funding bodies might need the sort of information collected from funded organisations, the organisations need it far more – for their planning and to report to their Boards and their communities. They need it to know whether what they are doing is effective and worthwhile – or whether they should be doing something else.

Effective research and evaluation is a key element in ensuring long term growth of creative and cultural organisations, to ensure that they are effective in meeting their own objectives. Across all areas of the creative and cultural sector, it is clear how critical research, evaluation and measurement is to understanding what the creative and cultural sector does and what works best.

Music is a universal language in a world full of languages.

The critical importance of research
I have previously looked at the importance of research about creativity and culture and its role and significance in Australian society and the Australian economy. In my article, ‘Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture’, I noted ‘Most arts and culture organisation – and, increasingly, most government departments – don’t have the ability, expertise or resources to undertake research. This is where partnerships are crucial, whether in actually carrying out the research, or in helping set it up so it can be done in an economical and effective way.’

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Good news in a world of gloom – Craft ACT designs a stronger future on the global stage

Amongst all the gloom at the state of our once thriving creative sector, it’s easy to overlook important successes and achievements. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic creative organisations have still been endeavouring to maintain momentum with some of the inspiring projects and programs that had been underway, strengthening international partnerships and building longer-term resilience.

In this challenging environment I almost forgot to mention two very important and encouraging pieces of news from an organisation close to my heart. Canberra-based creative organisation Craft ACT, the umbrella organisation for craft and design in the region, has secured an important international coup for its DESIGN Canberra initiative. DESIGN Canberra’s signature exhibition Glass Utopia, featuring 12 Italian and Australian designers, has been selected for the internationally renowned festival, Venice Glass Week, from 3-26 September 2020.


Chief Minister Andrew Barr launches DESIGN Canberra 2019 beneath the Murano
glass chandelier in the Italian Ambassador's Residence.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

A world turned upside down – UNESCO Creative City of Design Wuhan

World-shaking events can completely reframe your perspective. When I drove from Canberra to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island in March this year, everyone was being urged to visit regional centres to help them recover from the devastating bushfires. Only weeks later, as I was heading home – via Victoria, a State entering lockdown as I passed through – everybody was being encouraged to stay home to help stop the spread of disease. Back in Canberra I had been involved in a long-running effort to have the city listed as a UNESCO City of Design. The new reality that threatened to overshadow that effort was the global COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically that pandemic had originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which as I discovered, was itself a City of Design in the global UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

I came home to the bubble of Canberra, where it was possible to hole up in the mountains and avoid the worst of the pandemic. It seemed only a few months before, in better times, that we had been arguing once again that Canberra should consider seeking to become a UNESCO City of Design, part of the international Creative Cities Network. All of this had been superseded by the challenge of responding to the pandemic – and to the devastation the lockdown used to deal with it had brought to virtually the whole creative sector.

The universal vocabulary of design
The good news is that the idea of Canberra as a City of Design is still being discussed. 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.

Inside the bubble at DESIGN Canberra 2019 - Berlin-based Plastique Fantastique presents
pop up events in specially designed portable structures.

Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government.

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.