Thursday, February 19, 2015

'Arts' policy and culture - let's not reinvent the wheel

The issues covered by the National Cultural Policy are far bigger than just art. So many good things in the Policy make no sense at all if we only talk about art and the arts. These include high profile matters of central importance to Australia's economic future like creative industries and how we treat Indigenous culture and languages.

It appears that after only one term in the backblocks of Parliament, faced with the increasing prospect that it could become the next Australian Government, the Labor Party is reviewing its ‘arts’ policy.

It's always good to plan ahead but whether we see a Labor Government again any time soon or whether the current Coalition government continues its particular brand of arts support, considered and strategic discussion of arts and culture policy is critical to Australia's future.

As the most recent comprehensive strategic approach to government support for Australia's arts and culture the National Cultural Policy won't go away. The wide-ranging issues it raises are relevant to any discussion of arts and culture in Australia. To my mind reviewing Labor arts policy could easily be a case of reinventing the wheel. The National Cultural Policy is still fresh, less than two years old, having been announced as 'Creative Australia' only in March 2013 after a protracted period of development based on very broad consultation. This had the advantage of being undertaken by a party in government with all the resources that entailed.

The National Cultural Policy had a long and difficult birth and went through several ministers, most notably Simon Crean, before coming into being. It's final announcement was by no means a certainty, with mixed support from other ministers who didn't agree on it as a Government priority. It is a credit to the Government of the day, and especially the Minister of the day, that it was finally announced but make no mistake - it was a miracle.

Chinese temple, Bendigo. Cultural diversity is a hallmark of contemporary Australia, with its roots deep in our past.

If, as originally envisaged, it had been announced in the first term of the Government, it would have had a full term to prove its worth and consolidate its impact. Instead it was announced as the Government lost office and while much of value still continues, important elements were starting to be unravelled early into the term of the new Government.

It is far from perfect - I could list a number of important areas where it could be stronger. The emphasis on cultural diversity, support for intangible cultural heritage and understanding of the integral role of community arts and community cultural development in the overall arts and culture landscape could all be strengthened. Despite this it is the best thing we have seen for a long time or are likely to see for even longer.