Thursday, November 7, 2019

Making a living – building careers in creative and cultural futures

Making a living in the developing creative economy is no easy task. For a viable career, flexibility and creativity are crucial. For this a strategic outlook and a grasp of the major long-term forces shaping Australian creativity and culture is essential. To help foster this amongst emerging cultural sector practitioners, a new flagship course, a Master of Arts in Creative and Cultural Futures, was launched at the University of Canberra in 2019, building on earlier experiments in aligning research and analysis with real world cultural sector experience.

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.

Dior exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2019.

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. While the arts and culture sector cannot be reduced simply to economics, it would be a mistake if, for that reason, we ignored the fact that it plays an important economic role. The economic role parallels the broader social role it plays. What the two roles have in common is that both spring from the reality that creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.

With arts funding increasingly becoming a fragile and declining source of support for arts and culture and artists, it makes sense to consider what other opportunities are available in the broader creative economy and to what degree it is possible to move across the creative economy and build a viable career in and beyond Australia’s arts and culture sector. There are also a range of interconnected issues that need to be clarified and understood. The relationships between creativity and culture, art and culture and culture and economics are all complex and confusing. Like innovation, creativity has become a buzz word and it’s easy to overlook these two important concepts amongst the hype.

Strategic outlook essential
Essential in order to recognise and grasp these opportunities is a widespread strategic outlook within the cultural sector and a grasp of the major long-term forces shaping the sector. To help foster this a new flagship Master of Arts course, Creative and Cultural Futures, partly drawing on the experience of several earlier initiatives, was launched at the University of Canberra at the beginning of 2019.

Essential in order to recognise and grasp these opportunities is a widespread strategic outlook within the cultural sector and a grasp of the major long-term forces shaping the sector. 

I became involved in the course because it is important that what is offered within tertiary education combines the best of the analytical and research strengths of universities with practical experience drawn from the cultural sector itself. Having worked for 40 years across the diverse arms of the cultural sector, in community arts and broadcasting, publishing, museums and Government, I was interested in seeing how this could be related to considered analysis and research.

Vital resources for ideas and evidence
Universities are vital resources for government, community and business. In a rapidly changing world, with major challenges to be faced and countries often divided down the middle on critical directions for the future, the importance of research, analysis, evidence and ideas generally is greater than ever before. While university resources are increasingly stretched, no other sectors have the expertise and experience to grapple effectively with these matters. The history of Government is particularly telling, with research capabilities underpinning policy and programs having been steadily eroded.

Those working in industries relying on creativity or centred on the significance of culture, including arts and heritage, increasingly need to have a solid relationship with universities and their expertise. In the many decades I have worked in the arts and culture sector, across an extremely wide range of areas, it became absolutely clear how critical research, evaluation and measurement is to understanding what the arts and culture sector does and what works best.

Major gaps in understanding and knowledge
In the more than 13 years I spent working in the Australian Government, it was apparent there were major gaps in understanding and knowledge about creativity, arts and culture. It came up as a critical issue during the development of the comprehensive but short-lived ‘Creative Australia’, the National Cultural Policy. To help remedy the situation, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet called on the services of renowned cultural economist, Professor David Throsby.

In a rapidly changing world, with major challenges to be faced and countries often divided down the middle on critical directions for the future, the importance of research, analysis, evidence and ideas generally is greater than ever before.

A shortfall in research was a fundamental issue almost a decade before when I worked as a Research Manager with the Research, Statistics and Technology Branch of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. To help address these shortcomings the Department became involved in a three year Australian Creative Digital Industries Mapping Study, funded by the Australian Research Council. It involved the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, the National Office for the Information Economy and the Australian Film Commission as industry partners.

At the time there was a considerable amount of work underway to research our creative industries and to develop Australian Government policies to support the growth of major, globally competitive Australian industries producing digital content and applications. From the perspective of the Department of Communications, the main aim of the project was to generate research which would feed into policy development. The research also laid the groundwork to help establish a larger and more ambitious project, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology.

Impact and Enterprise
Within the new course at the University of Canberra, the unit I am responsible for, Impact and Enterprise, surveys and analyses key theories and concepts of cultural and creative industries and economies. It examines and analyses the ways and means by which cultural works are produced, valued, distributed, regulated, consumed and debated within the professional context of the creative and cultural industries. Students engage with real world cultural sector contexts to analyse key components of the creative and cultural economy, including sources of funding, measurement of impact, entrepreneurial approaches, governance and management issues.

While many other courses focus on creative industries and the economic aspect of culture, Impact and Enterprise considers both the economic and social impact of culture as complementary aspects of the same inherent characteristic of culture – it’s close connection to everyday life.

The unit aims to equip students with knowledge of the key theories and examples of cultural policy, cultural and creative industries, and creative labour, help them identify specific practices, policies and programs within the cultural sector that are relevant to their chosen fields of work or practice and undertake effective communication of ideas and concepts central to their chosen field of practice.

Impact and Enterprise is delivered through online interaction with students and a set of assignments chosen by them individually which draw on the online material and a two-day face to face group Intensive held on campus at the University. Topics are wide-ranging.

Integral to everyday life
Impact and Enterprise is distinctly different from anything else available, because while many other courses focus on creative industries and the economic aspect of culture, Impact and Enterprise considers both the economic and social impact of culture as complementary aspects of the same inherent characteristic of culture – it’s close connection to everyday life. As I mentioned earlier, what they have in common is that both spring from the reality that creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.

‘Where the creative economy differ completely from the rest of the broader knowledge economy sectors is that, because it is based on content, it draws on, intersects with and contributes to Australia’s national and local culture and is a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. ­– it helps channel those who write the stories, paint the pictures and dance the dances that tell our story.’

Impact and Enterprise begins by considering the broader picture and locating creativity and culture in the cultural economy. For those working in the culture and creativity sphere, or those who want to work in it or are just interested in it, it is important to have a sense of its broadest reach. Beyond its obvious cultural impacts, it has a multitude of broader economic and social impacts – in health and well-being, education, in building resilient and sustainable communities, liveable cities and regions and much more. Wherever in the sector – or even outside it – that individuals may work, a grasp of this will stand them in good stead, as it will help them draw connections and identify opportunities to link up disparate areas and issues. This is where strategic thinking comes into its own.

Clever and clean industries of the future
Increasingly 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. They are mainly service industries that make up the knowledge economy, based on intellectual enquiry and research and exhibiting both innovative services or products and often also new and innovative ways of doing business. They are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future, closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.

Where the creative economy differ completely from the rest of the broader knowledge economy sectors is that, because it is based on content, it draws on, intersects with and contributes to Australia’s national and local culture and is a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. ­– it helps channel those who write the stories, paint the pictures and dance the dances that tell our story.

In that sense it has a strategic importance that other parts of the knowledge economy do not. Linked to Australia's cultural sector it has the critical function of managing the meaning of Australia and what being Australian entails, which distinguishes it from other parts of the knowledge economy.

Raising big and pressing issues 
The topic raises some big issues about our understanding of arts, culture, creativity and innovation, the creative economy and creative industries.
  • Differences and similarities between concepts of art, culture, heritage, the creative economy, creative industries, copyright industries.
  • Culture and cultures – culture as a way of life or world view and culture as creative expression.
  • The distinctive nature of culture in the knowledge economy – managing meaning.
  • The limits of Government-funded arts, culture and heritage – and the universe beyond. Operating in both the commercial world and the community world, in an environment where Government, the private and community sectors are likely to intersect even more than at present.
  • The relationship between the private sector and the community sector and the differences and similarities between both.
  • Predicting and managing impacts for the cultural sector of a likely backlash against decades of neo-liberal economic philosophy.

Follow up workshops cover the importance of the much abused idea of innovation and and discuss it in terms of applied creativity. They also discuss the potentially fruitful relationship between First Nations culture, cultural content and intellectual property and creative industries, and look at how cultural diversity fosters innovation, because where cultures intersect new ideas and approaches develop and flourish.

Creativity and culture – part and parcel of everyday life
Impact and Enterprise then considers the myriad ways in which creativity and culture are part and parcel of everyday life. Workshops include ‘Making a difference – the broader impacts of creativity and culture’, ‘Valuing creativity and culture’ and ‘The creative city – and region’.

Having considered the close interrelationship between creativity and culture and everyday life, it turns its attention to the emerging challenges of the future. Workshops include ‘Building strong and enduring organisations – partnerships, audiences and resources’, ‘Research and evaluation – knowing what works and living to tell’, ‘Essential services – understanding the differences and connections between operational funding, project funding and infrastructure’ and ‘Fit for purpose – running things well’.

‘Any attempt to thread together the many strands of the contemporary cultural sector with the creative economy and the whole potential role of creativity in the economy and society will be complex and long-term. It will also be indispensable if we want to have a place and play a productive role in the contemporary global world.’

With these topics covered, consideration then turns to issues of policy, with ‘The power of policy’. Workshops related to this include ‘Policy and leadership can occur anywhere’, ‘The art of the possible – the role of Government’ and ‘The implications of international engagement – frameworks and worldviews’.

Crossing boundaries
Impact and Enterprise concludes with a look at the potential relationship between cultural institutions and their vast stores of content and creative industries in ‘Crossing boundaries – cultural heritage and creative content’. Workshops expand on this with ‘Building bridges – content partnerships between community and cultural institutions’ and ‘Career paths and trajectories – working in the jobs of the future’.

Following the inaugural course early this year, Impact and Enterprise is being refined to better focus these themes and to make the learning experience as smooth and as relevant to industry issues as possible. This is where experience drawn from real world examples is crucial.

Filling a gap
The course fills a gap that has been there for some time. It has evolved from several earlier experiments at the University. In May 2015 I was involved in a forum there that explored how leadership in the cultural sector can occur at many different levels in an organisation and how cultural organisations interface with audiences and partners in many different dynamic ways. It was a very interesting discussion that I hadn’t been involved in during many decades in the arts and culture sector.

In response to the forum, an article in The Conversation in October 2015 argued that in a period of great upheaval in the arts, we need to move away from thinking about leadership as a position (in a hierarchical structure, for example) and instead think about it as an approach or activity. The article referred to the Transformations in Cultural Leadership Masterclass and commented, ‘A new generation of Australian cultural leadership post-graduate programs, including initiatives at University of Canberra and NIDA, as well as at UNSW Art and Design, have an opportunity to make a significant impact on the way leadership is understood and supported in this country.’

The Masterclass led to Creative and Cultural Futures: Leadership and Change, a symposium exploring the critical issues driving change in the creative and cultural sector, held at the University of Canberra in October 2018, which I wrote about in ‘Creativity and culture in change, change in creativity and culture’.

Opening up the landscape
I have always had some difficulty with the idea of leadership – widespread as the many courses teaching it are – because it implies a simple dichotomy of leaders and followers and I think it’s more complex and nuanced than that. The Transformations in Cultural Leadership Masterclass was still in its early days and was a work in progress, experimenting with different approaches and raising important ideas. It was good to see the discussion opening up, especially in a time when there has been great disruption in the arts and culture sector – and likely to be more.

It will be interesting to see how the new course evolves and what role it comes to play within the rapidly changing creative and cultural sector and how it complements other existing or developing courses. Any attempt to thread together the many strands of the contemporary cultural sector with the creative economy and the whole potential role of creativity in the economy and society will be complex and long-term. It will also be indispensable if we want to have a place and play a productive role in the contemporary global world.

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.

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.

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.

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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