My main blog indefinite article is irreverent writing 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. Over the last ten years I have published 171 articles about creativity and culture on the blog. This is a list of all the articles I have published there, broken down into categories, with a brief summary of each article. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, the cultural economy and creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian creativity and culture. They originate mostly between 2010 and 2020, with the bulk after 2014, though some were written before 2010.
I hope you find them useful. One of the main reasons I write them for this blog and for my complementary Facebook page is to help provide case studies, evidence and arguments that can be used to press the case for the importance of creativity and culture and the broad benefits they have across Australian life. Both economic relevance and a sense of being embedded with community are of contemporary creativity and culture that make it so strong a force. The economic role of creativity and culture and their community role of building resilience, well-being, social inclusion and livable cities are inextricably linked. What they have in common is that both spring from the reality that culture and creativity are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up. The blog is a place where I can post many of the articles and analysis I come across, that readers of the blog might not otherwise see. They are welcome to share this amongst their own networks.
2. Artists and arts organisations 6
3. Cultural institutions 10
4. Cultural policy 11
5. Arts funding 16
6. Cultural economy and creative industries 20
7. First Nations culture 15
8. Cultural diversity 4
9. Australian society 7
10. Cities and regions 21
11. Government 1
12. International 2
13. Canberra 3
14. Popular culture 26
16. Parallel universe 1
‘Given the Government cannot avoid spending enormous sums of money if it is to be in any way capable and competent, this is an unparalleled opportunity to remake Australia for the future. Usually opportunities such as this only arise in rebuilding a country and an economy after a world war. It is a perfect moment to create the sort of clean, clever and creative economy that will take us forward in the global world for the next hundred years. Unfortunately a failure of imagination and a lack of innovative ambition will probably ensure this doesn’t happen any time soon’, Remaking the world we know – for better or worse.
‘When I hear the call to get back to normal, I think ‘what was normal about the old normal?’ The sudden shutdown of large sectors of the economy highlighted drastically how precarious was the situation of vast chunks of Australian society, in particular but not exclusively, the creative sector. The business models implemented by the Government to help businesses survive and employees keep their jobs didn’t work at all for those who had already been happily left at – or even deliberately pushed to – the margins of society and the economy. In good times the creative sector is flexible and fast at responding. In bad times it is a disaster, as the failure of the COVID-19 support packages for the sector shows’, The old normal was abnormal – survival lessons for a new riskier world.
‘The last few months have been a wild ride. First the national bushfires and now global pandemic. In February people were being encouraged to visit fire-ravaged regional centres to help boost local economies. By March they were being urged to stay home to help reduce the spread of pestilence. I’m quietly seething at governments which knew this was coming, but just didn’t have a fixed date, and thought they could make savings by pretending it wasn’t coming. Now the Australian creative sector has largely been infected as well, but without the ventilators required to keep it alive,’ Caught in the past – economic blindness overlooks the creative sector.
‘In this dangerous age of pandemic that has succeeded our months of fire and smoke, all sorts of things we have taken for granted have become apparent. One of these is how similar in many respects the arts and sport are. The other is how community organisations are kept alive by an essential service that is often overlooked’, Art and sport and an essential service under threat.
Out of the ashes – art and bushfires 2 Feb 2020
‘While the current bushfires raging across much of Australia are unprecedented in their scale and severity, they are a reminder of how people have responded after previous fires, rebuilding communities and lives in the affected areas. They have also focused attention on the impact of the fires on creative practices and business and on how those in the arts and culture sector can use their skills to contribute to bushfire recovery into the future’, Out of the ashes – art and bushfires.
‘Understanding, assessing and communicating the broad value of arts and culture is a major and ongoing task. There has been an immense amount of work already carried out. The challenge is to understand some of the pitfalls of research and the mechanisms and motivations that underpin it. Research and evaluation is invaluable for all organisations but it is particularly important for Government. The experience of researching arts and culture in Government is of much broader relevance, as the arts and culture sector navigates the tricky task of building a comprehensive understanding in each locality of the broader benefits of arts and culture. The latest Arts restructure makes this even more urgent.’, Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture.
Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity 25 Mar 2019
‘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.
Creativity and culture in change: Change in creativity and culture 9 Nov 2018
‘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.
Taking part – Arts involvement in a divided Australia 30 Jun 2017
‘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.
‘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, from lack of indexation, the cumulative effect of ‘efficiency dividends’, the trend towards project funding rather than operational funding an falling behind as the population and economy expands’, Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future.
Banish the bland – Kim Williams spells out a positive Australia 9 Sep 2016
‘Australia needs more far-sighted strategic vision and discussion and less of the self-serving waffle we get from too many of our politicians. The creative and intellectual capacity of our people is central to a bright, ambitious and optimistic future and essential to avoid a decline into irrelevance, according to Kim Williams, former media executive and composer. He is an Australian who values ideas and his vision for a positive Australia is firmly focused on our artists, scientists and major cultural and scientific institutions’, Banish the bland – Kim Williams spells out a positive Australia.
The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future 18 Jul 2016
‘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.
Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda 24 Mar 2016
‘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.
Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century? 21 Sep 2015
Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture 26 Jun 2015
‘Case studies and anecdotal evidence show that involvement in cultural (and sporting) activity – by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities – often has powerful flow on social and economic effects. However, this is not why people are involved in cultural activity – it’s just a bonus. It shouldn’t be ignored and it can be harnessed to good effect but we have to be careful not to focus just on the side effects, no matter how important. Cultural activity is an expression of who we are, what we value and how we see ourselves and our place in the world. That’s much more important. Few would suggest that non-Indigenous culture should only be supported where it can be shown to produce some social or economic impact. Indigenous culture is far more than a way of fixing social problems – it is a powerful positive force in Australian culture, a central part of our presence in the world’, Art for arts sake, art for society’s sake or arts as entertainment?
2. ARTISTS AND ARTS ORGANISATIONS (6)
‘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 question 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’, The future of arts practice – navigating the creative economy.
The innovative power of art connects local and global – Craft ACT embracing diversity 11 Aug 2016
‘As globalism proceeds apace, the counter-balancing world of the local and regional is becoming more important, anchoring us firmly in the places where we reside and create, where culture is made and lived. A set of Canberra exhibitions built around innovation and celebrating the achievements of craft and design connects local creativity and cultural life with the larger international significance of the themes and artists involved’, The innovative power of art connects local and global – Craft ACT embracing diversity.
Arts fightback – breaking out of the goldfish bowl 26 May 2016
‘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.
The intriguing world of tiny exhibitions – Craft ACT shows what small organisations can do 17 Feb 2016
‘We’re all used to the great big blockbuster exhibitions with all their wow and flutter. What’s really intriguing though is the world of tiny exhibitions, a babbling brook of activity that flows away – often unnoticed – under the tall timbers of the big institutions. At Craft ACT you can get four of them at once – in one smallish gallery space. These are artists who are likely to go on to produce better plumbing and lighting (always a good thing), design theatre costumes with a life of their own, produce unique fabric or jewellery such as you have never seen before, hinting at a history stretching far back, and give you furniture that can be folded simply and put away, but not forgotten’, The intriguing world of tiny exhibitions – Craft ACT shows what small organisations can do.
Sculthorpe – music of big matters 14 Nov 2014
‘Peter Sculthorpe was a genuine great Australian talent (and a Tasmanian), prepared to tackle the big matters of Australia’s history in all its complexity, its darkness and light. I remember being in Northern Tasmania, about to start on the Bay of Fires walk, departing from Quamby House near Launceston. Because it’s such an unusual name it stuck in my mind and on the day before I had found a recording of Sculthorpe’s piece entitled ‘Quamby’. As he noted, “When I was young, my father told me a story about Quamby Bluff, a rather forbidding mountainous outcrop in the highlands of northern Tasmania. There, according to legend, colonial government soldiers once drove a tribe of Aborigines to the bluff’s edge. The Aborigines had the choice of being shot, or jumping. They chose the latter, and as they jumped they cried out ‘Quamby! Quamby!’ meaning ‘Save me! Save me!’’, Sculthorpe – music of big matters.
3. CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS (10)
‘The endless attrition of the ‘efficiency dividend’, with its long-term debilitating impact on our major national cultural institutions, continues to do harm. With the periodic announcement of job losses, more and more valuable expertise is increasingly lost and important programs affected. This will undermine the ability of these institutions to care for our heritage and to provide access to their collections for Australians across the country. The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. At some point Australians will ask where valued and important programs have gone and how critical institutions have managed to diminish to the point where return will not be possible,’ Endless attrition at major collections institutions undermines our cultural future.
‘The announcement of a substantial sum from the Government for expansion of The Australian War Memorial has highlighted some crucial issues around shrinking support for our cultural institutions, recognition of our history and heritage, and sponsorship in a time of diminishing budgets. The Director of the War Memorial has commented that “the Australian War Memorial is…a place that reveals our character as a people, our soul.” In the end though, Australia's ‘soul’ might turn out to be larger, longer and wider than our history of wars’, Who owns Australia’s ‘soul’? Our cultural institutions, our history and our future.
‘Despite its fragmented nature, the Powerhouse Museum was a great design museum precisely because it was also a museum of science and technology – and a museum of social history, which could place it all in a historical and social context. 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. The current travails of the internationally renowned Powerhouse are a measure of a lack of strategic vision, including from successive governments which have never properly grasped the power of culture in shaping society and the need for the long-term substantial commitment to enable it. The Powerhouse continues to play a crucial role in the area of creative industries, especially design. Yet no-one seems to know about it. Where will exhibitions of this relevance and calibre be exhibited and, more importantly, developed, once these short-sighted changes have become real?’, Going, going, gone – the final spiral of a cultural icon?
The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum 8 Jul 2016
‘With its extensive collection of design of all kinds, from engineering to fashion to ceramics and jewellery, and with its links to industry, I always had high hopes for the Powerhouse Museum. Despite its fragmented nature, the Powerhouse was a great design museum precisely because it was also a museum of science and technology – and a museum of social history, which could place it all in a historical and social context. 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. That the Powerhouse failed to realise its potential is a measure of the lack of strategic vision, including from successive governments which have never properly grasped the power of culture in shaping society and the need for the long-term substantial commitment to enable it’, The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum.
Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy 18 Dec 2015
‘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.
Whatever the question, China is the answer 7 Jan 2016
‘It has been said, only half jokingly, that whatever the question, China is the answer. China has its own distinctive problems but this has an underlying element of truth, especially in our current century, the much heralded Asian Century. Our major cultural institutions have risen to the challenge of the Asian Century, playing a leadership role in building the soft diplomacy which enables a deeper and more durable relationship with Asian nations. In the latest example of this engagement, the National Library of Australia has done what national cultural institutions do best – it has collaborated with the National Library of China to produce an outstanding exhibition, “Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644-1911”. This is a case of cultural interaction building enduring bridges that all the ore trucks in the world can't match’, Whatever the question, China is the answer.
Notes from a steadily shrinking universe 7 Oct 2015
‘Following the Big Bang the universe may have been steadily expanding but in the world of Australian Government arts and culture the universe has definitely been heading the other way. In the end does government of any shade really think at heart that Australian arts and culture is important? Why should it when it’s a vexed question for our society as a whole and we are ambivalent about its worth? Yet this part of the Australian Government’s public service is incredibly important. To have a real impact though, it needs to be refocused and reinvigorated to operate once again across the broader government landscape’, Notes from a steadily shrinking universe.
When is a cut not a cut – it’s as simple as ABC 24 Nov 2014
‘Budget cuts to the ABC and SBS will have significant long-term impact as the long-term effect produces the same kind of damage that has occurred with the other national cultural institutions. This is particularly worrying because apart from its mainstream flagship programs the ABC produces invaluable projects linked to local communities which no-one else is likely to pick up. Such positive projects - relatively new and not widely known - are likely to be some of the first under threat’, When is a cut not a cut – it’s as simple as ABC.
Education – what does free mean? 14 Nov 2014
‘At Whitlam’s memorial there was much mention, particularly by Cate Blanchett, of what his reforms to tertiary education had meant – for her personally but for Australia as well. This was timely given the current attempts to make education far more expensive and to push the cost back onto individuals. This is crucial if you view support for broad access to education, including education in the arts and culture professions, as a social investment which increases the productivity of the country as a whole. There is still the question of how to pay for it but, like support for child rearing, it’s not a personal, individual cost with a personal individual benefit, but a social one. This is as much a matter of productivity and innovation as it is of equity’, Education - what does free mean?
‘It’s no longer the pre-election campaign we had to have. It’s become the election campaign we can’t avoid. We are spiralling inexorably towards election day and Ministers and members have been plummeting from the heights of the Coalition Government like crew abandoning a burning Zeppelin. We may wake on 19 May to find we have a national Labor Government. With Labor pledging to implement an updated version of the short-lived ‘Creative Australia’, its national cultural policy, first promised by the Rudd Government, it’s a good time to reconsider its importance’, Why Australia still needs a cultural policy – third time lucky?
‘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.
Putting culture on the main agenda – the power of policy 19 Oct 2016
‘In the arts, from a virtual policy-free zone, we’ve now got policies – not as many as we could have hoped, but enough to be going on with. Some of them might even get implemented. Importantly, the others will help to frame the debate and offer ideas for the future. Those parties that have arts policies offer good solid and productive proposals which, if implemented, would lead to definite improvement for Australia’s arts and culture. However, that’s just the starting point’, Arts, culture and a map of the future – the limits of arts policy.
Election mode for Australian arts and culture – a policy-free zone? 19 May 2016
‘A policy and the understanding of issues that leads to its adoption, provides arts and culture with a stature that underpins funding by providing a rationale for support. Otherwise funding will always be ad hoc and insecure, piecemeal, project-based, intermittent and at the mercy of whim and fashion. We have to get arts and culture to the stage where it is seen like public health or education and debated accordingly’, Election mode for Australian arts and culture – a policy-free zone?
Arts funding – it’s not all about the money 21 Mar 2016
‘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.
National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes 10 Mar 2016
‘I am not too concerned who manages national arts funding. Both the Australia Council and the Ministry for the Arts have long managed numerous funding programs. I am more concerned about what is funded. The fact that the national pool of arts funding available to support the operational costs of smaller arts and cultural organisations has shrunk substantially is a deep concern. Watch as Australia’s arts and culture sector reels over the next five years from this exceptionally bad policy decision – and expect the early warning signs much sooner. Well- known and respected figures in the arts and culture sector have been expressing this concern sharply’, National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes.
Out from the shadows – the other Arts Minister 25 Jun 2015
‘I ventured out through the dark wilds of the Australian National University to hear the Opposition Spokesperson on the Arts, Mark Dreyfus, share his view of what a contemporary arts and culture policy might look like. It was a timely moment, given the turmoil stirred up by recent changes to national arts funding arrangements and the #freethearts response from small arts and cultural organisations and artists. Luckily, as he himself noted, he has a very recent model to work with. The National Cultural Policy is little more than two years old,’ Out from the shadows – the other Arts Minister.
‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel 19 Feb 2015
‘Faced with the increasing prospect that it could become the next Australian Government, the Labor Party is reviewing its ‘arts’ policy. Whatever happens and whoever it happens to, considered and strategic discussion of arts and culture policy is critical to Australia's future.’ ‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel.
‘Developing ‘Creative Australia’, the second Australian National Cultural Policy, required such focus that little was said about the first one, Keating’s ‘Creative Nation’. ‘Creative Nation’ acknowledged two distinct and very different strengths in Australian culture. The first was the contemporary diversity of Australia. The second was the economic significance of the arts and culture sector, including the creative industries. This reflected the reality of how Australia had changed in half a century. However it also reflects a different way of looking, beyond the narrow view of ‘the arts’ as a gently civilising influence on the surface of a frontier society’, ‘Creative Nation’ – Keating's cultural legacy.
5. ARTS FUNDING (16)
‘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.
Dear Treasurer – our arts are central to everyday life, why doesn’t funding reflect it? 13 May 2016
Silent retreat – is arts funding becoming project funding? 3 May 2016
‘In the flurry of recent changes to national arts funding arrangements we need to be concerned at what might be the beginning of a bigger trend – the tendency for government to withdraw from longer term operational support for the arts in preference for short term, one-off project funding. This creeping trend makes it ever harder for organisations to find the long term operational funding which small arts and cultural organisations need to keep their doors open so they can deliver base level frontline services’, Silent retreat – is arts funding becoming project funding?
‘In the slowly unravelling universe of arts and culture support, organisations – whether they be small arts organisations or the largest of national cultural institutions – need to think seriously about their future. They need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. This means developing strategies to survive the combination of drastic cuts and slow erosion already occurring and likely to continue into the foreseeable – and unpredictable – future’, Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst – the looming failure of arts support.
Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts 16 Feb 2016
‘Asked in the most recent Senate Additional Estimates hearings about cuts to Ministry for the Arts funding in the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook review, the Department of Communications and the Arts replied that there were cuts of $9.6m over the forward estimates. This seriously understates the cumulative long-term magnitude and effect of these cuts and underestimates, just as with the national cultural institutions, the long-term damage. Yet this is the real and permanent impact – a compound effect of creeping cuts’, Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts.
Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding 22 Jan 2016
Arts funding changes on the run – doing less with less 21 Nov 2015
‘The announcement by new Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield that he will step back to a degree from the decision of his predecessor about national arts funding is a good call – but not good enough. This is what happens when there is no policy framework or set of strategic principles guiding changes to programs or development of new programs. Flexibility is an excellent thing and so are attempts to develop new programs to support areas that might not have been able to gain support before. The problem is ad hoc policy on the run is no substitute for carefully thought through changes. In a context where there have been significant long term cuts to arts and culture funding in the last two budgets, particularly the 2014-15 one, these changes only worsen the situation’, Arts funding changes on the run – doing less with less.
National arts and culture funding – follow the money 16 Nov 2015
‘In the continuing furore over the transfer of funds from the Australia Council to the Ministry for the Arts in the 2015-16 budget, most of the focus to date has been on the Australia Council. What has been happening to the funding of the Ministry for the Arts itself? Based on the publically available budget figures since 2012, it is possible to compare the level of program funding managed by the Ministry for the Arts and see the reduction in funding following the election of the current Government’, National arts and culture funding - follow the money.
A journey to a strange land – making sense of the senseless 18 Jun 2015
‘There we were, over 65 of us, from every state and territory and from every artform, all crammed into one tiny room in Parliament House, so even the visiting politicians sometimes had to stand. Despite the great diversity, the level of focus was frightening. It was helped along by the Chair, who clearly had a degree in alchemy which qualified her to turn chaos into order. If only she could turn the base metal of this example of bad policy into the precious coinage of strategic vision – but that must be the higher degree. Here we go again, I thought. It all felt too familiar, much like previous eras I have lived through, when good things were undone by narrow vision for short-term advantage. Sometimes I think it’s better when government is inefficient – that way it does less damage’, A journey to a strange land – making sense of the senseless.
Arts funding changes – rearranging the deckchairs while we ditch the lifeboats 28 May 2015
‘The impact of the changes to national arts funding flowing from the Budget are likely to be deep and severe. The main issue for me is what will now not be funded – by the Australia Council or by anyone else. There are hundreds of small to medium arts and cultural organisations that play a pivotal role in supporting Australia’s cultural life. They need to be seen as every bit as important a part of Australia’s cultural infrastructure as the major performing arts companies or the major arts galleries and museums. They are essential infrastructure for our arts and culture’, Arts funding changes – rearranging the deckchairs while we ditch the lifeboats.
‘Having a go’ at Australia’s arts and culture – the Budget Mark 2 17 May 2015
The Melba Foundation and the saga of the magic money 14 Nov 2014
‘The natural bias of the Coalition Australian Government in its support for arts and culture was accentuated in its decision to refund the Melba Foundation. There were complaints of lack of transparency but it seems completely transparent to me. I presume the Melba Foundation hit Minister Brandis for funds, as it was always certain to do once the Government had changed and there was no longer a Minister with a particular interest in popular music. Brandis agreed because the Melba Foundation is his sort of arts organisation’, The Melba Foundation and the saga of the magic money.
See also the series of articles about the impact of the 2014 Budget on arts and culture
After the Budget: A selective drive-by shooting 5 Jun 2014
‘The Budget was a selective drive-by shooting with easy targets including small arts. Entitlement continues for others.’ After the Budget: a selective drive-by shooting.
After the Budget: Government support for small scale arts and culture here today, gone tomorrow 5 Jun 2014
'Budget cuts only to uncommitted funding sound benign but will end programs by letting them peter out over several years.' After the Budget: Government support for small scale arts and culture – here today, gone tomorrow.
After the Budget: The future landscape for Australian arts and culture 5 Jun 2014
'Wider budget cuts combined over years will have a compounding effect on arts and culture far more damaging than anything immediate.' After the Budget: the future landscape for Australian arts and culture.
After the Budget: Things could be worse 5 Jun 2014
‘The problem is not just the level of arts cuts, which may well be lower than in many other areas. It’s the nature of the cuts.’ After the Budget: things could be worse.
‘When I first heard that Victorian regional gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery, was planning an exhibition about contemporary Indigenous fashion I was impressed. The Gallery has had a long history of fashion exhibitions, drawing on its own collection and in partnership with other institutions, notably the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is fascinating to consider how a leading regional Australian museum and an internationally renowned museum on the global stage, while in many ways so different, have so much in common. The exhibition is far more than a single event in a Victorian regional centre – it is an expression of a much broader contemporary Indigenous fashion phenomenon nation-wide. It hints at the potential of the creative economy and creative industries to build stronger communities. Both the economic importance and the community and social importance of creativity and culture are tightly interlinked because of the way in which creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up’, After a fashion – creative industries from First Nations culture.
‘Back in 2013, when the first of the latest string of Coalition Governments we have had was elected, there seemed to be a strong view within the Coalition that broadband was a luxury, mainly useful for entertainment. Yet those of us familiar with the work of Australian post-production companies, doing the finishing work on major US films during the day while the US industry slept, and sending it by broadband overnight for work to resume in the Northern hemisphere the next day, knew it was a key part of Australia’s productive infrastructure. Then the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed it. Now the Government has acknowledged that there are major deficiencies with the National Broadband Network but is it too late to save it and make it the national asset we need and deserve?’ The short answer #2: Broken broadband unbalances the books.
Music makes the world go round – the bright promise of our export future 28 Sep 2020
‘After ABBA, in an unexpected break from its traditional way of building national wealth from natural resources, Sweden managed to discover a new source of income. It was not as you would expect coal or oil. Rather than oil what it had discovered was song royalties, part of a fundamental change in the nature of modern economies which transformed them from relying solely on natural resources, transport and manufacturing to make creative content a new form of resource mining. Examples like theirs point to potentially major opportunities for the Australian music industry to become a net exporter of music,’ Music makes the world go round – the bright promise of our export future.
A world turned upside down – UNESCO Creative City of Design Wuhan 14 Jul 2020
‘World-shaking events can completely reframe your perspective. When I drove from Canberra to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island in March this year, everyone was being urged to visit regional centres to help them recover from the devastating bushfires. Only weeks later, as I was heading home – via Victoria, a State entering lockdown as I passed through – everybody was being encouraged to stay home to help stop the spread of disease. Back in Canberra I had been involved in a long-running effort to have the city listed as a UNESCO City of Design. The new reality that threatened to overshadow that effort was the global COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically that pandemic had originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which as I discovered, was itself a City of Design in the global UNESCO Creative Cities Network’, A world turned upside down – UNESCO Creative City of Design Wuhan.
Creative and cultural futures – understanding the creative and cultural economy 28 May 2020
‘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’, Making a living – building careers in creative and cultural futures.
Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles 15 Dec 2016
‘After three weeks travelling round the North Island of New Zealand, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of the clean and clever industries of the future and the skilled knowledge workers who make them. In the capital, Wellington, instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta. It’s clear that the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. These skills which Weta depends on for its livelihood are also being used to tell important stories from the past’, Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles.
Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans 23 Aug 2016
‘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.
Design Canberra: clever and clean – the knowledge economy of the future 23 Aug 2016
‘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. 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 and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world’, Design Canberra: clever and clean – the knowledge economy of the future.
Design Canberra: culture in the backyard – the thread of design connects arts, culture and creative industries 23 Aug 2016
‘When I worked in Canberra on national arts and culture programs and policy I had little to do with Canberra itself. Since leaving the Australian Government Ministry for the Arts, I have found myself much more engaged with local arts and culture in Canberra. Looking back, it shows how design flows through so much of the arts and culture sector. It is illuminating to see how this thread connects Design Canberra with work I was party to over more than a decade, within museums and other cultural institutions, government departments and creative industries’, Design Canberra: culture in the backyard – the thread of design connects arts, culture and creative industries.
Design Canberra: a whole world out there – building global connection through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network 23 Aug 2016
‘The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was created to promote cooperation between cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The 116 cities which currently make up this network work together towards the common objective of placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level. Through sharing knowledge around the world, it would cultivate innovation through the exchange of know-how, experiences and best practices. As a result it would promote diverse cultural products in national and international markets and create new opportunities for cooperation and partnership with other cities’, Design Canberra: a whole world out there – building global connection through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities 21 Apr 2016
‘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.
‘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.
Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world 5 Dec 2015
The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future 21 Oct 2015
‘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.
My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world 18 Jul 2015
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.
‘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 17 Jul 2011
‘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 17 Jul 2011
‘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.
Chair 22 May 2011
7. FIRST NATIONS CULTURE (15)
History all around us – the long term practical impact of cultural research 14 Jun 2017
‘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.
The language of success – recognising a great unsung community movement 1 Mar 2016
Unfinished histories – encountering ‘Encounters’ 29 Mar 2016
‘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’.
Literature and languages – inaugural Indigenous literary festival sign of things to come 20 Feb 2016
‘The inaugural Victorian Indigenous literary festival Blak & Bright in February 2016 was a a very important event for Australian cultural life. It aimed to promote and celebrate a diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. It raised important questions about how the movement to revive and maintain Indigenous languages – surely one of the great positive unsung community movements in Australian history – is related to ‘Australian literature’. Australian culture as a whole is also inconceivable without the central role of Indigenous culture – how would Australian literature look seen in the same light?’, Literature and languages – inaugural Indigenous literary festival sign of things to come.
When universes collide – ‘Encounters’ exhibition at National Museum of Australia 11 Dec 2015
‘The Encounters exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, a once in a lifetime event, makes you realise that astoundingly all this earth-shattering history happened only a few generations ago, so much so that descendants of the Gweagal, those first people Cook encountered, still talk about that encounter in 1770 as though it was yesterday. Despite the continuing concerns about the vast holdings of mostly looted cultural artefacts, the return of these objects, however briefly, will serve to emphasise how recently the British came to Australia, how much more we need to do to be fully at home in this country and how much part of a living, contemporary tradition Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are’, When universes collide – Encounters exhibition at National Museum of Australia.
The Magna Carta – still a work in progress 4 May 2015
‘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.
‘If you are convinced you have heard all of Australia’s great stories, think again. If you consider you know something about Indigenous Australia you probably need to start from scratch. Black Diggers, “the untold story of WW1’s black diggers remembered” is a great Australian story. Why over a thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians left their communities in remote Australia or our regional cities or the big state capitals to travel overseas to fight and die in the European trenches far from home is part of a larger Australian story. Why they would bother when they were not even recognised as Australian citizens in their own land is a story all their own – but a story relevant to every Australian’, Black diggers - telling war stories.
‘The Indigenous cultural programs of the Australian Government play a critical role in support for both Indigenous communities and for a diverse and dynamic Australian culture – what is happening to them?’ Death by a thousand cuts – what is happening to the Indigenous culture programs of the Australian Government?
Real jobs in an unreal world 16 Apr 2014
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world.
Like a long-lost masterpiece 26 Mar 2011
‘Many decades ago when I was much younger and a student I used to march in National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee marches. They were shorthanded to NADOC marches, back in the days when Islanders hadn’t yet been included and there was no ‘I’ in the name. I realised a while back that I must have been marching under the new Aboriginal flag at its birth. I had a poster from those years which I used to cart around with me from city to city until one day when I was about to move yet again I decided to donate it to the National Library of Australia’, Like a long-lost masterpiece.
8. CULTURAL DIVERSITY (4)
‘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?
Greater than the sum of the parts: cultural funding and the power of diversity 29 Aug 2016
‘Cultural diversity underpins so much of value in Australia. It helps ensure innovation flourishes, because where cultures intersect, differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged. This is essential to the new clever and clean industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. The national Indigenous cultural programs play a critical role in support for both Indigenous communities and for a diverse and dynamic Australian culture. What is clear is that these programs have been affected by the range of cuts as part of the search for savings since the Coalition Government took office. Funding community organisations for services government would otherwise have to provide is a great way to get things on the cheap. If you don’t fund them at all, it’s even cheaper’, Greater than the sum of the parts: cultural funding and the power of diversity.
Diversity underpins the innovation we desperately need 25 Feb 2016
‘I keep writing that cultural diversity is crucial to innovation because where cultures intersect, innovation happens. In a world where change is fast and widespread can anyone afford not to mobilise all they have going for them – to survive, let alone to succeed? Cultural diversity is a big part of that picture’, Diversity underpins the innovation we desperately need.
Land of hope 13 Aug 2015
‘There were times in our past when Australia was seen as the great hope of the world – when it offered a vision of a new democratic life free from the failures of the past and the old world. It seems we have turned from our history, from the bright vision of the nineteenth century and 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 – mean and weak-willed. For such an optimistic nation we seem to have developed a ‘half empty’ rather than ‘half full’ view of the glass – and the world. If we want to live in a land to be proud of, a fair country that truly inherits the best of Australia’s traditions, while consciously abandoning the less desirable ones, we need to change course – otherwise we will have to rebadge Australia not as the land of hope but instead as the land without hope’, Land of hope.
‘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.
Valuing the intangible 11 May 2015
‘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.
The power of good policy – historical tax distortions waiting for a fix 25 Feb 2016
‘The heated response to the tax debate around negative gearing debate and capital gains tax shows that if political parties adopt a clear policy, in line with their core values and aligned with popular concerns, then get behind it and explain it, people will respond. For decades negative gearing has been distorting the shape of our cities, our suburbs and our communities. It is an inefficient way to achieve the desired result. These are historical tax distortions waiting for a fix’, The power of good policy – historical tax distortions waiting for a fix.
UnAmerican Activities Committee 25 Feb 2016
‘Reading reviews of the new film about the Hollywood screenwriter, Trumbo, I’ve been reminded of the legendary House UnAmerican Activities Committee, set up to hunt reds under the bed – especially screenwriters – in the US in the late 1940s and 50s. Only in America could I imagine something with such a bizarre name. What exactly were ‘unAmerican’ activities – did it include picking your nose in public or forgetting Mother’s Day?’, Unamerican Activities Committee.
How to run down an essential service – adventures in the crazy world of Centrelink 23 Feb 2016
‘Of late I have been developing a close one-on-many relationship with Centrelink as I fulfill my destiny of sorting out stuff for my elderly relatives. It reminds me of dealing with Australia Post over many years. Everyone at Australia Post used to bend over backwards to help you. The problem was that their systems were so bad that even their own staff couldn’t get them to work. This is what Centrelink is like. In the crazy world of failing public service systems that are being overtaken by reality, the only solution is a work around. The tick the box approach that is being fostered in the new deskilled public service can’t handle complexity. The test of any system – or policy, strategic plan, program – is how well it handles the unexpected, the unforeseen, reality. This looks like failure to me’, How to run down an essential service – adventures in the crazy world of Centrelink.
Nation-building – dam busters turned dam builders 5 Mar 2014
‘I have always seen the building of community culture as being about nation-building from the ground up – but a different kind of nation-building. It’s not so much about bridges, dams and buildings but about connections and skills and capabilities and social institutions that can make a country worth living in. It’s one that is inclusive of different cultures and different groups. It doesn’t pit one nation against another. It recognises that diversity and the positive interaction between cultures builds resilience and innovation, creativity and productivity’, Nation building.
‘A recent regional road tour through Victoria to South Australia showed how a focus on arts and culture is a pointer for how regional centres can take a path other than slow decline. It also showed how a small country on the edges of the mainstream can become a global design force by staying true to its language, locality and culture – the things that make it distinctive in a crowded, noisy marketplace dominated by big, cashed up players’, Standing out in the crowd – a regional road tour of arts and culture.
Regional Australia recognised as Bendigo named City of Culture 11 Jan 2018
‘It’s been apparent for some time that regional centres and smaller cities and towns can be interesting and creative places and that cities that have missed out on the benefits of globalisation in the era of neo-liberalism can be brought back by community action and imagination. It’s certainly not happening everywhere but it’s true of many lucky regional towns and cities and some suburban and outer suburban areas – witness Sydney, where it’s increasingly clear that the excitement never really stopped at the edges of the inner city. The regional rollout of interesting keeps on happening’, Regional Australia recognised with City of Culture listing for Bendigo and surrounds.
Year Zero without a roadmap – arts funding chaos set to be repeated as Government sells regions short 28 Apr 2017
‘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 Cambodia’s Year Zero. Though a response to a genuine problem, without an overall vision and a policy framework, 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’, Year Zero without a roadmap – arts funding chaos set to be repeated as Government sells regions short.
The long hard road of regional revival – putting arts and culture through its paces 9 Mar 2016
‘I’ve always been interested in the broader effects of arts and culture – the ripples that spread out through a community and often change the future, sometimes subtly, sometimes in very drastic ways. You can see it really clearly in smaller communities, even though it happens in all communities, no matter what size. Unfortunately what’s often missing in all the analysis of economic and social problems in regional and remote communities is the importance of culture. Tenacious social problems flourish when morale is virtually non-existent – and morale depends on a positive sense of self and community. The long hard road of regional revival really puts arts and culture through its paces – but it delivers’, The long hard road of regional revival – putting arts and culture through its paces.
Getting wild out West – Western Sydney’s long unhappiness at arts funding neglect 30 Jun 2015
‘Western Sydney has long been unhappy with the tiny share of arts funding – both national and state – it receives. Across Australia there are many hundreds of small to medium arts and cultural organisations that play a pivotal role in supporting Australia’s cultural life. They need to be seen as every bit as important a part of Australia’s cultural infrastructure as the major performing arts companies or the major art galleries and museums. They are essential infrastructure for our arts and culture and they are the level of arts and cultural infrastructure closest to the very grassroots of our country – the Australians who vote, who get unhappy and who change governments. They rarely do it because of matters related to arts and culture but sometimes matters related to arts and culture, added to other concerns, can help tip things over the edge. More than a few of these organisations are based in the great mixed expanse of urban, suburban and outer-suburban Australia which is Western Sydney’, Getting wild out West – Western Sydney’s long unhappiness at arts funding neglect.
‘In a strange turn of events, the very success of big Australian cities is likely to become a drag on the innovation they are noted for. Sydney and Melbourne are among the world's most successful cities. Together they generate more than 40 per cent of Australia's economic output. Yet the fact that four in every ten Australian live in them - and nearly two thirds of Australian live in one of the capital cities - is forcing up the price of housing and threatening the very diversity that fuels their innovation’, Big Australian cities – can’t live there, can’t give there.
Creating cities by reinventing them – ‘Creating Cities’ reviewed 26 Oct 2015
‘At first glance Marcus Westbury’s ‘Creating Cities’ book looks small, but it’s far bigger than it looks. The book is about re-energising cities by reinventing them but it’s starting point is a deep appreciation of the particular regional city of Newcastle. The revival of Newcastle is a reflection of the more general trend towards the revival of regional centres in Australia. Cities are crucial to the innovation and creativity that interaction and partnerships based on physical proximity can produce – whether major capital cities or regional cities. The efforts at revival all reflected the critical importance of cities. Each in its own way draws upon creativity and innovation and the cultural diversity which underpins it to create places which are pleasant and interesting to live in and to drive economic prosperity’, Creating cities by reinventing them – ‘Creating Cities’ reviewed.
Venue lockdown – a blunt instrument for a dire problem 25 Feb 2016
‘The issue of venue lockdown to deal with alcohol-fuelled assaults is becoming a major debate. Of course venue owners are concerned and their argument that the policy will affect the hospitality industry may well be valid – but that, by itself, is not enough. It comes down to how effective the approach is at addressing the problem and how badly the hospitality industry is affected. The question is how finely different kinds of venues are distinguished from each other in a strategy to reduce alcohol-related violence. Dealing with it was never going to be simple or easy. However, like all government policy, it’s all too easy to go for the one size fits all approach which might look good but not work’, Venue lockdown – a blunt instrument for a dire problem.
Look after pedestrians and the economy will look after itself 12 Apr 2015
‘Public transport is such a central element in a modern city. It has fundamental implications for how productive a city is, how culturally active and just how personally pleasant it is to live and work in’, Look after pedestrians and the economy will look after itself.
Travelling together through the city 12 Apr 2015
‘Public transport is such a central element in a modern city. It has fundamental implications for how productive a city is, how culturally active and just how personally pleasant it is to live and work in’, Travelling together through the city.
Our capital cities are growing and produce most of our income 10 Apr 2015
‘The city is a critical place for cultural life and for the diversity that propels it. It's interesting to see the overwhelming significance of cities in an economic sense as well’, Our capital cities are growing and produce most of our income.
Sydney - Australia's most valuable location but public transport its greatest weakness 10 Apr 2015
‘A massive weakness only too familiar to anyone who lives in or has lived in Sydney could derail the whole positive effect of economic growth within different mega regions inside Greater Sydney and hold back innovation and economic productivity. This has serious implications not just for Sydney or New South Wales but for the national economy. Cities have always been serious business but this just got a lot more so’, Sydney is Australia's most valuable location but public transport is its greatest weakness.
The central importance of cities to the modern economy 13 Oct 2014
‘It is becoming increasingly clear how important cities are in the contemporary economy. Underpinning this is the absolutely central importance of the growth of the knowledge economy and the innovation, collaboration and interaction it depends on. This is a reality that politicians have to grasp if we are going to see good policies that benefit Australia over the next decades. Unfortunately I think that many are still operating with a view of the economy which was out of date at least a decade ago’, The central importance of cities to the modern economy.
Wormholes in space 31 Jul 2011
‘There has been a lot of speculation about the possible existence of ‘wormholes’ in space. Wormholes are kinks in space and time that can connect two distant parts of the galaxy almost instantly. I’m convinced that they exist and that there is one connecting Waverton on the Lower North Shore in Sydney and Burrawang in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales’, Wormholes in space.
Floating world 29 Jul 2013
‘Australia’s national capital is a strange floating world by a mountain lake. Reflecting the dream-like nature of the city, the lake is not a real one and the city is a compromise between warring states. It’s a large regional town on the roof of Australia that happens to be the capital city. As a result it has facilities and features not found elsewhere in Australia. The nation’s capital is a contradictory mix of a place to work—which just happens to run the country, or at least thinks it does—and a place to live. The two often do not coincide’, Floating world.
Looking down on birds 17 Jul 2011
‘For decades I lived with gardens, watering and weeding and inspecting the progress of plants. Since then I have been steadily relocating to ever more urban locations. Life as an apartment dweller is the culmination, perched high in the sky, looking down on birds up amongst the clouds. I navigate this ethereal world, adjusting the blinds as though I was trimming sails on a yacht, using the elusive breezes to cool down. You can walk in and shut the door and close yourself off from the world’, Looking down on birds.
High country 17 Jul 2011
‘When I moved to Canberra, I discovered that I had come back to the country where I grew up—the dry, high winter country in the shadow of the mountains. But I didn’t grow up in Canberra, but rather in the dry centre of Tasmania, where the Great Lakes and the mountains of the Western Tiers define the brittle, stony landscape. It’s as if there is a large mirror placed here, duplicating the other location, with the same images appearing again and again’, High country.
Pristine cities 17 Jul 2011
‘Visiting old German cities, the compelling thing that strikes you about them is the sense of how brand new and pristine they seem. Compare this to a city like Lyon, which is genuinely old and worn and dirty. In Germany, everything seems to have been bombed. After the war, in a vast miracle of recreation, after the rubble women had cleared the wreckage by hand, whole city blocks were built again from long-forgotten plans and drawings in a miracle of hyper-renovation’, Pristine cities.
A tourist in your own town – revisiting the familiar 22 May 2011
‘Those for whom a certain language is their second are often more acutely aware of the idiosyncrasies, foibles and strange delights of the language than are its native speakers. It is much the same with travelling physically. It is usually the inquisitive visitor who fulfills the function of tourist, directing locals to wonders and curiousities they drive past every day without a glance. The true gift is to be able to be a tourist in your own town – to see your everyday locality with fresh eyes every day’, A tourist in your own town.
Murrumbateman Field Days 22 May 2011
‘The other day I went to a Murrumbateman Field Day. I have to do things like this, because so many of my relatives now live on the land, and have a pressing need to buy heavy duty agricultural tools or baby goats or water tanks. All this is totally irrelevant to me practically speaking, but endlessly fascinating’, Murrumbateman Field Days.
11. GOVERNMENT (1)
‘More than ever we need an evidence base for policy to ensure that resources are applied most effectively and government action reflects real long-term cultural, social and economic trends and dynamics. Unfortunately, at the same time, we are all too often seeing the very services needed for this to occur being drastically trimmed or redirected. It’s too often a case of not ‘spending a penny to save a pound’. Any diminution of the role of the ABS in collecting statistics about the arts and cultural sector is particularly worrying because the value of these statistics in the ability to compare them over a long period and identify crucial trends. It would be like flying the passenger jet of public policy with eyes closed, radar turned off and maps out of date’, Missing evidence.
12. INTERNATIONAL (2)
The Middle Kingdom 14 Jan 2016
‘When famed medieval Italian traveller and explorer Marco Polo first encountered China, the Cathay of legend, he saw it as a treasure house of exotic customs and riches. In many ways this is still an element in our own exploration of China. However China is not simply the exotic world of our shaky imagination. China is well on the way to becoming the Middle Kingdom of its traditional name. Australia has a long history of interaction with China. Many of the rich goldfield cities, like Bendigo and Ballarat, were built by Chinese labour and based on Chinese business. More recently, the Chinese in Australia are one of the largest components of the cultural diversity which fuels innovation and commerce in our major cities. For all its faults and political twists and turns I will continue to be fascinated by the Middle Kingdom and watch its inevitable rise with deep interest’, The Middle Kingdom.
13. CANBERRA (3)
National and local - putting arts and culture upfront 29 Apr 2015
‘Arts and cultural policy is an important way out spelling out why and how arts and culture are important to both Australia as a whole and to specific states and regions. Developing arts and cultural policy for the ACT is unique because it is both the capital of the nation – hosting most of our national cultural institutions and a strong international diplomatic presence – and at the same time, an important regional centre’, National and local - putting arts and culture upfront.
In praise of the Berra 20 Aug 2014
‘When I first moved to Canberra, almost as an accidental intersection of geography and employment after the Sydney Olympics, I used to say “if you had lived in Sydney and one day you woke up and discovered you were in Canberra, you would think you had died.” Then I changed my mind. It took ten years but it was inevitable. Berrans are a hardy bunch – they can withstand the hot winds of summer and of Australia’s Parliament, the chill flurries from the Snowy Mountains and the chilling news of budget cuts. The Berra is half-way between everywhere’, In praise of the Berra.
14. POPULAR CULTURE (26)
Second language 13 Oct 2014
‘When I was single I used to say that what I was looking for in a partner included the ability to speak a second language – one other than the language of love. When I was young I admired the romantic languages, like Spanish, with their fluidity and soft sounds. As I became older I found myself drawn to the structure and logic of German. Having a second language is like a form of second sight – it enables insights into unfathomable truths and views of the universe otherwise not accessible’, Second language.
Predicting the weather 7 Aug 2013
‘I grew up in a world where there was a definite set of things you knew - and one of them was not what would happen with the weather. The other day I was talking to someone who must have grown up in the same period. We were chatting casually about the weather and she made a comment - quite seriously - that weather forecasts were usually wrong. Unfortunately she was thirty years out of date. What amazes me is that the weather forecasts are usually so right’, Predicting the weather.
Happily ever after - the bethrothal of royalty and popular culture 13 Jan 2013
‘Republicans can gnash their teeth but the reality is that royalty has managed to do the swift manoeuvering required to move it from antique and declining relic to funky pop culture icon. We can finally pretend they were harmless and charming all along, not founded on the basis of beheadings and torture chambers, murders and arranged marriages, at the end almost a benign presence – like a pandemic that has run its course. It’s true that fear of the guillotine certainly played an important role in inducing self reform – that’s not something to forget, survival is a strong instinct. No-one has to tell royalty that culture counts – and the more popular the better’, Happily ever after - the bethrothal of royalty and popular culture.
Meeting someone 17 Jul 2011
‘Is it any wonder that modern dating at times seems extreme and unusual (if not cruel as well). But is it really? In earlier centuries, it was not unusual for women to marry someone’s sword or for someone to receive a photograph or a painting to assess the merits of a potential partner. Shiploads travelled from Britain to fill a gap in marriageable young women. Advertising was not uncommon. It’s the age old problem of distribution. Take two people who could easily get on very well, but live in quite different countries on either sides of the world and think about how they would, under normal circumstances, ever get together. It’s hard enough to imagine when the people involved live in the same city, let alone on the same planet’, Meeting someone.
Half empty, half full 17 Jul 2011
‘I am beginning to think that the world is made up of two kinds of people. There are those who spend all their time stopping bad things from happening and there are those who are much more focused on making good things happen. These strike me as the same people for whom the cup is either half full or half empty, but that might be cruel. For myself, if asked whether the cup was half full or half empty, I’d have to ask: why wasn’t it completely full?’, Half empty, half full.
Too close to the television 17 Jul 2011
‘When I was growing up, we were constantly warned not to sit too close to the television screen. Now everyone I know spends their whole life sitting too close to a television screen. Electronic screens have become our second set of windows looking out on the world around us. Like all technology, it’s what you can do with them that counts. If there were no television programs, why would you watch television? Producing the stories, pictures and sounds that come to us through these screens is now one of the most important industries in Australia and worldwide, and fast becoming the industry of the future’, Too close to the television.
Senseless – cures for the common cold 17 Jul 2011
‘With the range of modern, life-threatening viruses around, there are plenty of diseases to be worried about in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Despite all these extremely serious diseases, what worries me is something far more simple. What really worries me is the common cold. I want to know why it is common. If it was less common maybe I wouldn't catch one so often. What about ‘the uncommon cold’ – why can’t I catch that, maybe every ten years or so?’, Senseless – cures for the common cold.
The safety of strangers 17 Jul 2011
‘I was reading a front page article in a newspaper recently. It mentioned with a sense of alarm that several people accused of murder were currently free in the community. I read more closely and was intrigued to find that every single one of the people mentioned had been charged with murdering someone they were close to – a friend, a relative or partner. They hadn’t suddenly seized upon some totally unknown stranger and murdered them out of the blue. It brought home to me a terrible truth that keeps being forgotten—the person most likely to murder you is someone you already know—and the closer to you they are, the more likely it is’, The safety of strangers.
Fat held up by salt 17 Jul 2011
‘Years ago, I was at a wedding reception when I looked down at a plate of antipasto and realised that it was essentially assorted forms of fat, held up by sugar and salt. I used to buy large quantities of these smallgoods—a name I could never understand because it was never clear what was small about them. It was enough to make someone embrace heart attacks and rapidly thinning arteries. I realised my arteries weren’t getting hard—they were getting really difficult’, Fat held up by salt.
The history of the future 17 Jul 2011
‘I find it interesting that many people who would claim they don’t read fiction, are avid readers of the popular magazines that appear from nowhere in newsagents, doctors surgeries and your mother’s latest emergency parcel. Popular magazines are the last great home of true fiction – if their stories aren’t true, then they should be’, The history of the future.
One-sided conversations 17 Jul 2011
‘Once, after a particularly virulent cold, I contracted pharyngitis (a bit like laryngitis) and found my voice straining and fading. My voice became fainter and fainter, until it was almost inaudible. You have to stop talking. The more you stop talking, the quicker you recover, the less you manage to stop talking, the longer you are without a functioning voice. The phone calls were the hardest. The face to face contact was difficult in its own peculiar way. I would have long one-sided conversations with strangers. They would talk and I would quickly write my half (perhaps a slightly smaller proportion) of the conversation in a spiral notebook I carried everywhere’, One-sided conversations.
The whole truth 17 Jul 2011
‘How often have you heard someone say that they don’t read fiction? What they don’t realise is that they read fiction every single day—everything is fiction. This is a world in which we are surrounded by the movie, the theme park and the whole virtual experience’, The whole truth.
Beaten by the clock 17 Jul 2011
‘Have you ever noticed how every electrical appliance nowadays has its own clock, hidden somewhere within it? I notice this every time the clocks have to be changed at the beginning—or end—of daylight saving time. Forget about the curtains fading, the chickens forgetting to lay or the kids going to school in the dark—most of us go to work in the dark and stay like that all day. The real terror of daylight saving is changing the clocks. As soon as it comes time to put the clocks back an hour or forward an hour, I face the huge task of resetting every clock I own. How can there be so many of them?’, Beaten by the clock.
Greatest hits 17 Jul 2011
‘I never again want to be told I am hearing the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s, or the 70s, 80s and 90s, or any other long gone time. It has been said that if you remember the 60s then you weren’t there. I think that if you were unfortunate enough to be there the first time, why should you have to go through it again?’, Greatest hits.
Studying philosophy – knowing tables exist 17 Jul 2011
‘I spent six years studying philosophy. I cannot imagine studying anything for six years anymore. At the time, I studied, I wrote essays, I left to join the workforce. I thought no more about it. Many years later, I was discussing some subject and I stopped for a moment and looked at how I was thinking. I realised that all the things I had learned had been absorbed. It is common to hear calls for a return to “basics”. There is no time for subjects that have no immediate practical value, like philosophy. But nothing is more basic than philosophy — like mathematics, it underpins everything’, Studying philosophy.
Through a glass, darkly 17 Jul 2011
‘I used to possess a pair of glasses with photochromatic lenses. Whenever the day was exceptionally bright (or, to tell the truth, even a bit bright), they would respond by becoming darker. I lived in Melbourne for much of the time, a location, which though one of my favourite cities, can be very grey. Years later, in Sydney, I took off my glasses. I was shocked to realise how dark they were – they were never totally clear. As soon as I could I replaced them and my whole world became a lighter place. I’ll never know whether all those years in Melbourne were constantly overcast and grey or whether it was just my glasses’, Through a glass, darkly.
Where change comes from 17 Jul 2011
‘It’s very pleasant belonging to a group, fitting in, being like everyone else, speaking the same language, liking the same things, having similar ways of viewing the world, doing things in the same old way. It’s very comfortable and reassuring. Unfortunately this can mean that nothing much useful happens—it can limit innovation, restrict new ideas and encourage complacency. Because of this, those who initiate, or even just welcome, change – often outsiders – are very important’, Where change comes from.
Exercising in the gym of happiness 17 Jul 2011
‘I was watching a program recently about scientific research into happiness. The approach of the program was all about technique — how to learn how to meditate in order to be happier than before. The trouble is that there was nothing about content – living a good life, valuing your relationships, helping others, being selfless. It was as though happiness consisted of no more than an exercise – learning to meditate quietly or breathe properly or do one hundred pushups on your knuckles in the endless gym of happiness’, Exercising in the gym of happiness.
Life on a movie set 17 Jul 2011
‘Walking through South Bank in Brisbane was a bit like when I some overseas cities, part of a massive theme park. In Paris and New York I felt every day that I was on a movie set. It was partly the iconic surroundings—streets, buildings, geography. But it was also the whole theatrical experience. The dramatic lighting everywhere used to maximise effect, the fact that I knew the names of the locations around me, from years of reading books and magazines, seeing films or hearing songs. Life doesn’t resemble art, it copies it, like two facing mirrors, reflecting backwards and forwards in an infinite regression’, Life on a movie set.
Lines of desire 17 Jul 2011
‘Lines of desire appear everywhere. They are the shortest distance between two points, the paths worn by people who do not want to follow the prescribed walkways of planners and architects and administrators, but instead make the path that suits them best. Good planning should be about matching actual lines with desire lines. The most appealing thing about desire lines is that they confirm the enduring tendency of humans to take the easiest route— something I find very satisfying—and they also confound those who think, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they know what is best for the rest of us’, Lines of desire.
Remembering Dresden 17 Jul 2011
‘The age we live in is one of small, short wars. It affects some of us in large ways, but most of us, hardly at all. This is a return to the norm, for the widespread horror of world war is unusual this century—at least, so far. During World War 2 one of my uncles was a navigator on the Lancaster bombers that fire-bombed Dresden. It’s hard to imagine how young they were, in strange countries, thousands of miles from home, seeing the world in ways they could never have expected – through bomb sights’, Remembering Dresden.
Irregular contact 22 May 2011
‘I find it curious that many people still look at the quirky world which has grown out of email, the internet and ubiquitous computers as something unusual. When new technologies are first introduced, it always seems to be the technically minded who are most interested and involved. However, as the technology becomes widely dispersed and part of the everyday—to the point of becoming invisible—then it’s those who maintain social connection who pick it up and make it their own. To find the perfect example of this we only have to look at the history of the telephone. It’s hard to imagine life without it—how else would dispersed families, friends and community and business colleagues ever keep up with each other? Lack of access to a phone is a true sign of poverty, because it restricts ability to communicate’, Irregular contact.
Eating on your own 22 May 2011
‘Eating on your own can be a strange and unusual activity. When I was younger, I found it very hard. I always felt that I was an oddity, sitting there without anyone to talk to. I quickly realised that at most tables of two even less conversation was underway than at my sparsely populated table. I am going to recommend to myself that I eat alone more often. That way I will get a good meal. an interesting conversation without too much disagreement, and a chance to get some serious thinking done without interruption’, Eating on your own.
Making a (small) difference 2 May 2010
‘Every year when I have to replace the registration sticker on my car I thank whoever dreamed up the peel-off sticker. Whoever brought in the new sticker could retire having done not one other good thing with their life and know that they had made a huge difference to the sum total of human happiness. It might not be up to the level of fixing Indigenous disadvantage or ensuring no child lives in poverty in our life time, but it was achievable, it did happen and there’s no going back’, Making a (small) difference.
Blowing up balloons 18 Apr 2010
‘I have a secret fascination with the ancient art of ballooning, a skill from the beginnings of flight, a moment where humans finally caught up with birds. This is despite the fact that I haven't yet managed to face the moment where I hang underneath a large canvas bag full of nothing but hot air high above the landscape in a shallow wicker basket. With their ability to break free from gravity and escape into a lighter world of their own, balloons represent for me the same force that fights the gravitational pull of great cities, like a black hole that swallows everything, even light’, Blowing up balloons.
More silence 17 Apr 2010
‘In a recent survey by my gym I was asked if I would prefer more music or more video—I replied ‘more silence’. I can never work out the need to be surrounded by noise. It is definitely noise, not sound. If it was quality, interesting sound perhaps it would be more bearable, but it usually seems to consist of someone telling us in a loud voice why we should buy something we don’t seem to want at all, let alone need. Why I have to pay to listen to this loud advertising by virtue of belonging to a gym which costs me a fortune, I can’t work out’, More silence.
15. ABOUT MY BLOGS (5)
Beyond a joke – surviving troubled times 5 Nov 2020
‘We live in troubled times – but then can anyone ever say that they lived in times that weren’t troubled? For most of my life Australia has suffered mediocre politicians and politics – with the odd brief exceptions – and it seems our current times are no different. Australia has never really managed to realise its potential. As a nation it seems to be two different countries going in opposite directions – one into the future and the other into the past. It looks as though we’ll be mired in this latest stretch of mediocrity for some time and the only consolation will be creativity, gardening and humour’, Beyond a joke – surviving troubled times.
See also – indefinite articles in a definite world 12 Jul 2017
‘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.
The virtual world – research and commentary on Australian arts and culture 23 Mar 2016
‘When I first established my blog ‘indefinite article’, a couple of years back, it was because I wanted to research and comment on Australian arts and culture. This is my main blog and it’s the one that gets most views. It seems to have taken off. I’d always thought that, given the specialist subject matter – after all it’s not a popular culture blog like a cooking one – that it would grow steadily but no more, which all along is what I had wanted. The rate of growth has surprised me. Now, I’m starting to focus on the other blogs that have played second fiddle – about short humour, gardening and cooking and creative writing’, The virtual world – research and commentary on Australian arts and culture.
16. PARALLEL UNIVERSE (1)
‘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.