Sunday, June 10, 2018

Distinctive in a noisy marketplace – a regional road tour of arts and culture

A recent regional road tour through Victoria to South Australia showed how a focus on arts and culture is a pointer for how regional centres can take a path other than slow decline. It also showed how a small country on the edges of the mainstream can become a global design force by staying true to its language, locality and culture – the things that make it distinctive in a crowded, noisy marketplace dominated by big, cashed up players.

At the end of last month I came back from a regional road trip to South Australia which inevitably was an arts and culture tour. This involved a quick stop in Euroa. In Euroa the temperature reached 16 degrees – perfect to my mind, just like summer in Scotland. I was reminded of Elephant Sessions, the band from Inverness which I saw at the National Folk Festival earlier this year. The members of the band had just come from WOMAD in Adelaide.They said it was snowing back home in Inverness and 36 degrees Celsius in Adelaide. They said to the locals 'It gets hot here in summer.' The locals replied 'It's not summer.'

The monochromatic mural of Guido Van Halten on grain silos at Coonalpyn

A path other than slow decline
From there it was time to hit the road to Bendigo, one of my favourite places in Victoria. I've been visiting the Bendigo Art Gallery for quite a few years now. It presents fashion and design exhibitions that you can't see anywhere else in Australia. I've seen a string of them. Apart from the ones the gallery curates, it seems to have a special arrangement with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It's certainly a pointer for how a regional city can take a path other than slow decline.

‘It's certainly a pointer for how a regional city can take a path other than slow decline.’ 

I saw an extensive Marimekko exhibition from the Design Museum in Helsinki. Ironically its most well known design, the poppy motif, is referred to as 'the rebel flower' because the designer disregarded the dictum that Marimekko would never use floral motifs.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Songlines – an ancient culture for a contemporary world

What interests me in exhibitions about Aboriginal Australia is what they mean for Australians generally, even if most Australians won’t ever see them. After a mere 220 years, in many ways we are still only part way through making our home here. We haven’t yet figured out how to navigate this land properly. When I was at school we learned about so many doomed explorers misinterpreting the country, unable to find their way. Burke and Wills were the perfect examples, undone because they were unable to learn simple lessons offered by the local people on how to make edible the vast supplies of food surrounding them. They starved to death in a field of plenty. It made me realise that we can gain a much richer grasp of Australia through recognising that First Nations culture and heritage is part and parcel of our own Australian heritage.

I knew that the exhibition ‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters’ at the National Museum of Australia Seven Sisters was getting close to the end of its run and I knew I definitely wanted to see it. However, like so many things, I discovered that it was only days away from finishing – and even then only because it was extended for a few days. I missed the accompanying virtual reality show because unfortunately that wasn’t extended. I’m told it was excellent.

Visitors view moving digital images of some of the many participants in 'Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters' before entering the exhibition.

Yet I did get to see the exhibition and I am very happy I did. I don’t know what it meant to Aboriginal Australians – I know from years working in the Indigenous cultural programs how much the maintenance and revival of culture and languages is valued. What interests me, though, is what an exhibition like this means for Australians generally, even if most of them won’t ever see it.

A mere 220 years
After a mere 220 years, in many ways we are still only part way through making our home here. We haven’t yet figured out how to navigate this land properly. When I was at school we learned about so many doomed explorers misinterpreting the country, unable to find their way.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Regional Australia recognised as Bendigo named City of Culture

It’s been apparent for some time that regional centres and smaller cities and towns can be interesting and creative places and that cities that have missed out on the benefits of globalisation in the era of neo-liberalism can be brought back by community action and imagination. It’s certainly not happening everywhere but it’s true of many lucky regional towns and cities and some suburban and outer suburban areas – witness Sydney, where it’s increasingly clear that the excitement never really stopped at the edges of the inner city. The regional rollout of interesting keeps on happening.

Perhaps as large cities become more and more crucial – to the economy, to innovation, to creativity and to cultural diversity – we are seeing a balancing focus on the regional, the local, to life on a human scale. Both globalisation and regionalism, the fast (and vast) food economy and the slow food movement at the same time.

Bendigo has a rich history of cultural diversity and is firmly a part of Australia's cultural heritage and contemporary culture

Amongst all the cheer and beer of the festive season I see that Bendigo and the surrounding region has been named as a City of Culture by the Victorian Government. It certainly deserves it. I remember several years ago planning a visit to the Bendigo Art Gallery to see one of their series of fabulous fashion exhibitions from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Expecting to turn up and buy tickets, I was shocked to see the queue stretched along the block.

Monday, July 31, 2017

What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture

With arts and cultural support increasingly under pressure, arts and cultural organisations and artists are trying to find ways in their own localities to respond and to help build a popular understanding of the broader social and economic benefits of arts and culture. Much work has been done in Australia and internationally to understand, assess and communicate the broad value of arts and culture. The challenge is to share and apply what already exists – and to take it further.

If we think – for whatever reason – that arts and culture is of value, it is helpful to be clear exactly why it has value. Apart from the secondary usefulness of this for arguing for support or commitment of government and private resources, it has a much more important primary use. If we value something, it is useful to understand what that value consists of.

Breakout session at the Arts Value Forum on the link between arts and culture and identity and society.

We value many things – how do we make a judgement about what we value most? It’s like the thorny question asked of those about to flee a fire – what would you take first, your family photo albums, your pets? It’s a question that tends to sharpen the mind and has many useful applications. If we understand how and why we value something we are better placed to fully realise that value – as well as share it, protect it and extend it.

The Arts Value Forum
The recent Arts Value Forum (#ArtsValueForum) presented at the Canberra Theatre Centre by local ACT arts advocacy body, The Childers Group, of which I am currently a member, in conjunction with the ACT Cultural Facilities Corporation, has turned my mind again to some work I had been preparing over the last 12 months. It looks at how we understand, assess and communicate the broad value of arts and culture.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

See also – indefinite articles in a definite world

I was losing track of the articles I have published to my 'indefinite article' blog over the last few years. For easy access, this is a summary of all 133 articles, broken down into categories. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian arts and culture.

1. Cultural landscape
2. Artists and arts organisations
3. Cultural institutions
4. Cultural policy
5. Arts funding
6. Creative industries
7. First Nations culture
8. Cultural diversity
9. Australian society
10. Cities and regions
11. Government
12. International
13. Canberra
14. Popular culture
15. About my blogs
16. Parallel universe

1. CULTURAL LANDSCAPE
Taking part – Arts involvement in a divided Australia
‘The arts and culture sector has long suffered from a shortage of high quality, useable research and statistics. This makes what is available doubly important as we argue the case for the central relevance of arts and culture and the broader social and economic impact of involvement. New research demonstrates the positive scale of involvement, views on importance and trends in participation in Australia’s arts and cultural life, especially hands on involvement. It also shows a worrying decline in engagement and recognition in recent years and points to the need for a more strategic view by government’, Taking part – Arts involvement in a divided Australia.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Taking part – Arts involvement in a divided Australia

The arts and culture sector has long suffered from a shortage of high quality, useable research and statistics. This makes what is available doubly important as we argue the case for the central relevance of arts and culture and the broader social and economic impact of involvement. New research demonstrates the positive scale of involvement, views on importance and trends in participation in Australia’s arts and cultural life, especially hands on involvement. It also shows a worrying decline in engagement and recognition in recent years and points to the need for a more strategic view by government.

The arts and culture sector has long suffered from a shortage of high quality, useable research and statistics. This makes what is available doubly important as we argue the case for the central relevance of arts and culture and the broader social and economic impact of involvement.

Wynscreen, curated by Alessio Cavallaro, a new public art space in the walkway to Wynyard station, central Sydney.

It was a gap which became obvious as ‘Creative Australia’, the Labor Government’s National Cultural Policy, was being developed, when the case for arts and culture funding needed to be powerful and compelling. The analytical power that has been applied in the area of Indigenous affairs – and which had been utilised to some degree in the Indigenous cultural programs – was needed for arts and culture as well.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

History all around us – the long term practical impact of cultural research

Cultural research has long term impacts in terms of our developing body of knowledge which stretch far into the future. Researchers are finding stories in our major cultural collections that were never envisaged by those originally assembling them – a process that will continue long into the future. The collections of our major cultural institutions are becoming increasingly accessible to the very people the collections are drawn from and reflect. In the process they are generating greater understanding about some of the major contemporary issues we face.

Recently I posted a notice about a forthcoming talk at the National Library of Australia by Paul Diamond, Curator, Māori, at the National Library of New Zealand. Paul has has been researching Australian, New Zealand and Pacific records in the collections of the National Library of Australia.

Curator Paul Diamond begins his talk in Te Reo Māori.

The talk turned out to be fascinating because there were so many overlapping topics and perspectives. The talk was being recorded, so hopefully the Library will make it available online for those who were unable to attend. While the talk was highly relevant to New Zealand and its history, it also alluded to some of the big contemporary issues affecting Australia.

Cross-Tasman collaboration
For a start a collaboration between the national libraries of two countries so interlinked was always going to be of interest. With the recent sister city relationship between the two capitals, Wellington and Canberra, already long-established partnerships are becoming much stronger.