Creative Australia

Published:  March 13, 2013
Heath Killen
Creative Australia

After a lengthy, difficult development period, the new federal arts and culture policy for Australia was unveiled today by Simon Crean at a press conference in Canberra. Creative Australia is the first comprehensive, national policy of its kind to be developed in just under 20 years. Crean described it as a “foundation stone” for the next decade and promised a more responsive funding body that would support the development of new work and innovation with a “distinctively Australian” focus.

The Creative Australia policy is driven by five primary goals:

  • To recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity.
  • Ensure that government support reflects the diversity of Australia and that all citizens, wherever they live, whatever their background or circumstances, have a right to shape our cultural identity and its expression.
  • Support excellence and the special role of artists and their creative collaborators as the source of original work and ideas, including telling Australian stories.
  • Strengthen the capacity of the cultural sector to contribute to national life, community wellbeing and the economy.
  • Ensure Australian creativity thrives in the digitally enabled 21st century, by supporting innovation, the development of new creative content, knowledge and creative industries.

The policy will continue support “prestige” arts projects such as dance and theatre, but also aims to provide support for practitioners working with new technology (a strong emphasis was placed on the billion dollar gaming industry) and convergent media. The policy promises $235 million in arts funding, $75 million of which will go towards enhancing the Australia Council for the Arts over the next four years. During the press conference, ABC journalist Lyndall Curtis noted this total figure is $15 million less than the Keating governments previous Creative Nation policy of 1994. When pressed on explaining where the money will come from, Crean suggested that $40 million would come from existing programs with the remaining $195 million to be drawn from different government portfolios, distributed in the next federal budget.

At the cornerstone of the policy is education. Crean recognised that there was “still a way to go” in this area but that Creative Australia provides a framework for the way forward, with a particular focus on developing new accreditations, different industry pathways, and flexible new models for teaching, such as masterclasses. Crean used musican Gotye as an example of an Australian artist who has achieved success overseas, but has since returned to Australia to provide this type of support and guidance to students and emerging talent.

Crean also drew parallels between sports and the arts, recognising that there is a significant cultural divide between the two, but that he was committed to addressing the inequity. Part of Crean’s education focus is the formation of $3.5 million dollar body Artsready (based on Crean’s own Keating-era Sportsready program) which will be dedicated to building curriculum for young people to develop practical skills that support “elite artists”, and creating pathways for industry vocations such as administrators, caterers, and technicians.

Crean was certainly saying all the right things today, making explicit mentions of social inclusion strategies and using the opportunity to echo Labour’s “closing the gap” mantra. Naturally the policy is long, detailed, and promises great things – but success will of course depend entirely on adequate funding and successful implementation. When questioned on the possibility of a change in Government later this year, and whether or not an Abbott government would see a return to the “culture wars” under Howard’s leadership, Crean sought to promote partisanship and encouraged the media to help back this position. While not referring to any specific strategies, Crean said that he aims to embeded policies in a way that will be supported by future Governments (irrespective of their party) and that he hoped they would recognise the potential to leverage their own returns on the policy regardless of its origin.

The current arts funding climate has been troubled for a long time. I’ve witnessed numerous artists in a range of practices struggle in my hometown of Newcastle – many of whom were clients that I worked closely with. I’ve also experienced first-hand the challenges that come with funding cuts, lack of regional support, and a lack of recognition for emerging disciplines. It is promising to hear that the arts will become a core component to the Australian national curriculum from 2014, and supporting infrastructure such as the NBN is certainly a positive thing in terms of regional development and the growth of new sectors. The fact that the industries addressed in this policy are now being properly recognised as major contributors to the economic and cultural growth of the country is also great, as is the commitment to Indigenous language programs and other culturally responsive initiatives. The issues of transparency, quality control, and assurances of rigorous, long-term commitment to the policy will continue to come under scrutiny (as it should be), but this certainly seems like a big step, perhaps even a leap, in the right direction.

The full policy is available here (PDF download).
A “5-minute” summary available to read here.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Creative Australia below.

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