Policy Blog: National Cultural Policy Submission

April 2012

In the lead up to the imminent release ot the National Cultural Policy, we are revisiting some of the submissions made to government and the recommendations in them.  Here is the Music in Communities Network's own submission.

Submission to the Minister for the Arts, the Hon Simon Crean MP by the Music in Communities Network

A project of the Music Council of Australia and Music: Play for Life, the grassroots campaign to get more Australians making music.

October 21, 2011

The Music in Communities Network is pleased to allow our submission to be made publicly available on the www.culture.arts.gov.au website or to be published in any other medium with attribution.

Q1. Is a National Culture Policy Important? Why?

Yes, a National Cultural Policy is an important tool to broker a whole of government approach to culture, or more effectively, to have culture infuse all aspects of government policy. One definition of culture, from the Macquarie Dictionary, is ʻthe sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings, which is transmitted from one generation to anotherʼ. This idea of culture as an intergenerational transmission of values places the concept of family and education at its core is worth keeping in mind. But such a definition is so broad that it becomes impractical.

The National Cultural Policy, in proposing to encompass just three policy areas: Core Arts, Creative Industries and Cultural Heritage, is clearly a National Arts Policy, not a cultural policy.

Goal 1: To ensure that what the Government supports — and how this support is provided — reflects the diversity of a 21st century Australia, and protects and supports Indigenous culture

More about goal 1

The arts enrich our lives, and all Australians, no matter where they live or where they are from should have the opportunity to participate in the cultural life of the nation. Improving access to the arts is vital to shaping identity and building strong, resilient, prosperous communities.

Q2. Do you think this should be one of the goals of the National Cultural Policy? Why?

In considering access to the arts by the whole Australian community in all itʼs diversity there are some special populations that may require a broader and more in depth strategies to truly offer them equity of access:

  • Disabled. People with a disability encounter the same obstacles in the arts as in other activities. There have been responses: arts therapies address some needs; there are physical access requirements in place in many arts venues. Among the difficulties to be addressed are assumptions about the limits on artistic activity among the disabled which can lead to limits on the support offered to them. For instance, Adelaideʼs Tutti Ensemble is demonstrating that a professional career in the arts is possible for talented people with a disability, given the right circumstances. But the structure of support mechanisms actually works against these possibilities and so maintains an unnecessary level of dependency and prevents self-fulfilment. Review the support mechanisms.
  • Ageing. As the population grows older, there is increasing interest in the value of special arts programs in building a sense of community, keeping people engaged and healthy – and in providing therapeutic services to those who are not doing so well. A small financial input can produce disproportionate benefits to health and wellbeing. Probably there is a need for more training of practitioners, broader organisation of opportunities, some diversion of funds. The ageing or injured can face some of the same access issues as the disabled: problems with physical access to venues, transport issues, assumptions about incapacities. Many also are constrained by financial problems, e.g. the diminishing value of fixed incomes from savings or superannuation
  • Indigenous. Issues limiting access can include many of those listed, exacerbated by extreme distances and isolation for some, poverty, educational disadvantage, racism, alienation from the dominant culture or even own culture. An arts access program is probably a designated component of more comprehensive solutions. For a far mor in depth treatment, please see the Indigenous section of the submission from the Music Council of Australia.
  • At-risk youth. There is abundant experience in Australia and elsewhere that art-making can divert at-risk youth into more constructive lives. Because these people are rarely within the formal educational structure, special measures must be taken to reach them. Prevention costs money, but saves even more.
  • Newly arrived migrant, refugee and other multi-cultural communities. Being able to participate with musical traditions from home is a vital part of settling into a new life. Encouraging cross cultural collaboration provides a pathway to a greater connection with other diverse communities and Australian society as a whole.

In suggesting strategies to reach Goal 1, the discussion paper refers to building and broadening audiences - which only addresses access to receptive participation. While there is a place for this, it is in creative participation that the most powerful intrinsic (personal artistic experience, valuing of arts) and related benefits (social cohesion, health and wellbeing) can be found.

Goal 2: To encourage the use of emerging technologies and new ideas that support the development of new artworks and the creative industries, and that enable more people to access and participate in arts and culture.

More about goal 2

New methods of communication have changed the way Australians create, access and participate in arts and culture. Young people are increasingly blurring the boundaries between arts consumption and participation, and driving capacity to innovate and benefit from the new global digital economy. Cultural diversity is helping fuel innovation by bringing different insights to traditional practices. To support and develop this innovation and celebrate new and diverse artforms, building on emerging technologies will reinvigorate cultural life and offer new opportunities for community engagement.

The creative industries draw on the creative skills and talents of our workforce, driving new ideas and change. Australia needs to develop new skills, bringing arts and creative industries into the mainstream of Australian life. Achieving a globally competitive creative industries sector is vital to Australiaʼs prosperity, propelling a creative, imaginative nation in the 21st century.

Q3. Do you think this should be one of the goals of the National Cultural Policy?

Cultural democracy used to mean the opportunity for all, regardless of social, geographic or economic background, to be able to access the ʻhigh artsʼ - the opportunity for all to be consumers of culture. Now days there is an emphasis on access to the opportunity and tools to make art - the creation of culture.

The Australia Council now differentiates between these two very different ideas by referring to ʻcreative participationʼ or ʻreceptive participationʼ. The NCP discussion paper does not differentiate between the two, using the term ʻparticipationʼ to mean either or both of these concepts.

It is important to differentiate because it is in making art (creative participation) that we experience the strongest personal experience and valuing of the arts. The greatest opportunity provided by the development of new technology, specifically the NBN, is not the opportunity to deliver cultural content more effectively, but rather the provision of a platform that empowers and encourages technical and artistic innovation to create or co-create cultural content.

Goal 3: To support excellence and world-class endeavour, and strengthen the role that the arts play in telling Australian stories both here and overseas

More about goal 3
Australia has developed a reputation for its world-class arts and artists, many of whom are awarded international prizes such as Academy Awards and Grammy Awards, through to awards in many other fields, including architecture, visual arts and literature. More than ever, our arts and associated industries are performing at the highest levels – reflected in more requests for touring, increased reliance on our expertise, and greater demand for Indigenous arts. The arts tell our stories and increasingly utilise our innovative capacities and talents.

Q4. Do you think this should be one of the goals of the National Cultural Policy? Why?

Focusing on the idea of excellence in the arts in is useful in some respects, but to really support and encourage our artists to produce world-class groundbreaking creative work we must provide structures that encourage failure. Only with the freedom to fail, spectacularly and often, through strategies offering ongoing rather than success-oriented project-based support will the true creative potential of our artists be liberated.

Goal 4: To increase and strengthen the capacity of the arts to contribute to our society and economy

More about goal 4
A creative nation is a nation where education and training unleash creative talent and critical appreciation. An education rich in the arts fuels childrenʼs curiosity and critical capacity; it prepares children for better academic achievement and for creative flexible thinking. Every child has the right to experience and learn about the arts from a young age. The arts also help children gain a greater understanding and appreciation of people from other cultures who are living in Australia. The arts inspire future audiences, build the workforce of the future and the next generation of leaders.

Connected to the role of education in the arts is the capacity of the arts, and its many associated industries, including the creative industries, to contribute to the economy. There is strong evidence showing that growth in these areas directly contributes to the strength of the Australian economy, and to the perception of our society as vibrant, modern and inclusive.

Q5. Do you think this should be one of the goals of the National Cultural Policy? Why?

Community music activity is a widespread phenomenon with a diversity of excellent music practice occurring throughout the country, including in regional and remote areas. Much could be gained by promoting to schools strategies to exploit these excellent and largely untapped local resources to enhance and diversify their music curriculum. Different styles and approaches to teaching, and a commitment to inclusivity found in many community music practices can be particularly successful in connecting with students in culturally diverse environments.

Community Access to School Halls: The Commonwealth should provide a framework to encourage compliance with the community access provision of the ʻBuilding the Education Revolutionʼ school hall contracts. Particularly strategies may be developed to encourage not just use of halls by community music organisations, but embedding those organisations within the school community.

Musical Hobbyists

The NCP discussion paper refers to three categories of musicians: professional, students (aspiring to be professional) and the mildly derogatory ʻhobbyistsʼ referring to 15% of the Australian population that identify as amateur musicians (according to Australia Council research). This suggestion of a three tiered structure, the NCP discussion paperʼs 3rd goal promoting excellence and the 4th Goal strategy to ʻbuild pathways in the artsʼ - suggests the role of a musician in Australia is to struggle up a pyramid to achieve the state of excellence as a professional musician. This is only the reality for a very few dedicated individuals.

Thinking in this way might lead to a focus on supporting peak organisations, polishing the jewels in the crown as the crown rusts on a decaying head. A better way of thinking is to recognise the pinnacle of the pyramid is supported by the base. An even better way of thinking might be to follow the model of professional sports. The peak clubs, government, business and community organisations are part of a complex multifaceted ecosystem where all parts simultaneously nurture and are nurtured by each other from the smallest junior teams through local, state and national teams competing at an international level. It is the democratic participative nature of sport that fills stadiums for
peak level competition, a lesson it seems we are yet to embrace in the arts.

Q6 Are there any other goals you would like to see included in the National Cultural Policy?

To uphold the right of everyone to freely participate in the cultural life of the community.

More about this goal

There are two forms of participation: the consumption of culture, and the creation or recreation of culture. In Australia, the community embraces not only a mainstream but also many minority cultures associated with particular interest groups or ethnic communities, in particular the right of Indigenous people to participate in their own culture. In Australia, the issue is not so much that individuals are officially prevented from such participation, but rather whether government support creates circumstances in which these various cultures can be sustained.


See also Policy Blog: Multicultural Arts