Friday, November 9, 2018

Creativity and culture in change: Change in creativity and culture

A vast transformation of contemporary culture not seen since the breakdown of traditional arts and crafts in the industrial revolution is under way due to the impact of the digital and online environment. Artists, culture managers and cultural specialists today are confronted with radically different challenges and opportunities to those they faced in the 20th Century. There are a number of strategic forces which we need to take account of in career planning and in working in or running cultural organisations.

DESIGN Canberra is an illuminating example of many of the major contemporary trends in the creative and culture sector. Having heard about many of the issue it throws up, I’d like to talk briefly about some of the general issues this raises – moving from a specific case study to more strategic issues.

Panel at 'Creative and Cultural Futures: Leadership and Change' - a symposium exploring the critical issues driving change in the creative and cultural sector. 

It’s easy to appreciate why someone would seek a career in the creative and cultural sector (‘whatever that is’, as my philosophy professor used to say). It doesn’t usually pay that well (but better than cleaning, or digging ditches – or filling them in again), but it’s interesting and fulfilling work.

However, it has changed and continues to change immensely. Many of my contemporaries slipped into the sector when qualifications were less necessary and more generic. More than one of my peers who started as a community arts officer like me ended up as a university lecturer writing the curriculum for the study of the practice they had pioneered – without specific qualifications (except the odd Arts degree or so).

Nowadays that doesn’t cut it – to survive and make a living, you need skills and expertise and qualifications. This is in a sector that is changing rapidly and that is easily affected by its political, social and economic environment.

A vast transformation
A vast transformation of contemporary culture not seen since the breakdown of traditional arts and crafts in the industrial revolution is under way due to the impact of the digital and online environment. Artists, culture managers and cultural specialists today are confronted with radically different challenges and opportunities to those they faced in the 20th Century.

There are a number of strategic forces which we need to take account of in career planning (and in working in or running cultural organisations). Some of these are very influential, like the crisis of democracy and those related to the environment, such as climate change. However, I want to focus on several more directly related forces:

The first is the growing importance of the knowledge economy of the future. The second is the increasing importance of our immediate region, including the Pacific, in the Asian Century and the third is a set of major constraining factors affecting cultural organisations. These mutually reinforce each other to produce a cumulative long term impact, while, at the same time, there is no strategic policy or overview guiding governments. Government support for cultural activity is in flux, with a high level of uncertainty and substantial change which has to be factored into strategic planning.
  1. Government cultural funding has been steadily trimmed over the last five years and it is not being adjusted for inflation.
  2. There is a tendency for governments to move away from organisational or operational funding towards one-off project funding.
  3. The impact of the efficiency dividend on major cultural institutions is cutting deeper and deeper. This is particularly damaging because of its cumulative effect, in the same way compound interest works – except in reverse. Each reduction is a reduction on the previous reduction.
  4. While funding is stagnating – or dropping in real terms – Australia’s population and economy continue to grow steadily, further reducing the ability of programs and organisations to respond to the demands of a bigger nation.
Rising to the challenges
To address this we have several challenges to rise to:

·        We need to establish new models of support for creativity and culture. For long term viability, limited government support needs to be supplemented by private and community resourcing, leveraging limited government funding to generate much higher levels of support. Forty years of creeping neo-liberal economics has had disastrous impacts on support for creativity and culture.
·        Grasping that a focus on the economic role of arts and culture is not all bad, as long as it is seen as similar to a focus on its community role – both spring from recognition that creativity and culture is integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.
·        The productive role creativity and culture plays makes it imperative it is included on the main national agenda, recognising its integral relationship with major economic and social factors such as economic development, education, innovation, community resilience, social and community identity and health and wellbeing.

Favourable factors
To do this we have a number of factors in our favour:

·        The cultural sector is adept at communication. It deals in the expression of fundamental values for our society, using language and images, stories, symbolism and emotion.
·        Creativity and culture is increasingly linked to the broader knowledge economy and to the creative economy within it. The knowledge economy, home to the clean and clever industries of the future, is a natural fit for creativity and culture.
·        Where the creative and cultural sector differs completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because it is based on content, it draws on and contributes to Australia’s culture and is a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense the creative and cultural sector has a strategic importance that other sectors do not – it has a critical function managing meaning.
·        Interconnection and interaction are critical – the lateral connections between different components of the sector – and areas beyond – help map out a potentially promising and influential future.
·        There is an important connection between our cultural institutions and the creative economy. Access to the collections, knowledge and expertise of these institutions can help fully realise its potential.
·        Creativity and culture also show promise in helping address central social challenges:

  1. Cultural diversity fosters innovation, which occurs where cultures intersect and differing world-views come into contact.
  2. Looking at how the issue of Traditional Knowledge is being addressed and going further, one of the most important economic resources of Indigenous communities is their culture. Through the intellectual property that translates it into a form that can generate income in a contemporary economy, this shows some promise of contributing to the future sustainability of these communities. It mines a far richer seam than coal or iron – authentic and rich content that has been recognised internationally.
  3. Creative firms and outlets are already developing which draw on that cultural content.

·        The features of the new order, such as massive interconnection, a heightened relationship with audiences and far greater flexibility of creative content, offer immense opportunities.
·        Cultural programs, membership, online presence, partnerships and marketing, and promotion and sales have to interact seamlessly, as a way of multiplying the impact of limited government funding and overall resources.

For those developing careers in the sector, these major challenges open up opportunities to work on the main agenda – and in areas previously hard to access. It’s about leadership and influence at many levels in cultural organisations and in the creative and cultural sector, but also in the wider community. Making the most of this will be critical to both the professional future of those working in the cultural sector – and to the shared future of Australia and the world.

Presentation at ‘Creative and Cultural Futures: Leadership and Change’ – a symposium exploring the critical issues driving change in the creative and cultural sector, University of Canberra, October 2018.

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.

Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture
‘Australia’s arts and culture is at a critical stage. One of the issues confronting it is lack of any kind of shared sense of what the role of government is in encouraging our arts and culture. The whole set of interlinked problems with the relationship between government and Australia’s arts and culture can be reduced to a lack of strategic vision and a long-term plan for the future. This deficiency is most apparent in the lack of any guiding policy, like trying to navigate a dark and dangerous tunnel without a torch or flying at night without lights or a map’, Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dear Treasurer – our arts are central to everyday life, why doesn’t funding reflect it?
‘In response to steadily diminishing support for arts and culture by government, it's crucial to recognise that Australia's arts are central to everyday life and should be firmly on the main national agenda. Apart from their value in maintaining a thriving Australian culture, the range of social and economic benefits they deliver and their role in telling Australia's story to ourselves and the world make them an essential service’, Dear Treasurer – our arts are central to everyday life, why doesn’t funding reflect it?

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.

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, could be 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’, Understanding why cultural diversity is central to Australia’s future promise – a refocused Labor arts policy?

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.

The Magna Carta – still a work in progress
‘You don’t have to be part of ‘Indigenous affairs’ in Australia to find yourself involved. You can’t even begin to think of being part of support for Australian arts and culture without encountering and interacting with Indigenous culture and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and individuals who make it and live it.’ The Magna Carta – still a work in progress.

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.

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’.

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