Friday, December 18, 2015

Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy

This is the first in a series of three articles over the next few weeks that will link several topics – the critical nature of our declining cultural institutions, the importance of their international engagement and the power and fascination of China. This first one, ‘Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our cultural institutions and its impact on Australia's national heritage’, is an outline of the cumulative negative consequences for our national heritage of the ongoing and accelerating laceration of our major cultural institutions. The second, ‘Whatever the question, China is the answer’, is a preview of the important new exhibition about China at the National Library of Australia, ‘Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644-1911’, and the third, ‘The Middle Kingdom’ is about the power and fascination of China in the contemporary world.

‘I always thought that long after all else has gone, after government has pruned and prioritised and slashed and bashed arts and cultural support, the national cultural institutions would still remain. They are one of the largest single items of Australian Government cultural funding and one of the longest supported and they would be likely to be the last to go, even with the most miserly and mean-spirited and short sighted of governments. However, in a finale to a series of cumulative cuts over recent years, they have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair. The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation at a crucial crossroads in its history’.

Cut to the bone – the last cut is the deepest

Only a week ago, I was previewing the new exhibition about China at the National Library of Australia, ‘Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644-1911’. In this particular case I was writing about the involvement of just one of our national cultural institutions in something significant, closely linked to our future as a nation inextricably connected to Asia.

Opposite the National Museum of Australia - the major cultural institutions are central to saving our heritage and important for our economy but may need saving themselves.

I wrote at the time that I have often said that long after all else has gone, after government has pruned and prioritised and slashed and bashed arts and cultural support, the national cultural institutions will still remain. They may be leaner and badly damaged but they will still be there. They are one of the largest single items of Australian Government cultural funding and one of the longest supported and they would be likely to be the last to go, even with the most miserly and mean-spirited and short sighted of governments.

'Once again, the national cultural institutions have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair – this time far more severely than ever before'

That was before the shameful excuse for strategic economic management called the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was announced and, once again, the national cultural institutions have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair – this time far more severely than ever before.

Our major cultural institutions, especially the national ones of the Australian Government, often have clearly defined roles and responsibilities set out in their guiding legislation. Essentially they comprise the National Library of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Museum of Australian Democracy. At various times, depending on the ever-changing shape of the Arts portfolio, they have also included the National Archives of Australia.

'These organisations are very different to Government departments, which have much more room to adjust to major cuts'

Much of what is happening to these national organisations is also occurring at state level to state cultural institutions of national significance. The disappointing and badly thought through changes to the once-esteemed Powerhouse Museum are a good example. This museum was particularly well-placed to engage with the creative industries which are so important to the future of the New South Wales economy.

These organisations are very different to Government departments, which have much more room to adjust to major cuts. They have very specific requirements to operate effectively, including a body of highly specialised expertise, with staff with long-established international and national professional networks to facilitate their roles.

Digital demands and the knowledge economy
These responsibilities have been expanded by the changing demands of the digital world and the public expectations of ever broader access to their collections, knowledge and expertise. They have an important role in the new clean and clever industries of the future which comprise the growing knowledge economy.

This potential is detailed in an early report from 2003 by the then Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. The report ‘Economic benefits from cultural assets’, one phase of the three part Creative Industries Cluster Study, outlined the significant economic potential the vast collections of cultural institutions offered for development of high quality digital content. It also highlighted the barriers to this potential being unlocked, including the ongoing need for large scale digitisation of collections.

'Responsibilities have been expanded by the changing demands of the digital world and the public expectations of ever broader access to their collections, knowledge and expertise'

The impetus for the report had initially come from a suggestion by Dr Terry Cutler when he was briefly Chair of the Australia Council. At the time he was engaged in trying to draw connections between the disparate components of the arts and culture sector, collections institutions and creative industries leading to his later work with Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham on research and innovation systems in the production of digital content and applications.

The Creative Industries Cluster Study was responsible for researching creative industries and developing Australian Government policies to support the growth of major, globally competitive Australian industries producing digital content and applications. In an unfortunate example of historical memory lapse and lack of long term view, the online version of these important studies seem to have vanished from the website of both the Department of Communications and the Arts and the peripatetic component of it currently called the Ministry for the Arts.

The work of the Cluster Study had long term effects. It segued into the establishment of the Digital Content Industry Action Agenda. This ultimately led to adoption of a comprehensive creative industries policy as part of the Arts Policy of the incoming Labor government in 2007 and to the establishment of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre. In a major failure of vision, this Centre was recently wound up by the current Coalition government.

Soft diplomacy
In the increasingly interconnected international environment, the role of the major cultural institutions in the soft diplomacy, recognised so clearly by Asian governments like China, with their grasp of the long term role of cultural bodies, has expanded not diminished. It makes you wonder which country will most accurately be called a Third World country in ten years time.

'In the increasingly interconnected international environment, the role of the major cultural institutions in the soft diplomacy has expanded not diminished'

As in so many other areas, such as Australia’s support for intangible cultural heritage, in Australia but also in the Pacific and Asia, the major cultural institutions pick up the slack as a result of the neglect by the rest of the Australian Government and carry the torch for Australia.

Collateral damage
Cultural institutions haven’t been responsible for the blow out of the budget. That’s come from elsewhere. They are just collateral damage. They’ve been living within their means, even though these means have been cut back again and again under governments of both major parties.

Despite this, after receiving a series of cumulative cuts over recent years, they have now been given the coup de grace. None of these cuts will ever be reversed, even when the budget is back in surplus. This damage will be permanent and ongoing. This is forever.

Short-sighted
Instead of seeing the investment value of arts and culture, from its very first budget in 2014-15, the current Government has introduced a series of measures that will have a severe impact long into the future.

'Cultural institutions haven’t been responsible for the blow out of the budget. They’ve been living within their means. None of these cuts will ever be reversed, even when the budget is back in surplus'

As I commented in my coverage of the Coalition Government’s 2014 budget, ‘there will be immediate impacts from the decisions in the Budget affecting Australia’s arts and culture. Unfortunately the real damage will become apparent several years down the track when the cumulative impact of these various measures is recognised.’

Compounding effect
In the 2014-15 budget there were a suite of cuts, far wider than culture but of great importance for it, which combined and continued over several years will have a compounding effect far more damaging than first appears. These included cuts to government departments and agencies, practiced by previous governments as well, such as ‘efficiency dividends’ and a pause to indexation of program funding, which freezes funding so it no longer increases to reflect inflation.

Most deadly for the cultural institutions was the measure, ‘Efficiency Dividend – a further temporary increase of 0.25 per cent’ compounding the already deadening effect of the existing 'efficiency dividend', which was itself increased, ‘temporarily’ as well, by the last Labor Government. While the base rate of the 'efficiency dividend' had historically been 1 per cent per annum, in 2013 the Labor Government set it at 2.25 per cent for 2014–17, though the long term intention had always been to return it to 1 per cent.

The particularly damaging impact of the ‘efficiency dividend’ on the national cultural institutions had been well recognised by the Ministry for the Arts and by the then Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean. During the development of the National Cultural Policy it had led to a concerted attempt on his part to persuade his Labor colleagues to change the way it applied to the cultural institutions.

The whole notion of an ‘efficiency dividend’ is itself government doublespeak. Organisations, such as cultural institutions inevitably find their responsibilities, their collections, their programs, growing as they expand their outreach and consolidate their roles. They rely on finding their efficiency savings to fund these expanded roles, not to siphon back to consolidated revenue.

'The harsh truth of what might look like small percentages with these ‘efficiency dividends’ is that they are cumulative, like a reverse form of compound interest. Each percentage cut is a percentage cut on a cut which is a cut on every cut before it. Try this exercise with your savings and see how rapidly they evaporate'

These cuts, already having an impact which has been ramping up since the middle of 2014, will be massively multiplied by the outcomes of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. The national cultural institutions will between them lose $36.8m over the next four years – $7.6m in the current financial year, 2015-16, rising steeply to $9.7m in the two following years and to $9.8m in 2018-19. To put this in perspective, institutions had been struggling with the base rate 1 per cent a year ‘efficiency dividend’and the increases over recent years have just exacerbated and magnified that. The increased 3 per cent ‘efficiency dividend’ this cut represents is three times the long-standing base rate.

To repeat what I said before, the harsh truth of what might look like small percentages with these ‘efficiency dividends’ is that they are cumulative, like a reverse form of compound interest. Each percentage cut is a percentage cut on a cut which is a cut on every cut before it. Try this exercise with your savings and see how rapidly they evaporate.

This does not even take account of the other losses of funds covered by the broader budget line ‘Public Sector Savings – Shared and Common Services Programme’, which will see many of the agencies having to find new shared ways to operate their services administration to cope with reductions.

Combined with the previous cuts to other parts of the arts and culture sector, such as the Australia Council and Film Australia, and the transfer of funding between different parts of the Arts portfolio, we can expect broader impacts. The reduced funding for the national cultural institutions will mean they will be more likely to apply to the new ‘Catalyst’ fund managed by the Ministry for the Arts, competing with all the displaced small to medium cultural organisations that can no longer obtain support from the Australia Council.

Lack of strategic policy framework
This is what happens when there is no policy framework or set of strategic principles guiding budget cuts. We see continual cutting with no clear rationale. Flexibility is an excellent thing. The problem is ad hoc policy on the run is no substitute for carefully thought through changes. What happens is that, without an overall framework that provides a rationale and a guide, even genuine attempts to find savings or increase efficiencies don't really ever succeed.

'This is what happens when there is no policy framework or set of strategic principles guiding budget cuts. We see continual cutting with no clear rationale'

You have to ask if this is part of the problem identified recently by former Treasury heads, Ken Henry and Martin Parkinson. In their view decades of Government outsourcing and waves of redundancies have left much of the nation's public service unable to provide proper and effective advice to politicians and voters, with growing doubts about the ability of government to solve national problems. In a damning assessment of the state of the public service after years of political turmoil in Canberra they warned that the abilities of the bureaucracy have been dangerously degraded. As Ken Henry commented, ‘I seriously doubt there is any serious policy development going on in most government departments’.

Undervaluing role of government and public service
It is a climate in which the great national resource which the public service and, in particular the national cultural institutions, represents is undervalued and in which public servants are not encouraged to think strategically or in policy terms. This is particularly the case when there are powerful views within the Coalition Government and amongst its sources of intellectual inspiration strongly opposed to much of a role for government at all. This flows through to any kind of rational, systematic support for our national cultural institutions, particularly in a time of cost-cutting. The practical implications are that serious mistakes are made by government – and they are unlikely to be able to be undone.

'The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. In three years, six years, nine years, Australians will ask where valued and important programs have gone and how critical institutions have managed to diminish to the point where return will not be possible'

Despite this setback and prime example of short term thinking, it still remains the case that it’s essential that the cultural institutions do their job as well as possible with whatever they have left – and that their job is seen as a broad one, relevant to the widest possible range of Australians. A pertinent example is the work being undertaken by organisations like the National Library of Australia in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages organisations to identify languages material amongst their records. I suppose they will keep on doing what they do as best they can. At some point though, we will start to see the long term effects of this vandalism of our cultural heritage.

The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. In three years, six years, nine years, Australians will ask where valued and important programs have gone and how critical institutions have managed to diminish to the point where return will not be possible. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation at a crucial crossroads in its history.

See also

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

Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future 
‘The real danger for Australia’s arts and culture is not funding cuts but steady, unending neglect. The decline of Government arts and culture support can be attributed to four long-running factors. This I call a quadruple whammy, caused by lack of indexation, the cumulative effect of ‘efficiency dividends’, the trend towards project funding rather than operational funding and falling behind as the population and economy expands’, Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future.

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.

The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum
‘With its extensive collection of design of all kinds, from engineering to fashion to ceramics and jewellery, and with its links to industry, I always had high hopes for the Powerhouse Museum. Despite its fragmented nature, the Powerhouse was a great design museum precisely because it was also a museum of science and technology – and a museum of social history, which could place it all in a historical and social context. 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. That the Powerhouse failed to realise its potential is a measure of the lack of strategic vision, including from successive governments which have never properly grasped the power of culture in shaping society and the need for the long-term substantial commitment to enable it’, The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum.

Election mode for Australian arts and culture – a policy-free zone?
‘A policy and the understanding of issues that leads to its adoption, provides arts and culture with a stature that underpins funding by providing a rationale for support. Otherwise funding will always be ad hoc and insecure, piecemeal, project-based, intermittent and at the mercy of whim and fashion. We have to get arts and culture to the stage where it is seen like public health or education and debated accordingly’, Election mode for Australian arts and culture – a policy-free zone?

Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst – the looming failure of arts support 
‘In the slowly unravelling universe of arts and culture support, organisations – whether they be small arts organisations or the largest of national cultural institutions – need to think seriously about their future. They need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. This means developing strategies to survive the combination of drastic cuts and slow erosion already occurring and likely to continue into the foreseeable – and unpredictable – future’, Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst – the looming failure of arts support.

Lies, damned lies and lies about statistics – how population growth will magnify the impact of arts and culture cuts
‘I’ve said before that the traditional saying about ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’, should instead refer to ‘lies, damned lies and lies about statistics’. Cuts to national arts and cultural funding, while relatively small each year, have a cumulative effect far greater than at first appears and, in the long run, will undermine the effectiveness of national arts and culture support. Where the real disastrous impact of these cuts will hit home is when we also factor in the impact of population growth. If anything, there needs to be an expansion of arts and cultural funding to service the growth’, Lies, damned lies and lies about statistics – how population growth will magnify the impact of arts and culture cuts.

Unfinished histories – encountering ‘Encounters’
‘A single exhibition can sum up many things. By bringing together so many histories, stories and objects – particularly long-absent ones from the British Museum – the 'Encounters' exhibition at the National Museum presented a snapshot of the ongoing living history of Australia. Many strands ran through it, reflecting the complexity of the realities it tried to express. By successfully reflecting on the pressing issues it raised we have some hope of getting beyond the vision of the Great South Land of 18th and 19th Century ambition towards a truly great nation of the 21st Century’, Unfinished histories – encountering ‘Encounters’.

When universes collide – ‘Encounters’ exhibition at National Museum of Australia
‘The Encounters exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, a once in a lifetime event, makes you realise that astoundingly all this earth-shattering history happened only a few generations ago, so much so that descendants of the Gweagal, those first people Cook encountered, still talk about that encounter in 1770 as though it was yesterday. Despite the continuing concerns about the vast holdings of mostly looted cultural artefacts, the return of these objects, however briefly, will serve to emphasise how recently the British came to Australia, how much more we need to do to be fully at home in this country and how much part of a living, contemporary tradition Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are’, When universes collide – Encounters exhibition at National Museum of Australia.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

Arts funding – it’s not all about the money
‘National Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield, has said that being a strong advocate for the arts doesn’t mean delivering government funding and that an arts Minister or a government shouldn’t be judged just on the quantum of money the government puts in. This sidesteps the Government’s very real problems that it has muddied the waters of existing arts funding, cutting many worthwhile organisations loose with no reason, that rather than delivering arts funding, it has reduced it significantly, and that it has no coherent strategy or policy to guide its arts decisions or direction. The real issue is that a national framework, strategy or policy for arts and culture support underpins and provides a rationale for arts funding – and is far more important’, Arts funding – it’s not all about the money.

National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes 
‘I am not too concerned who manages national arts funding. Both the Australia Council and the Ministry for the Arts have long managed numerous funding programs. I am more concerned about what is funded. The fact that the national pool of arts funding available to support the operational costs of smaller arts and cultural organisations has shrunk substantially is a deep concern. Watch as Australia’s arts and culture sector reels over the next five years from this exceptionally bad policy decision – and expect the early warning signs much sooner. Well- known and respected figures in the arts and culture sector have been expressing this concern sharply’, National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes.

Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts 
‘Asked in the most recent Senate Additional Estimates hearings about cuts to Ministry for the Arts funding in the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook review, the Department of Communications and the Arts replied that there were cuts of $9.6m over the forward estimates. This seriously understates the cumulative long-term magnitude and effect of these cuts and underestimates, just as with the national cultural institutions, the long-term damage. Yet this is the real and permanent impact – a compound effect of creeping cuts’, Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts.

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.

National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes
‘I am not too concerned who manages national arts funding. Both the Australia Council and the Ministry for the Arts have long managed numerous funding programs. I am more concerned about what is funded. The fact that the national pool of arts funding available to support the operational costs of smaller arts and cultural organisations has shrunk substantially is a deep concern. Watch as Australia’s arts and culture sector reels over the next five years from this exceptionally bad policy decision – and expect the early warning signs much sooner. Well- known and respected figures in the arts and culture sector have been expressing this concern sharply’, National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes.

The Middle Kingdom
‘When famed medieval Italian traveller and explorer Marco Polo first encountered China, the Cathay of legend, he saw it as a treasure house of exotic customs and riches. In many ways this is still an element in our own exploration of China. However China is not simply the exotic world of our shaky imagination. China is well on the way to becoming the Middle Kingdom of its traditional name. Australia has a long history of interaction with China. Many of the rich goldfield cities, like Bendigo and Ballarat, were built by Chinese labour and based on Chinese business. More recently, the Chinese in Australia are one of the largest components of the cultural diversity which fuels innovation and commerce in our major cities. For all its faults and political twists and turns I will continue to be fascinated by the Middle Kingdom and watch its inevitable rise with deep interest’, The Middle Kingdom.

Whatever the question, China is the answer
‘It has been said, only half jokingly, that whatever the question, China is the answer. China has its own distinctive problems but this has an underlying element of truth, especially in our current century, the much heralded Asian Century. Our major cultural institutions have risen to the challenge of the Asian Century, playing a leadership role in building the soft diplomacy which enables a deeper and more durable relationship with Asian nations. In the latest example of this engagement, the National Library of Australia has done what national cultural institutions do best – it has collaborated with the National Library of China to produce an outstanding exhibition, “Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644-1911”. This is a case of cultural interaction building enduring bridges that all the ore trucks in the world can't match’, Whatever the question, China is the answer.

Arts funding changes on the run – doing less with less
‘The announcement by new Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield that he will step back to a degree from the decision of his predecessor about national arts funding is a good call – but not good enough. This is what happens when there is no policy framework or set of strategic principles guiding changes to programs or development of new programs. Flexibility is an excellent thing and so are attempts to develop new programs to support areas that might not have been able to gain support before. The problem is ad hoc policy on the run is no substitute for carefully thought through changes. In a context where there have been significant long term cuts to arts and culture funding in the last two budgets, particularly the 2014-15 one, these changes only worsen the situation’, Arts funding changes on the run – doing less with less.

Like Christmas and Easter, election time seems to arrive before it has even left
‘Like Christmas and Easter, election time seems increasingly to come around almost before the preceding one has passed on. At a pre-election ACT arts forum contenders in local elections pitched their policies and plans. There was too much talk of infrastructure and public arts, not quite enough of local, regional and national (and international) synergies and nowhere near enough of the crucial role of operational funding and the importance of creative industries and the clever and clean knowledge economy of the future’, Like Christmas and Easter, election time seems to arrive before it has even left.

National arts and culture funding – follow the money
‘In the continuing furore over the transfer of funds from the Australia Council to the Ministry for the Arts in the 2015-16 budget, most of the focus to date has been on the Australia Council. What has been happening to the funding of the Ministry for the Arts itself? Based on the publically available budget figures since 2012, it is possible to compare the level of program funding managed by the Ministry for the Arts and see the reduction in funding following the election of the current Government’, National arts and culture funding - follow the money.

Notes from a steadily shrinking universe
‘Following the Big Bang the universe may have been steadily expanding but in the world of Australian Government arts and culture the universe has definitely been heading the other way. In the end does government of any shade really think at heart that Australian arts and culture is important? Why should it when it’s a vexed question for our society as a whole and we are ambivalent about its worth? Yet this part of the Australian Government’s public service is incredibly important. To have a real impact though, it needs to be refocused and reinvigorated to operate once again across the broader government landscape’, Notes from a steadily shrinking universe.

Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?
‘With a Coalition Government which now stands a far better chance of being re-elected for a second term, the transfer of the Commonwealth’s Arts Ministry to Communications helps get arts and culture back onto larger and more contemporary agendas. This move reflects that fact that the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, are both clever and clean. 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’, Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?

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.

Arts funding changes – rearranging the deckchairs while we ditch the lifeboats
‘The impact of the changes to national arts funding flowing from the Budget are likely to be deep and severe. The main issue for me is what will now not be funded – by the Australia Council or by anyone else. There are hundreds of small to medium arts and cultural organisations that play a pivotal role in supporting Australia’s cultural life. They need to be seen as every bit as important a part of Australia’s cultural infrastructure as the major performing arts companies or the major arts galleries and museums. They are essential infrastructure for our arts and culture’, Arts funding changes – rearranging the deckchairs while we ditch the lifeboats.

‘Having a go’ at Australia’s arts and culture – the Budget Mark 2
We are seeing is the steady skewing of Australia’s arts and culture sector as the most dynamic component, the one most connected to both artistic innovation and to community engagement, atrophies and withers. This is the absolute opposite of innovation and excellence. It is cultural vandalism of the worst kind, ‘Having a go’ at Australia’s arts and culture – the Budget Mark 2.

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.

A navigator on a Lancaster bomber
‘Sometimes I think Australia has lost its way. It’s like a ship that has sailed into the vast Pacific Ocean in search of gaudy treasure, glimpsed the beckoning coast of Asia and then lost its bearings, all its charts blown overboard in squalls and tempests. It seems to have turned from 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. It’s time to rediscover the Australian dream. We need a navigator – or perhaps many, one in every community – who can help us find our way, encourage us as we navigate from greed and complacency to a calmer shining ocean of generosity and optimism’, A navigator on a Lancaster bomber.

Valuing the intangible
‘We are surrounded by intangible cultural heritage – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and often it’s incredibly important to us but we can’t seem to understand why or put a name to its importance. So many issues of paramount importance to Australia and its future are linked to the broad cultural agenda of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In particular they are central to one of UNESCO’s key treaties, the International Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.’ Valuing the intangible.

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.

‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel
‘Faced with the increasing prospect that it could become the next Australian Government, the Labor Party is reviewing its ‘arts’ policy. Whatever happens and whoever it happens to, considered and strategic discussion of arts and culture policy is critical to Australia's future.’ ‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries 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’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘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.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

The language of success ­– recognising a great unsung community movement
‘What is especially significant about the Prime Minister, in his Closing the Gap address, recognising the importance of Indigenous languages is that this is the first time a Liberal leader has expressed such views. It’s exciting because for progress to be made it is essential that there is a jointly agreed position. This moment arises from the tireless work over many decades of hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language revivalists – surely one of the great positive unsung community movements in Australian history. By their hard work they have managed to change the profile of Indigenous languages in Australia. Unfortunately the address reinforced the tendency of government to overlook the success stories that are already happening in local communities and look for big institutional solutions. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a missed opportunity’, The language of success – recognising a great unsung community movement.

The hidden universe of Australia's own languages
‘I’ve travelled around much of Australia, by foot, by plane, by train and by bus, but mostly by car. As I travelled across all those kilometres and many decades, I never realised that, without ever knowing, I would be silently crossing from one country into another, while underneath the surface of the landscape flashing past, languages were changing like the colour and shape of the grasses or the trees. The parallel universe of Indigenous languages is unfortunately an unexpected world little-known to most Australians.’ The hidden universe of Australia's own languages.

2 comments:

  1. Excellemt thoughtful analysis as always Stephen. Distressing in the extreme to read though. Is there any hope?
    A

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment and your question. ‘Is there any hope?’ This is a big question and I think it needs a long answer. These cuts are not just happening in some parts of the arts and culture sector but in a range of areas. They’re not happening just in the arts and culture sector but across many other community areas. The first thing is that we have to look for solutions that bring together as many areas as possible. We also need to seek from all parties a commitment to a strategic framework for government support for arts and culture which acknowledges the importance of the area, spells out why government has a role and what it wants to achieve from supporting arts and culture. I can’t see the Coalition supporting a cultural policy or even a narrower arts policy but they would probably support some kind of overarching statement, much as Brandis outlined – skimpy as it was – in his speech in Western Sydney in the lead up to the last election. Ironically, given these latest cuts, it is the Coalition which has usually been a stronger supporter of the major cultural institutions than others. The Labor Party had a very good National Cultural Policy and I doubt they will do anything more than update it. Dreyfus brings a strong human rights perspective to the task and I think that could lead to an excellent improvement on the existing policy. Even though some parts of the media talk about the National Cultural Policy being dead, to my mind, as a set of strategic ideas it is very much alive and kicking. While we’re talking about the Labor Party, only Crean has gone into bat for relief from the ‘efficiency dividend’, which says something, though he had a hard time convincing his colleagues of the merits of the case. The Greens have spoken out strongly in support and actually articulate why they support arts and culture. Various independents have taken a range of positions on specific issues, many of them very good. What this implies at a broader level is that we have to resist attempts to remove government from the mix of support. The battle of ideas to argue the case for why a government role is critical and cannot be replaced by anything else is the front line here. Underpinning all this, politicians need to feel the pain of their decisions. For example, some of the youth arts companies that criminally have been unable to secure Australia Council funding in the most recent round are in National Party electorates where use of ice amongst young people is a scourge and the theatre companies are some of the few positive local initiatives responding to it. They need to own the implications of their government’s decisions. Politicians need to know there are votes in this and cuts lead to loss of votes. For further discussion of some of these ideas, see 'Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture', http://cassarticle.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/time-for-big-picture-and-long-view-for.html.

    ReplyDelete