Monday, September 9, 2019

The future of arts practice – navigating the creative economy

In a rapidly changing and difficult environment, it often seems a miracle that artists can continue to practice at all – and even sometimes make a living from their art. Increasingly we need to try to answer some important questions, including: ‘What does a sustainable arts practice mean and what does it look like’, and ‘how does the business of art affect the practice of art?’ These questions about the role of artists in the cultural sector, let alone in the broader society and economy, are important because they are linked to a range of crucial issues for the future of our society.

In a rapidly changing and difficult environment, it often seems a miracle that artists can continue to practice at all – and even sometimes make a living from their art. Canberra arts advocacy body, the Childers Group (of which I have been a member for the last couple of years), with the support of ACT Government agency, the Cultural Facilities Corporation, will tackle this complex issue at a forum towards the end of this year. ‘Sustainable arts practice: creativity and business’ is on Friday, 1 November 2019, from 3.30pm to 6.30pm at the Theatrette at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG), London Circuit, Civic in Canberra.

Breakout forum at Arts Value Forum, 2017.

This is the most recent of a long series of both large and small forums addressing crucial issues in the arts and culture sector, that have been jointly presented by the Childers Group and the Cultural Facilities Corporation. The previous event, in June 2017, was the well-attended Arts Value Forum, which I reported in my article What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture

The business of creativity
For a nominal contribution of $15 towards costs, attendees can join the Childers Group, supported by the Cultural Facilities Corporation, renowned cultural economist, Professor David Throsby, and a local panel that includes novelist Nigel Featherstone; theatre maker and musician Chrissie Shaw; contemporary Indigenous artist Krystal Hurst and dance artist and choreographer Alison Plevey. The forum will be moderated by Cultural Facilities Corporation Board member Genevieve Jacobs.

The forum will try to answer some important questions, including: ‘What does a sustainable arts practice mean to the guest speaker and panelists and what does it look like’, and ‘how does the business of art affect the practice of art?’

Guest speaker, David Throsby AO is a distinguished Professor of Economics at Macquarie University, internationally recognised for his research and writing on the economics of art and culture. Professor Throsby's research interests include the role of culture in economic development, the economic situation of individual artists, the economics of the performing arts, the creative industries, the economics of heritage and the relationship between cultural and economic policy. Some of his recent works include Making Art Work, Don’t Give Up Your Day Job, Do You Really Expect to Get Paid? (all of which are reports for the Australia Council) and his Currency Press Platform Paper (May 2018) Art, Politics, Money: Revisiting Australia’s Cultural Policy. I refer to this publication in my article, Why Australia still needs a cultural policy – third time lucky?

We live in dangerous times
The Childers Group comments that ‘We live in dangerous times: climate change, the impact of social media, fake news, the gig economy, wage theft, deregulation, privatisation, cutbacks on arts funding, globalisation, stagnant global economies, refugee policies, indigenous sovereignty, #metoo and the rest!’

It goes on to note that Professor Throsby addresses many of these issues, most recently in his 2018 paper Art, Politics and Money, where he writes: ‘How can it be that [artists] who contribute so much to our cultural life are so poorly rewarded?….The arts labour market does not price in a component for the public good that the work of artists provides….Artists are the creative labour force in the cultural industries. From this perspective they may be seen as industrial workers – low paid, unrepresented, condemned to rely on a series of short-term contracts, leading precarious economic lives, obliged to bear the risks offloaded on them by their corporate paymasters. Alternatively, they can be seen as self-starting entrepreneurs at the forefront of the new economy, developing new technologies, leading in digital innovation, finding ways to apply their creative skills, not just to the production of art but in a range of other areas as well…[Artists] are the source of the talent and the creativity that makes art happen and that keeps the cultural sector alive and growing. It is abundantly clear that the situation of the individual artist in Australia today must remain a central concern for cultural policy.’

Professor Throsby has been asked to expand upon these issues addressed in his recent work and give his perspective on survival for artists, and to interact with the panel of local artists in attempting to answer some of these questions.

In a recent report, ‘People say get a job — but I've got three’, the ABC investigated how Australian artists make ends meet, by working numerous jobs to support their creative practice. This is not a pressing issue for many beyond the cultural sector, but it has a damaging impact on Australia’s creativity and its culture. In that way, it affects everyone, even if they don’t realise it.

First the bad news – or the bad news?
Public views on arts support have changed for the worse over recent decades. In its recently released new four year strategy, Creativity Connects Us, national arts funding, advocacy and research body, the Australia Council for the Arts, noted that ‘our research tells us that many Australians have a narrow interpretation of what constitutes “the arts” and that there is a growing sense of the arts as elitist.’ Other Australia Council research, the National Arts Participation Survey of June 2017, has dire implications for a national arts funding body. It indicates that support for Government funding of the arts had fallen substantially over the last seven years. In response to the statement ‘The arts should receive public funding’, 85% of respondents in 2009 agreed. In 2013, only 75% agreed and in 2016 this has fallen still further, to 66%.

‘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. Not only artists, but also culture managers and cultural specialists today are confronted with radically different challenges and opportunities to those they faced in the 20th Century.’ 

In response to this new environment, the latest vision for the Australia Council is for ‘a creatively connected nation where creative enterprise is entrenched across society, industry and government as the fuel that ignites our social, cultural and economic success.’ A changed world is leading to a shift in emphasis by the Australia Council, but it has implications for the whole arts and cultural sector.

Economies and industries – creative and cultural
In parallel with the traditional focus on the arts and arts funding, there has been growing interest in the broader area of the creative or cultural economy and the related, more commercial, creative industries. What has been largely neglected in this discussion is the role of artists in this bold new economic world.

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. Not only artists, but also culture managers and cultural specialists today are confronted with radically different challenges and opportunities to those they faced in the 20th Century.

Arts funding is a fragile and declining source of support for artists, often requiring a large amount of work in order to apply, with limited chances of success. It makes sense to consider what other sources of income are available for artists in the broader creative economy.

These questions about the role of artists in the cultural sector, let alone in the broader society and economy, are important because they are linked to a range of crucial issues for the future of our society. I’m closely involved with Craft ACT and DESIGN Canberra, with their emphasis on the professional end of the maker world, with artists who study for years and gain qualifications and do their best to make a career and a living from their craft or training – and in the craft sector this is more likely than in many other parts of the creative economy.

‘Both economic relevance and a sense of being embedded with community are complementary aspects of contemporary craft – and many other forms of arts practice – that make it so strong a force in our culture. It is a perfect example for my interest in both the economic role of arts, culture and creativity and in their community role of building resilience, well-being, social inclusion and liveable cities. What they have in common is that both spring from the reality that arts, culture and creativity are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.’

What has always fascinated me about the crafts and the tradition of making things is how it is essentially about applied arts, which means that it has complex links to industry well beyond the arts sector, something that has been there not just for the 50 years of the history of Craft ACT, but for centuries, through such related things as the medieval artisan guilds.

Popular and democratic and hands on
The other aspect of craft that strikes me is that it is so popular and democratic and hands on – the professional practices of artists are echoed by a much broader enthusiasm amongst the community generally. Hobbyists are very different in their approach to professional practitioners but they share an enthusiasm that gives craft practice a very broad base.

For all the aspects of the hipster phenomenon that can so easily be parodied, the rediscovery of the handmade by precisely those who are the children of the digital universe is a really positive development. It strikes me that the focus on the handmade is not a reaction to the ubiquitous rule of digital, but rather a logical consequence of it. They are two sides of the same coin. Just as radio didn’t replace books, television didn’t replace film, DVDs didn’t even quite replace vinyl, massive disruption of established models can lead to a richer range of forms of expression and communication. There are significant losses, but there are also important gains.

Much that is true about the craft sector also applies to the arts and culture sector as a whole. The arts and culture sector cannot be reduced simply to economics, but it would be a mistake if, for that reason, we ignored the fact that it plays an important economic role.

‘Yet if the artists who are central to this – and who help fuel our identity as a creative society – struggle to make a living or even abandon their practice, what future is there for Australia as an outward-looking, forward-thinking nation? If we want to have a place and play a productive role in the contemporary global world, we have to come to terms with these issues.’ 

In some ways it reminds me of how the inevitable globalisation of the world, with its increased international flows of people – alongside the darker aspect of increased flows due to war, famine and repression – is generating a greater focus on localism. Phenomena such as the slow food movement are parallels to the hipster explosion.

Economic relevance and integration with community
Both economic relevance and a sense of being embedded with community are complementary aspects of contemporary craft – and many other forms of arts practice – that make it so strong a force in our culture. It is a perfect example for my interest in both the economic role of arts, culture and creativity and in their community role of building resilience, well-being, social inclusion and liveable cities. What they have in common is that both spring from the reality that arts, culture and creativity are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.

Yet if the artists who are central to this – and who help fuel our identity as a creative society – struggle to make a living or even abandon their practice, what future is there for Australia as an outward-looking, forward-thinking nation? There is no point in having a thriving and growing creative economy if those who underpin it and provide it with ideas, inspiration and artistic content aren't making a viable living from it. If we want to have a place and play a productive role in the contemporary global world, we have to come to terms with these issues.

With such broad relevance, the event will cover a lot of ground. If it gets you thinking, there will be an opportunity for mixing with other attendees at the end of the forum, with drinks and snacks from 5.30 pm to 6.30 pm. The Childers Group will release more information about local panellists and bookings shortly. For enquiries, contact the Childers Group on childersgroup@gmail.com.

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

What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture
‘With arts and cultural support increasingly under pressure, arts and cultural organisations and artists are trying to find ways in their own localities to respond and to help build a popular understanding of the broader social and economic benefits of arts and culture. Much work has been done in Australia and internationally to understand, assess and communicate the broad value of arts and culture. The challenge is to share and to apply what already exists – and to take it further’, What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture.

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’, 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, Creativity and culture in change: Change in creativity and culture.

See also – indefinite articles in a definite world
‘If you are losing track of the articles I have published to my 'indefinite article' blog over the last few years, this is a summary of all 133 articles up until mid July 2017, broken down into categories for easy access. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian arts and culture’, See also – indefinite articles in a definite world.

Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity
‘When I was visiting Paris last year, there was one thing I wanted to do before I returned home – visit the renowned French bakery that had trained a Melbourne woman who had abandoned the high stakes of Formula One racing to become a top croissant maker. She had decided that being an engineer in the world of elite car racing was not for her, but rather that her future lay in the malleable universe of pastry. Crossing boundaries of many kinds and traversing the borders of differing countries and cultures, she built a radically different future to the one she first envisaged’, Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity.

Taking part – Arts involvement in a divided Australia
‘The arts and culture sector has long suffered from a shortage of high quality, useable research and statistics. This makes what is available doubly important as we argue the case for the central relevance of arts and culture and the broader social and economic impact of involvement. New research demonstrates the positive scale of involvement, views on importance and trends in participation in Australia’s arts and cultural life, especially hands on involvement. It also shows a worrying decline in engagement and recognition in recent years and points to the need for a more strategic view by government’, Taking part – Arts involvement in a divided Australia.

Arts fightback – breaking out of the goldfish bowl
‘How can the broad arts and cultural sector become a better organised, effective voice for arts and culture and its wider importance for Australia? The current dire circumstances, where we face a national arts crisis the seriousness of which can’t be understated, may provide the opportunity we have needed to look seriously at this question. It’s time for the big picture and long view for Australian arts and culture and time to get ready for a long haul effort to win hearts and minds’, Arts fightback – breaking out of the goldfish bowl.

Making ends meet – the brittle new world of arts funding
‘Everyone is still recovering from the shock of the announcement by the Australia Council back in May this year of which organisations had been successful in obtaining four year operating funding – and which had not. It’s not so much directly due to the transfer of funds from the Australia Council but more a matter of new applicants applying in a competitive funding round, with an expanding sector, yet limited funds and a shrinking arts budget. Planning how to operate in the arts landscape of the future is something everyone needs to do. Having a Plan B and Plan C will be critical’, Making ends meet – the brittle new world of arts funding.

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 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’, Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future.

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.

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

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.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

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?

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.

Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities
‘It is becoming abundantly clear that in our contemporary world two critical things will help shape the way we make a living – and our economy overall. The first is the central role of cities in generating wealth. The second is the knowledge economy of the future and, more particularly, the creative industries that sit at its heart. In Sydney, Australia’s largest city, both of these come together in a scattering of evolving creative clusters – concentrations of creative individuals and small businesses, clumped together in geographic proximity. This development is part of a national and world-wide trend which has profound implications’, Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities.

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.

Applied creativity
‘I have been dealing with the issue of creativity for as long as I can remember. Recently, I have had to deal with a new concept—innovation. All too often, creativity is confused with innovation. A number of writers about innovation have made the point that innovation and creativity are different. In their view, innovation involves taking a creative idea and commercialising it. If we look more broadly, we see that innovation may not necessarily involve only commercialising ideas. Instead the core feature is application—innovation is applied creativity. Even ideas that may seem very radical can slip into the wider culture in unexpected ways’, Applied creativity.

Creative industries – applied arts and sciences
‘The nineteenth century fascination with applied arts and sciences — the economic application of nature, arts and sciences — and the intersection of these diverse areas and their role in technological innovation are as relevant today for our creative industries. From the Garden Palace, home of Australia’s first international exhibition in 1879, to the Economic Gardens in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens these collections and exhibitions lay the basis for modern Australian industry. The vast Garden Palace building in the Sydney Botanic Gardens was the Australian version of the great Victorian-era industrial expositions, where, in huge palaces of glass, steel and timber, industry, invention, science, the arts and nature all intersected and overlapped. Despite burning to the ground, it went on to become the inspiration for what eventually became the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences — the Powerhouse Museum’, Creative Industries.

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