Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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.

Recently I posted a notice about a forthcoming talk at the National Library of Australia by Paul Diamond, Curator, Māori, at the National Library of New Zealand. Paul has has been researching Australian, New Zealand and Pacific records in the collections of the National Library of Australia.

Curator Paul Diamond begins his talk in Te Reo Māori.

The talk turned out to be fascinating because there were so many overlapping topics and perspectives. The talk was being recorded, so hopefully the Library will make it available online for those who were unable to attend. While the talk was highly relevant to New Zealand and its history, it also alluded to some of the big contemporary issues affecting Australia.

Cross-Tasman collaboration
For a start a collaboration between the national libraries of two countries so interlinked was always going to be of interest. With the recent sister city relationship between the two capitals, Wellington and Canberra, already long-established partnerships are becoming much stronger.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Year Zero without a roadmap – arts funding chaos set to be repeated as Government sells regions short

The years of chaos produced by ad hoc changes to national arts funding, with no strategy or overall vision, seem set to be repeated. The Government's ham-fisted attempt to turn back the clock on the national capital by transferring Government departments to regional centres seems like our own (thankfully, milder) version of Year Zero. Though a response to a genuine problem, it is unlikely to produce any real benefits and could inflict major damage on one of Australia’s greatest national assets. It seems strange when, in many areas, particularly arts and culture, the Government has for years been steadily transferring roles back to Canberra.

In another desperate attempt to scrabble together enough votes to save its panicked ranks, the Government is plucking plans out of the air again. This time Australian Government departments are to be reviewed to identify which ones might be suitable for relocation to regional areas.

Main street, Ararat, Victoria. Regional development needs a more serious approach than pork-barrelling - understanding the crucial role arts, culture and creative industries can play in boosting regional economies and communities is a good start.

This is not just about Canberra because as John Wanna, Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University, has pointed out, approximately 70% of the Australian Public Service is based outside of Canberra. Of course, despite this, it has become a discussion about Canberra.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why cultural diversity is central to Australia’s future promise – a refocused Labor arts policy?

Can Australia successfully navigate the treacherous and confusing times in which we live? Understanding the crucial importance of our cultural diversity to our cultural, social and economic future will be essential. Applying that in the policies and practices that shape our future at all levels across Australia can ensure we have a bright, productive and interesting 21st Century. An important part of this are the political parties, major and minor, that are increasingly negotiating the compromises that shape our world. The recent launch by the Labor Party of a new group, Labor for the Arts, is an important development. Combining as it does a focus from an earlier time on both arts and multiculturalism, it could potentially open the way for some innovative and forward-thinking policy.

Without a grasp of the importance of Australia’s cultural diversity to its future – culturally, socially and economically – we will find it impossible to navigate the treacherous and confusing times in which we are living. Due to failures of leadership and lack of vision we have drifted into a world in which diversity is increasingly under attack and borders are closing.

Innovation is applied creativity – and it’s more than a catchphrase
In this landscape it cannot be stressed too many times that cultural diversity is inextricably linked to pressing issues such as innovation – which is, after all, just applied creativity – because where cultures intersect, new ideas flourish. It fosters new approaches and helps breed the innovation needed for the modern knowledge economy and our creative industries.

Where cultures intersect, new ideas and approaches flourish.

However, for this to be reflected in strategic policy and the day to day decisions that flow from it, it is critical that decision-making bodies that affect our future understand it and its implications. This includes an array of organisations across Australian society at all levels – small and large businesses and their industry bodies, community organisations and local, state and territory and national governments. This includes the political parties, major and minor, that are increasingly negotiating the compromises that shape our world and determine our future.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

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 is what 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.

The real danger for the future of arts and culture in Australia is not so much big cuts to funding by government. Though they are always possible, expenditure on arts and culture is so small relative to the rest of government spending, that there aren’t really the savings to make it worth while,

Drawing on the strengths of the communities underpinning Australia's cultural diversity can help provide partnerships and support and build a truly broad and representative contemporary culture.

Much more likely and more dangerous is that the arts will stagnate and decline by being ignored or sidelined, with support steadily eroded. That’s where the ‘efficiency dividend’ is so dangerous.

Four long-running factors add up over time
The decline of Government arts and culture support – and hence a negative impact on Australia’s arts and culture – can be attributed to four long-running factors, what I have called a quadruple whammy. Get to know them well because they will be closing or limiting an existing service or preventing the startup of a new service near you at some stage in the immediate future. The process is already well underway.