Thursday, October 9, 2014

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture

Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. They are mainly service industries based on intellectual enquiry and research and exhibiting both innovative services or products and also new and innovative ways of doing business. At their heart is the rule of creativity.

The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. They are a central part of the knowledge economy.

Managing meaning
Where they differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not. As part of Australia's culture sector they share the critical function of managing meaning, which distinguishes this sector from other parts of the knowledge economy.

Tobacco drying sheds near Ovens Valley, North East Victoria - the remnants of an ageing industry now abandoned for the promise of industries of the future

They are also closely linked to central social challenges Australia faces, such as responding effectively and productively to cultural diversity and Indigenous disadvantage. These industries depend on innovation and innovation occurs where cultures intersect and differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged and assessed.

Mining a far richer seam
They are also based on content. In attempting to address the major issue of Indigenous disadvantage, it is critical to recognise that one of the most important economic resources possessed by Indigenous communities is their culture. Creative industries are already developing that draw on that cultural content. Through the intellectual property that translates it into a form that can generate income in a contemporary economy, that culture is pivotal to jobs and to income. It may not be mining but they mine a far richer seam – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal.

In response to this rapidly growing sector there were many years of reviews under the Howard Government. These included the Creative Industries Cluster Study and the Digital Content Industry Action Agenda. They were all largely ineffectual and produced no major responses to this growing sector of the future – lots of study, little action probably sums the period up best.

'Through the intellectual property that translates it into a form that can generate income in a contemporary economy, culture is pivotal to jobs and to income. It may not be mining but they mine a far richer seam – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value'

In a sign of how policy development is both long-term and crosses party boundaries, it was only with the election of a Labor Government in 2007 that there was any response to this large body of research. Under this new incoming Government a reasonably comprehensive creative industries policy was adopted as part of its Arts Policy in 2007. This led eventually to the establishment of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre in 2009.

This is hardly surprising. The Coalition, apart from the Nationals with their agrarian socialist history, has focused on keeping government out of industry development, preferring a scattering of subsidy, pork barrelling and largesse where required for re-election. It’s no surprise that it was a Labor politician, Senator Button, who is remembered as the champion of industry development and industry plans.

Backwards-looking enthusiasm
Yet Labor Party support for creative industries is limited by its backwards-looking enthusiasm for ageing and dying industries from the 19th and 20th centuries. This was apparent in the ambivalence of Government support for the National Cultural Policy, which had a major focus on support for creative industries. Hence the support for this sector during the whole life of the Labor Government was limited, with the Creative Industries Innovation Centre its only major highlight.

Now, after only five years of contribution to this critical sector, the Creative Industries Innovation Centre is about to cease operations. According to a post from the Centre yesterday, with its demise ‘a range of business support services are offered for eligible creative industry companies under the Department of Industry’s new Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme.’

It notes ‘if you are a small to medium sized creative industry business with turnover over $1.5 million; you have an ACN; and you operate in one or more of the following five growth sectors, you will be able to access these services. The five growth sectors align with the Australian Government’s new Industry Policy and are: Advanced Manufacturing; Food and Agribusiness; Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals; Mining Equipment, Technology and Services; Oil, Gas and Energy Resources.

If you do not operate in one of the above sectors, your only hope is to apply for business services on the basis that you have the potential to be an ‘Enabling Technology or Service Provider’ to these sectors.

'It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it also reflects a parallel narrowing of the Australian Government’s arts and culture involvement to a more traditional and limited "arts" focus'

The Centre points out that ‘Since 2009, the Creative Industries Innovation Centre has supported the business development of 1500 Australian creative industry businesses. We’ve delivered 630 in-depth business reviews with established companies, 1179 hours of free, expert business advice for start-ups, eight national training programs, and published industry intelligence on the creative industries.’

This is a definite retreat from any sort of support for content or creative industries. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it also reflects a parallel narrowing of the Australian Government’s arts and culture involvement to a more traditional and limited ‘arts’ focus.

It’s a pity a great opportunity for Government to have a strategic influence on a major and growing industry force will be lost. The sector will still continue to grow and innovate but much impetus will be lost. I’m sure the other sectors chosen for support are worthwhile. Unfortunately they do not share the intertwined importance of this sector for the long-term health and vitality of Australian culture.

See also

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

The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future
‘The never-ending election campaign that became the never-ending election tally has turned into the unpredictable second term government. What does this new world of fragmented politics mean for Australian arts and culture and the organisations, artists and communities which live it and advance it? There are a series of major factors which are hammering arts and culture organisations. These intersect and mutually reinforce one another to produce a cumulative and compounding long term disastrous impact. All this is happening in a context where there is no strategic policy or overview to guide Government. It is critical for the future that the arts and culture sector think broadly about arts and culture, build broad alliances and partnerships, never forget its underlying values and draw on its inherent creativity to help create a society based firmly on arts and culture’, The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future.

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘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. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities
‘It is becoming abundantly clear that in our contemporary world two critical things will help shape the way we make a living – and our economy overall. The first is the central role of cities in generating wealth. The second is the knowledge economy of the future and, more particularly, the creative industries that sit at its heart. In Sydney, Australia’s largest city, both of these come together in a scattering of evolving creative clusters – concentrations of creative individuals and small businesses, clumped together in geographic proximity. This development is part of a national and world-wide trend which has profound implications’, Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities.

The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival
‘Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.

Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding 
‘The transfer of substantial program funds from the Australian Government’s main arts funding agency, the Australia Council, to the Ministry for the Arts has had the effect of masking serious cuts to crucial programs run by the Ministry, including its Indigenous cultural programs. There have been cuts to overall Ministry program funds stretching long into the future almost every year since the 2014-15 budget, with the long-term trend clearly heading downwards’, Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding.

Land of hope
‘There were times in our past when Australia was seen as the great hope of the world – when it offered a vision of a new democratic life free from the failures of the past and the old world. It seems we have turned from our history, from the bright vision of the nineteenth century and the great nation-building vision of the period after World War 2, with its sense of optimism and fairness, towards something much more pinched and narrow – mean and weak-willed. For such an optimistic nation we seem to have developed a ‘half empty’ rather than ‘half full’ view of the glass – and the world. If we want to live in a land to be proud of, a fair country that truly inherits the best of Australia’s traditions, while consciously abandoning the less desirable ones, we need to change course – otherwise we will have to rebadge Australia not as the land of hope but instead as the land without hope’, Land of hope.

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. 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. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.

Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture
‘A far more important issue than arts funding is how can the broad arts and cultural sector become a better organised, effective voice for arts and culture and its wider importance for Australia? Changes like this happen because they are able to happen – because decision-makers think they can get away with it. The arts and culture sector and its supporters have to be influential enough that decision-makers think carefully about the importance and the standing of Australia’s arts and culture and weigh any decisions they make carefully in terms of the strategic needs of the sector. These current dire circumstances may provide the opportunity we have needed to look seriously at this question’, Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture.

Out from the shadows – the other Arts Minister
‘I ventured out through the dark wilds of the Australian National University to hear the Opposition Spokesperson on the Arts, Mark Dreyfus, share his view of what a contemporary arts and culture policy might look like. It was a timely moment, given the turmoil stirred up by recent changes to national arts funding arrangements and the #freethearts response from small arts and cultural organisations and artists. Luckily, as he himself noted, he has a very recent model to work with. The National Cultural Policy is little more than two years old,’ Out from the shadows – the other Arts Minister.

Long term effect of broader Budget cuts far more damaging
'Wider budget cuts combined over years will have a compounding effect on arts and culture far more damaging than anything immediate.' The future landscape for Australian arts and culture.

Indigenous jobs
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world

Indigenous culture and Closing the Gap
‘Experience of many years of the Indigenous culture programs shows that involvement in arts and cultural activity often has powerful flow on social and economic effects.’ The gap in Overcoming the Gap.

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