Monday, October 31, 2016

If the arts are important but not enough people know it, are they really important?

As the new landscape of Australia’s arts and culture emerge in the post-Brandis era, we are starting to see how organisations are adapting and the issues they are facing in doing so. To a lesser degree we are also seeing how artists themselves are responding. It seems clear that the absence of any overall strategic approach to arts and culture – whether from the Government or from the arts and culture sector – is having a deadening effect.

This is the first in a series of two articles. This one looks at some of the critical issues raised by the current malaise in the arts and culture sector in Australia. The second article, ‘Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture’, will discuss some of the ways available to address it.

We are starting to see what the new landscape of Australia’s arts and culture will begin to look like post-Brandis and his merry band of bright ideas. Now he’s no longer Arts Minister he can turn his full attention to the legal system – but at least the arts might be spared more havoc.

'Advocating the arts' forum panel at Canberra School of Art.

The week before last I went to a forum at the Canberra School of Arts about advocating for the arts. It covered a wide range of topics but I thought there were several things that emerged that are worth noting. I had planned to publish this article earlier but I’ve been distracted by all the events that have been on or are about to happen as part of Design Canberra 2016. I’ve been covering some of those but the implications from the presentation at the School of Arts are long term and worth considering more closely.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Putting culture on the main agenda – the power of policy

With the ongoing malaise due to the absence of national arts and cultural policy in Australia, it's worth reminding ourselves what beneficial impact good policy can have. To understand the power of policy to make an impact in the world, it’s worthwhile contrasting two recent major Australian Government cultural policies – the National Cultural Policy and the National Indigenous Languages Policy. This helps illuminate how cultural policy can promote the long view, innovation, breadth and leadership. Both policies showed that more important than funding or specific initiatives was the overall strategic vision and the way in which it attempted to place culture not just on the main agenda, but somewhere near the centre of the main agenda.

Government can do some very important things, but usually doesn’t. Sometimes in despair at the shortcomings of government, I’ve been forced to comment that it’s better if government is ineffective, so it does less damage.

The power of policy to connect - in an increasingly interconnected world it's crucial not to miss the boat.

However, when it works, even if it only moves the world one centimeter, because it is able to move everything that one centimeter, it can change the world. When I worked as Membership Manager for the iconic Powerhouse Museum in Sydney I was able to achieve some very useful things but they were mainly only of value to the Museum and its supporters.

'Government can do some very important things, but usually doesn’t'

In contrast when I worked for twelve years in the arts and culture agency of the Australian Government – under the various names and in the assorted departments through which it travelled – the policies and program I was involved with developing had an impact across a whole country.