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.

The aim is for Design Canberra to be a central part of the coming of age of Canberra which has been occurring since the ACT Centenary. Craft ACT plans to use it to help expand the breadth and depth of exciting cultural activity in Canberra to strengthen its image as a cool, creative, innovative and exciting place to live, work and visit. It builds on the inherent and unique nature of Canberra as Australia’s iconic designed capital, both big enough and small enough to be liveable, and a centre of higher education and research and home to almost all Australia’s national cultural instutions and all of the national embassies.

‘Australia is at a crossroads in recognising and realising the potential of the knowledge economy of the future’

Design Canberra taps a strong local arts scene and helps build international networks which feed into the annual program. The plan is to build a major event with regional, national and international partners by steadily expanding public engagement, broadening the range of non-government partners to ensure sustainability and making use of the distinct strengths that come from being a capital city.

Australia is at a crossroads in recognising and realising the potential of the knowledge economy of the future. Central to this is its arts and culture sector, with both a role telling Australia's story to ourselves and the world and links to creative industries, including design. See more: ‘Clever and clean – the knowledge economy of the future’

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.

Design as an industry strategy – learning from our neighbours
It is no surprise that close neighbour, New Zealand, chose design as one of the cross-cutting, unifying themes for its national industry development strategy well over a decade ago. Speaking about this strategy in 2005, Dame Cheryll Sotheran, noted for her role as founding Chief Executive of the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, outlined the strategy to Australian colleagues in the arts and culture sector.

‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time’

With two New Zealand colleagues she was a keynote speaker at the national OZeCulture Conference, a series of five annual gatherings organised by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts from 2001 to 2005. The conferences brought together arts and cultural organisations and artists using the web, along with Information and Communications Technology specialists, to advance understanding and use of the digital and online environment. See more: ‘Culture in the backyard – the thread of design connects arts, culture and creative industries'

At the time of the 2005 OZeCulture Conference, Cheryll Sotheran was Sector Director, Creative Industries, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. In this role she was responsible for the strategic development of the creative industries in New Zealand’s economic development agency and for strategic leadership of creativity and innovation across all sectors in the New Zealand economy. This involved leadership in strategic development, sector and business development, and development of export and international networks and markets. She had been instrumental in developing creative industries in New Zealand and at the conference talked about transforming the economy through creative enterprise.

Positioned as world leader
It is no accident that her career has spanned cultural institutions, creative industries and innovation with a focus on cultural diversity. The connection between all these are strong. The creative industries and design strategy played a major role in positioning New Zealand as a world leader in the sector. As part of a strategy to utilise the strengths of their local film sector, New Zealand also built a critical mass of screen production expertise, through large scale projects, such as ‘Lord of the Rings’.

In doing so it showed that smaller cities, remote from the traditional centres of film industry dominance, could establish a major, high profile niche in the global industry. In the contemporary globalised world, as long as countries and cities can survive the inevitable negative impact, 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.

The New Zealanders long ago recognised that the creative industries and design were the way of the future. Shrink wrap that with stunning physical attributes and a reputation for clean and pristine and you have a winning streak with a lot of momentum. Many of these characteristics are shared by Canberra and much can be made of it. Australians used to joke that going to New Zealand was like travelling back to the 1950s. That might be true in some respects, but in other ways it’s like travelling to a country Australia might want to become sometime in the future.

‘The New Zealanders long ago recognised that creative industries and design were the way of the future’

Given the confluence of ideas, it is timely that Canberra and Wellington have recently tied the knot as sister cities and begun to strengthen a network of connections between the two national capitals. From my involvement for many years with Indigenous languages organisations and events such as the influential Puliima Conference, I am already familiar with the potential gains from a productive relationship between Australian and New Zealand community groups. Expanding cultural, design and creative industry links can only strengthen this.

Putting arts, culture and creative industries on the national agenda
Moving arts and culture onto the main national agenda and understanding its productive role is critical to our future. Helping place design, the most practical and pervasive of arts, with its universal language, at the centre of the agendas of industry, community, universities and government will foster this and build ongoing engagement. It will link the arts and culture sector to innovation and ensure ongoing engagement between artists, community, creative industries, universities and government in the shared endeavour of building a society and an economy for the future.

Emphasising the importance of creative industries is not a case of favouring economics and the commercial over community priorities. There is a shared focus here with community cultural development. What creative industries and community cultural development have in common is that a focus on the economic role of arts and culture is similar to the focus on its community role – both spring from recognition that arts and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.

Local, regional, national and international meet in the middle
One of the great and unique strengths of Canberra is that it is home to the array of national diplomatic embassies. To compound this the national capital is also home to the bulk of the national cultural institutions.

‘An important synergy between our major cultural institutions and creative industries is the enormous economic potential the vast collections of cultural institutions offer for development of high quality digital content’

There is an important synergy between our major cultural institutions and the creative industries, even though the institutions have been steadily cut back over many years. This potential was 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 enormous economic potential the vast collections of cultural institutions offered for development of high quality digital content.

It is easy with these international and national connections to miss the fact that Canberra is also an important regional centre. The fact that it is both the national capital and a regional centre gives it a particular flavour. Benefits of an enhanced focus on design flow not only to Canberra, and to Australia, but also to the surrounding region.

The great wide world – international connection as a City of Design
To consolidate and accelerate international connection and profile, another element in the plan for Design Canberra involves potential benefits from engagement with the UNESCO Cities of Design. Listing of Australia’s capital city on UNESCO’s register of Cities of Design could lift the design profile of Australia and its industries and create opportunities for partnerships between local and international businesses. It could also help foster cultural tourism, especially if managed in association with the major cultural institutions that are so much part of the national capital.

There is currently a wide range of cities amongst the 22 Cities of Design in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Most importantly for Australia, many are in the Asia/Pacific region – in key partners such as Indonesia (Bandung), Japan (Kobe and Nagoya), South Korea (Seoul), and above all China (Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai). Of particular interest, given the commencement in September of direct international flights from Canberra to Wellington and Singapore, is that Singapore, with a long history of involvement in creative industries, is also a Design City. Looking at the list, it is fascinating that it ranges from regional cities to some of the most important capital cities on the planet.

The benefits of becoming a UNESCO Creative City still need to be assessed but there are a range of reasons to seek to join the Network. Listing could help highlight the cultural assets of Canberra on a global platform and help underline how creativity is an essential element of local economic and social development. It could also help build local capacity and train local arts and cultural practitioners in business skills, particularly with an international focus. See more: ‘A whole world out there – building global connection through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network’

‘The list of Cities of Design ranges from regional cities to some of the most important capital cities on the planet’

For listing as a UNESCO City of Design to progress, there would need to be broad and sustained local enthusiasm and advocacy and, underpinned by this, active support right across the ACT government, from the Chief Minister down. The next call for applications to join will be in 2017, which would require planning and consultation to be well advanced by this stage. This is unlikely, particularly given that this year is an election year, so the alternative is to wait for the following application round, probably two years later, in 2019. Whether Canberra is up to seizing the opportunity, time will tell.

Postscript: In the latest survey on global innovation the breaking news is that New Zealand outranks Australia. Given the current government emphasis on innovation, this is extremely significant. An article by Brian Robins in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’, outlines the challenges of strengthening innovation and Australia’s struggle to keep from slipping behind in the harsh world of global competitiveness. The big issues are having a long-term view for many decades and being prepared to stay in for the long haul; understanding the long lag between the original innovative ideas and transforming those into market-ready products and services; and the need for a complex and comprehensive ‘eco-system’ of innovation – from research institutions, government public policy and funding programs and funding programs, and a deep culture of collaboration and co-operation. Australia also suffers from traditionally being a branch office economy for the large transnational corporations that have the resources to foster innovation.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook.

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

The intriguing world of tiny exhibitions – Craft ACT shows what small organisations can do
‘We’re all used to the great big blockbuster exhibitions with all their wow and flutter. What’s really intriguing though is the world of tiny exhibitions, a babbling brook of activity that flows away – often unnoticed – under the tall timbers of the big institutions. At Craft ACT you can get four of them at once – in one smallish gallery space. These are artists who are likely to go on to produce better plumbing and lighting (always a good thing), design theatre costumes with a life of their own, produce unique fabric or jewellery such as you have never seen before, hinting at a history stretching far back, and give you furniture that can be folded simply and put away, but not forgotten’, The intriguing world of tiny exhibitions – Craft ACT shows what small organisations can do.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Indigenous cultural jobs – real jobs in an unreal world
'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.

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.

Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world
‘Design and the language of design is very broad – much broader than architecture or industrial or graphic design – the forms we are most conscious of. Design is also very much about processes and the development of concepts across almost all areas of human activity. This means it also has a high relevance to the development of policy to solve pressing social challenges, moving beyond the world of design to embrace the design of the world. In a highlight of DESIGN Canberra this year, respected Dutch presenter Ingrid Van der Wacht led discussion about the relevance of design to innovative policy – from local, highly specific policy to grand strategic policy designed to change whole regions and even nations’, Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world.

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

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment