Sunday, July 3, 2022

National Cultural Policy rises from dead to boost Australian arts, culture and creativity

A change in national Government means that much of the daily work of Government in keeping the country running continues as before, eased along by the continuity provided by the public service. However, there can also be drastic changes of direction and fresh starts and old and tested ideas reinvigorated. One area where this will certainly be the case is with Government support for Australian arts, culture and creativity, with consultation to update the policies in Creative Australia, the previous National Cultural Policy, getting underway without delay.

A change of Government, especially at a national level, can mark major changes in some areas and little in others. Most of the work Government does – essentially the everyday running of the country – often changes little from one Government to the next, no matter what the political flavour of the incoming Government. The long suffering public service continues to keep the ship afloat no matter how incompetent any particular Government may be.

Garma Festival 2008 East Arnhem Land

Promise and hope
However, left long enough incompetence can foil even the most diligent department and a change of Government can mark a fresh start in stagnant areas and energise a demoralised public service. There are likely to be many fresh starts in coming months, despite the hangover of debt and inertia inherited by the new Government. From my perspective, one of those areas of promise and hope is Government support for the arts, culture and creativity.

‘From my perspective, one of those areas of promise and hope is Government support for the arts, culture and creativity.’

Under a new old Minister, Tony Burke, some of the areas supported by the Rudd and Gillard Governments that fizzled out under the Coalition are likely to be revitalised. Some of the important areas of work which needed to be done by any competent Government, but were not picked up by the Coalition because they were not enough of a priority, are also finally likely to be moved forward.

As I’ve said before, the sticky issue will be funding for this blueprint in a time of massive deficits due to the response to the pandemic, combined with widespread pork-barrelling by the outgoing Government. However, as I said at the time Creative Australia was announced, funding is a secondary matter – most important is a strong understanding of the importance of creativity and culture and a commitment to support it across all areas of Government.

A new old National Cultural Policy
Under the banner of a ‘A new National Cultural Policy’, the recently renamed Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts has launched the renewed consulationprocess it flagged a week ago after the change of national government. The announcement in the Department‘s arts newsletter coincided with the start of the new financial year, always a good time to start new old things.

‘It is now open for feedback on a roadmap to guide a diverse, vibrant and sustainable arts, entertainment and cultural sector into the future.’

Community members and stakeholders are invited to take part in the consultation to inform a new National Cultural Policy. It is now open for feedback ‘on a roadmap to guide a diverse, vibrant and sustainable arts, entertainment and cultural sector into the future’.

Five goals for a good policy
The policy will be launched later this year. As a starting-point, consultation will be shaped around the five goals of the Creative Australia policy launched more than nine years ago, way back in 2013. That’s a long gap without a policy providing strategic direction to Government. These goals have been distilled into the following pillars for the purpose of consultation:
  • First Nations: recognising and respecting the crucial place of these stories at the centre of our arts and culture. 
  • A place for every story: reflecting the diversity of our stories and the contribution of all Australians as the creators of culture.
  • The centrality of the artist: supporting the artist as worker and celebrating their role as the creators of culture.
  • Strong institutions: providing support across the spectrum of institutions which sustain our arts and culture.
  • Reaching the audience: ensuring our stories reach the right people at home and abroad.
To inform the policy, everyone can make a written submission or come to a town hall event being held across the country, starting on 6 July in Hobart. More dates will be announced shortly.

Unique opportunity to set a direction for the future
This is a unique opportunity to set a clear direction for the future, and the Department wants to hear from anyone interested to help them set a vision for the decade ahead. Submissions are now open until 22 August 2022. Details on how to register for a town hall event or make a submission are available on the Department website.

‘This is a unique opportunity to set a clear direction for the future, and the Department wants to hear from anyone interested to help them set a vision for the decade ahead.’

Back in February 2015, when the Labor Party, freshly in Opposition, began to review the Creative Australia policy, I published an article based on my experience as Director of the National Cultural Policy Task Force responsible for co-ordinating the development of Creative Australia. The article, called ‘Arts policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel’, acknowledged the strength of that comprehensive and carefully-developed policy, while also noting some crucial areas where it could be enhanced. I’ll be revisiting that article and the ideas in it as this important consulation process proceeds.

See also

Labor election victory means renewed approach for Australian arts and culture support 
‘Almost a decade of Coalition Government has ended, with a complex and ground-breaking result. During that long period the substantial and detailed work to develop a national cultural policy under the Rudd and then Gillard Labor Governments was sidelined. A strategic, comprehensive, long-term approach to support by national Government for Australian culture and creativity in its broadest sense was largely absent. Now we are likely to see a return – finally – to some of the central principles that underpinned ‘Creative Australia’, the blueprint that represented the Labor Government response to Australia’s creative sector’, Labor election victory means renewed approach for Australian arts and culture support.

Why Australia still needs a cultural policy – third time lucky?
‘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?

Why cultural diversity is central to Australia’s future promise – a refocused Labor arts policy?
‘Can Australia successfully navigate the treacherous and confusing times in which we live? Understanding the crucial importance of our cultural diversity to our cultural, social and economic future will be essential. Applying that in the policies and practices that shape our future at all levels across Australia can ensure we have a bright, productive and interesting 21st Century. An important part of this are the political parties, major and minor, that are increasingly negotiating the compromises that shape our world. The recent launch by the Labor Party of a new group, Labor for the Arts, could be an important development. Combining as it does a focus from an earlier time on both arts and multiculturalism, it could potentially open the way for some innovative and forward-thinking policy’, Understanding why cultural diversity is central to Australia’s future promise – a refocused Labor arts policy?

Changing the landscape of the future – a new focus on cultural rights
‘The arts and culture sector has spent far too many years pressing the case for why Australian culture is crucial to Australia’s future, without seeming to shift the public policy landscape to any great degree. Perhaps a proposed fresh approach focusing on cultural rights may offer some hope of a breakthrough. What makes this approach so important and so potentially productive is that it starts with broad principles, linked to fundamental issues, such as human rights, which makes it a perfect foundation for the development of sound and well-thought out policies – something that currently we sadly lack’, Changing the landscape of the future – a new focus on cultural rights.

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

Putting culture on the main agenda – the power of policy
‘With the ongoing malaise due to the absence of national arts and cultural policy in Australia, it's worth reminding ourselves what beneficial impact good policy can have. To understand the power of policy to make an impact in the world, it’s worthwhile contrasting two recent major Australian Government cultural policies – the National Cultural Policy and the National Indigenous Languages Policy. This helps illuminate how cultural policy can promote the long view, innovation, breadth and leadership. Both policies showed that more important than funding or specific initiatives was the overall strategic vision and the way in which it attempted to place culture not just on the main agenda, but somewhere near the centre of the main agenda’, Putting culture on the main agenda – the power of policy.

Flight of the wild geese – Australia’s place in the world of global talent
‘As the global pandemic has unfolded, I have been struck by how out of touch a large number of Australians are with Australia’s place in the world. Before the pandemic many Australians had become used to travelling overseas regularly – and spending large amounts of money while there – but we seem to think that our interaction with the global world is all about discretionary leisure travel. In contrast, increasingly many Australians were travelling – and living – overseas because their jobs required it. Whether working for multinational companies that have branches in Australia or Australian companies trying to break into global markets, Australian talent often needs to be somewhere else than here to make the most of opportunities for Australia. Not only technology, but even more importantly, talent, will be crucial to the economy of the future’, Flight of the wild geese – Australia’s place in the world of global talent
 
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.
 
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.

Contemporary Indigenous fashion – where community culture and economics meet
‘The recent exhibition 'Piinpi', about contemporary Indigenous fashion, has a significance for Australian culture that is yet to be fully revealed. The themes covered by the exhibition are important because they demonstrate the intersection of the culture of First Nations communities with creative industries and the cultural economy. In attempting to address the major issue of Indigenous disadvantage, for example, it is critical to recognise that one of the most important economic resources possessed by First Nations communities is their culture. Through the intellectual property that translates it into a form that can generate income in a contemporary economy, that culture is pivotal to jobs and to income. It may not be mining but it mines a far richer seam – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal. At a time when First Nations communities are talking increasingly about gaining greater control over their economic life, this is highly relevant’, Contemporary Indigenous fashion – where community culture and economics meet

Understanding the economy of the future - innovation and its place in the knowledge economy, creative economy, creative industries and cultural economy 
‘When we start to think about the economy of the future – and the clean and clever jobs that make it up – we encounter a confusing array of ideas and terms. Innovation, the knowledge economy, the creative economy, creative industries and the cultural economy are all used, often interchangeably. Over the years my own thinking about them has changed and I thought it would be useful to try to clarify how they are all related’, Understanding the economy of the future – innovation and its place in the knowledge economy, creative economy, creative industries and cultural economy. 

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.

Music makes the world go round – the bright promise of our export future
‘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.

Arts, culture and a map of the future – the limits of arts policy

‘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?
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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.

‘Creative Nation’ – Keating's cultural legacy
‘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.

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