Thursday, March 18, 2021

Beyond boundaries – Dr Terry Cutler and how to connect everything

The global pandemic has so upended the world we knew that everyday matters, like relationships, birthdays, births and deaths have often slipped by unnoticed and uncelebrated. In a world of pandemic and lockdowns – and shakedowns by government – such things seem to go unnoticed. In such a way the departures – through retirement or death – of those who have made unparalleled contributions to our future have often passed before we even notice. This was certainly the case with strategic creative and cultural thinker, Dr Terry Cutler, who died during the pandemic lockdown last year, when the focus of most of the world was on other things. 

I was listening to a talk about innovation by Professor Stuart Cunningham at the University of Canberra when I was shocked to hear that Dr Terry Cutler had died last year. In a world of pandemic and lockdowns – and shakedowns by government – such things seem to go unnoticed. Terry Cutler did so many things, across so many areas, that it’s difficult to even skim across them all – strategist at Telecom Australia in the early days of the digital revolution, key figure on the board of the respected science and technology body, the CSIRO, President of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, to name just a few of his many roles.

Terry Cutler crossed boundaries with his interest in the potential of the content of cultural institutions for creative industries. One of his later roles was President of the ground-breaking Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Too soon to tell
What I want to touch on is only a part of this, in a period when I worked with him. It is only part, but it is extremely important. I regularly come back to much of it in my blog articles about innovation, cultural institutions, content and the digital universe. It has informed ‘Impact and Enterprise’, the post-graduate Unit I developed at the University of Canberra. This focuses on the interrelationship of the broader economic and social impacts of creativity and culture, arising from the way creativity and culture is a central part of everyday life and the activities that make it up.

‘When asked what he saw as the long term effects of the French Revolution, [he replied] that it was too soon to tell.’

The longer term impact of this body of work reminds me of the apocryphal story about Chou En-Lai, the legendary Premier of China, who once famously (and perhaps actually) said when asked what he saw as the long term effects of the French Revolution, that it was too soon to tell. I like that sort of sense of history – it exhibits a long-term strategic vision, so often missing amongst political leaders in Australia, particularly lately. It was the sort of vision that Terry Cutler exhibited often. Certainly the research work that Cutler was involved in when I worked with him showed that long term potential for surprises, connecting areas that didn’t at first sight seem linked.

Exploring the potential
Soon after a brief stint as Chair of the Australia Council (after a longer one as Chair of its New Media Arts Board) he addressed the inaugural OZeCulture Conference that I organised in Melbourne. The conference – which continued annually for several years after the first one – aimed to bring together artists, cultural institutions and information technology companies to explore the potential of the Internet, the online environment and the digital universe. Amongst many other things he talked about the untapped potential of the content held by cultural institutions for the growth of Australia’s creative industries. 

‘Amongst many other things he talked about the untapped potential of the content held by cultural institutions for the growth of Australia’s creative industries.’

He then went on to work on the multi-stage Creative Industries Cluster Study, a wide-ranging two year research project to lay the groundwork to engage national and state government, industry bodies and cultural organisations in developing policies to support the growth of major, globally competitive Australian Creative Industries. This flowed into the Digital Content Industry Action Agenda, which brought together industry leaders to present recommendations to Cabinet that underlined digital content as important in the same way as the emerging areas of biotechnology and nanotechnology. It also fed into the Prime Ministers Science, Engineering and Innovation Council Enquiry into the Role of Creativity in the Innovation Economy aiming to present its work to Cabinet in a way which would engage all Ministers, by focusing on the role of digital content and applications as an input to broader industries such as Agriculture, Defence, Mining and Health.

Wider and longer reverberations
There was a lot happening, but it wasn’t translating into policy advances. At one point asked why his work had not produced a greater response from Coalition Governments, he commented ‘I failed’. However, ironically the work of the Cluster Study led to the establishment by the incoming Rudd Labor Government of the wildly successful Creative Industries Innovation Centre. In many other ways the work that Cutler was involved in led to many wider and longer developments that still reverberate today.

‘At one point asked why his work had not produced a greater response from Coalition Governments, he commented ‘I failed’. However, ironically the work of the Cluster Study led to the establishment by the incoming Rudd Labor Government of the wildly successful Creative Industries Innovation Centre.’

One crucial project was a three year ARC-funded National Creative Digital Industries Mapping Project, involving the Creative Industries Research and Applications Centre of Queensland University of Technology, with industry partners at the time, the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, the National Office for the Information Economy and the Australian Film Commission. I worked as a Partner Investigator on the project to ensure that what was produced could inform government in useful ways. Due to the partnership with government, the project was able to gain access to critical Australian Tax Office data, which enabled more accurate analysis of the nature and composition of the creative sector.

Feeding directly into government
The research from this project was used to feed directly into government policy development and briefings for Ministers. The partnership led to the establishment of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology – the first ARC centre of excellence in the humanities and creative arts. It undertook research in media studies, cultural studies, communication studies, law, education, economics, business technology, and information technology, related to the creative economy, between 2005 and 2013. Cutler continued his contribution, as Chair of the Advisory Board for the new body, continuing his long-term collaboration with its Director, Professor Stuart Cunningham.

With so much going on it’s often the small things that stick in your memory of the time. During this project, as we worked to categorise and map ways digital content and applications had wider reverberations across the economy generally, I discovered that Terry Cutler and I had a shared enthusiasm for taxonomies. But then Cutler had an enthusiasm for so many things that you could easily lose count. He made major contributions to Australia’s creative sector, many of which are still continuing. I don’t know what he would have made of some of the narrow, mediocre and short-sighted thinking we are seeing in Government today, but he did show what could be done by Government, education and industry in partnership, given half a chance.

See also

Broader and deeper - the creativity and culture of everyday life
‘The Impact and Enterprise post-graduate course at the University of Canberra course is unique in Australia in placing creative industries and the creative and cultural economy in the broader landscape of the wider impacts of creativity and culture - both economic and social. It starts from the premise that what the broader social and economic roles of creativity and culture have in common is that a focus on the economic role of creativity and culture is similar to the focus on its community role – both spring from recognition that creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up. In March 2021, as the course entered its third year, I gave a talk to the students about where it came from,’ Broader and deeper - the creativity and culture of everyday life.

Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture
‘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
‘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
‘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.

Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?
‘With a Coalition Government which now stands a far better chance of being re-elected for a second term, the transfer of the Commonwealth’s Arts Ministry to Communications helps get arts and culture back onto larger and more contemporary agendas. This move reflects that fact that the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, are both clever and clean. Where they differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not’, Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?

Endless attrition at major collections institutions undermines our cultural future
‘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.

Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy
‘I always thought that long after all else has gone, after government has pruned and prioritised and slashed and bashed arts and cultural support, the national cultural institutions would still remain. They are one of the largest single items of Australian Government cultural funding and one of the longest supported and they would be likely to be the last to go, even with the most miserly and mean-spirited and short sighted of governments. However, in a finale to a series of cumulative cuts over recent years, they have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair. The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation at a crucial crossroads in its history’, Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy.

After a fashion – creative industries from First Nations culture
‘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.
 
A world turned upside down – UNESCO Creative City of Design Wuhan
‘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
‘Survival in the creative sector in a post-COVID world will require enhanced literacy in the opportunities of the new industries of the future, the clean and clever knowledge economy which is altering our world on a daily basis. Now a new short course delivered completely online in the new digital universe we are all increasingly inhabiting will look closely at the creative and cultural economy and the broader impacts of creativity and culture, both economic and social. It will outline the role of the creative sector in managing meaning and explain how telling Australian stories puts us on the international stage in an increasingly globalised world’, Creative and cultural futures – understanding the creative and cultural economy.

Making a living – building careers in creative and cultural futures
‘Making a living in the developing creative economy is no easy task. For a viable career, flexibility and creativity are crucial. For this a strategic outlook and a grasp of the major long-term forces shaping Australian creativity and culture is essential. To help foster this amongst emerging cultural sector practitioners, a new flagship course, a Master of Arts in Creative and Cultural Futures, was launched at the University of Canberra in 2019, building on earlier experiments in aligning research and analysis with real world cultural sector experience’, 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
‘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
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

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

The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival
‘Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.

Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world
‘Design and the language of design is very broad – much broader than architecture or industrial or graphic design – the forms we are most conscious of. Design is also very much about processes and the development of concepts across almost all areas of human activity. This means it also has a high relevance to the development of policy to solve pressing social challenges, moving beyond the world of design to embrace the design of the world. In a highlight of DESIGN Canberra this year, respected Dutch presenter Ingrid Van der Wacht led discussion about the relevance of design to innovative policy – from local, highly specific policy to grand strategic policy designed to change whole regions and even nations’, Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘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.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

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

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



 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing on important subjects. Agreed, there is an "accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy" is under-appreciated.

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