Monday, August 29, 2016

Greater than the sum of the parts: cultural funding and the power of diversity

Cultural diversity is critical to the richness and energy of Australia's arts and culture life and has a crucial role to play in innovation, that favourite word of the era. Where cultures intersect and different world views and perspectives meet, innovation is far more likely to occur. Unfortunately the importance of cultural diversity to our cultural life is not always reflected in what government chooses to support in the arts sector and how enduring that support is. As Parliament resumes after the election, talk will turn to the need for savings and the importance of innovation for Australia's economy. This is when clarity about the role of Australian culture is essential.

Cultural diversity underpins so much of value in Australia. It creates an exciting country which is enjoyable to live in. It also ensures innovation flourishes, because where cultures intersect differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged.

This innovation, and the creativity that underpins it, is essential to the new clever and clean industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape.

The Aboriginal Memorial, 1987-88 Ramingining, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, natural earth pigments on wood. An installation in the entrance National Gallery of Australia of 200 hollow log ceremonial coffins from Central Arnhem Land. The Aboriginal memorial was created in response to the Bicentenary of Australia, which marked 200 years of European settlement. This is the single most important work in the Gallery and a powerful expression of the centrality of Aboriginal culture to Australian culture.

Culture and creative industries are pivotal to jobs and to income. For Indigenous communities in particular one of the most important economic resources they possess is their culture. It may not be mining but it mines a far richer seam in the long term – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal.  

'It may not be mining but it mines a far richer seam in the long term – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value'

But how does government help cultural diversity grow – or not – through its support for culture? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

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. The many promises of design come together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with 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.

In a rapidly changing world, heading inevitably down a path of greater globalisation, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international), between globalisation and regionalism. It’s apparent across Australia, not least in the regional centre in which I live, Canberra – a town which also happens to be the nation’s capital.

‘There is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international), between globalisation and regionalism’

In recent years Canberra has reached a cultural critical mass, attracting more people to live, work and study in the city. This has been reflected in an increased level of positive national and international recognition. The annual Design Canberra festival is one sign of this.

Ceramics by artist Tjimpuna Williams, Ernabella Arts Centre, in a Design Canberra pop up, 2015. Design Canberra is firmly based on local creativity, but as a national festival located in Australia's capital, it has broad links. In a perfect example of cross-cultural and cross-national collaboration, the ceramics were created during a residency in Jingdezhen, China, in early 2015, with long-time Craft ACT member, Janet deBoos as host and mentor.

A vision for the designed city – design comes of age in the city of Burley Griffin
A celebration of all things design, Design Canberra is one of the most exciting initiatives of Craft ACT. Having started in 2014, Design Canberra is now entering its third year, 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.

Design Canberra: clever and clean – the knowledge economy of the future

See main article, 'Designs on the future'

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. 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.

Increasingly 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. They are mainly service industries that make up the knowledge economy, 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 are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.

Managing meaning
The creative industries are underpinned by the arts and culture sector and the artists and arts and cultural organisations, mainly small, that make it up and create the content which feeds into and inspires other sectors.

Design Canberra: culture in the backyard – the thread of design connects arts, culture and creative industries

See main article, 'Designs on the future'

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. 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.

When I worked in Canberra on national arts and culture programs and policy for over 13 years I had little to do with Canberra itself. My focus was firmly everywhere else in Australia, rather than my own backyard. 

The OZeCulture conference, the national series of conferences for artists and cultural organisations using the web, was the reason I first moved to Canberra in late 2000. I had come from the Powerhouse Museum to join the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts to organise the first of the OZeCulture series and I was closely involved with all the subsequent conferences.

Culture in the backyard
Since leaving the Australian Government Ministry for the Arts in 2014, and moving into a new stage of my career in the arts and cultural sector, I have found myself much more engaged with local arts and culture in Canberra. 

As part of this I have become involved at the heart of developments with Australian design. Since leaving the Australian Government I have been a member of the Board of Craft ACT since late 2014 and, in parallel, an Adjunct with the University of Canberra through the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research in the Faculty of Arts and Design. 

All of these strands come together with my previous involvement in research and policy for creative industries in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra. The promise of Design Canberra was a major reason I was attracted to Craft ACT in the first place.

The thread of design
Looking back, almost 16 years later, it shows how design flows through so much of the arts and culture sector. It is illuminating to see how this thread connects Design Canberra with work I was lucky to be party to over more than a decade, within museums and other cultural institutions, government departments and creative industries.

See main article, 'Designs on the future'

See related article:
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.

Design Canberra: a whole world out there – building global connection through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

See main article, 'Designs on the future'

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. 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.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was created in 2004 to promote cooperation between cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The 116 cities which currently make up this network work together towards the common objective of placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level. The Network covers seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Arts; Media Arts; Film; Design; Gastronomy; Literature; and Music.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The innovative power of art connects local and global – Craft ACT embracing diversity

As globalism proceeds apace, the counter-balancing world of the local and regional is becoming more important, anchoring us firmly in the places where we reside and create, where culture is made and lived. A set of Canberra exhibitions built around innovation and celebrating the achievements of craft and design connects local creativity and cultural life with the larger international significance of the themes and artists involved.

Like many other Australians who live in smaller towns rather than in our biggest cities, I like to celebrate the power of local culture. The fact that my local town is Canberra merely makes the link between local, regional and national more challenging, complex and perplexing – not to mention fun. Canberra was built as the result of a momentary nation-building frenzy and the power of that vision has never really abated. Still at heart it’s also a bit of a country town, with all that entails.


The result of a cross-disciplinary research project to develop and test a lego-like assembly educational toy to assist Japanese language learning for Australian children. The rectangular pieces are imprinted with images, Japanese words and phonics and click and connect together using colours to help match up the right pieces. The result is a correct construction of a Japanese sentence. Credits: Dr Yuko Kinoshita, Associate Professor
Carlos Montaña-Hoyos and Sam Tomkins. Prototype, 3D print, paper print. 2016. Image credit: Sam Tomkins. 

Dense and diverse works in a small space
A small cluster of exhibitions currently at the Craft ACT Gallery in Civic, Canberra's main city centre, offers a pleasurable and thoughtful mix of viewing. Like most of Craft ACT’s exhibitions, much gets crammed into a relatively small space.