Creative Australia: The Social and Economic Dividend

by Alex Masso

Part 4 of our response to the Creative Australia policy looks at a section titled "Connect to national life for a social and economic dividend". It is broad ranging and refers to a number of special areas of interest to the Music in Communities Network, although it doesn't deal specifically with community music.

Creative Australia logoAccess, Interpretation and Innovation of National Collecting Institutions

The Creative Australia policy presents a strong case for supporting the National Collecting Institutions, including the modernisation and digitisation agenda. One recent example is the National Library of Australia’s Forte sheet music app, which provides easy access to the library’s digitised sheet music collection. The policy is already working.

The institution closest to the needs of community music groups is the Australian Music Centre (AMC), which is not categorised as a ‘National Collecting Institution’ but effectively serves that function on a much smaller budget. With this strong narrative about the importance of collecting institutions and new funding for the Australia Council, which funds the AMC, we can hope to see its importance recognised and its support assured.

Regional Development and Social Dividends through Community-Based Arts and Cultural Programs

This section most closely relates to the Music in Communities Network's agenda, and covers a vast amount of territory. Each of the following areas are covered in this section but most would be deserving of an entire chapter of the nation’s cultural policy, if space allowed it.

  • Community participation in the arts
  • Arts and disability
  • National Arts and Health Policy Framework
  • Regional Arts infrastructure
  • Support for Regional Arts practise, Regional Arts Australia, and its funding
  • Development work in Indonesia
  • Benefits of arts to Tourism in regional areas (and specifically, Tasmania)
  • Instrumental benefits of the arts
  • Community Cultural Development
  • Supporting young artists
  • Multicultural and multilingual broadcasting (SBS)
  • Economic value of receptive participation in arts and cultural activities across Australia.
  • National Year of Reading

The policy aims to achieve no less than increased participation in the arts and cultural activities by a broad demographic, widespread application of arts-led approaches to complex social and economic challenges across all levels of government, and recognition that culturally vibrant places attract people and business, are more competitive and are inclusive and better places to live. These are ambitious goals.

There is a clearly identified role of government in some of the areas listed. Community-based music making, however, emerges as one area with no clear commitment from the Federal Government. The optimist in me sees various ways to support community although they are not stated. It’s over to local councils and the states.

There are clear connections between these but it is an ambitious task to fit them under the heading “Regional Development and Social Dividends through Community-Based Arts and Cultural Programs”. We can accept the limitations of the policy document such as they exist – there is only so much time, money and space in the policy available – but the narrative does not tell us much about the government’s view of our core focus: participation by Australians in music.

A number of the government initiatives have been underway for some time. The National Arts and Health Policy Framework, for example, receives only a passing reference in the Creative Australia policy but a lot of work has been done by the Arts and Health Foundation and the Council of Australian Governments forums for Health Ministers and Cultural Ministers.

Much has been said about Arts and Disability since the release of Creative Australia, sparked by the poor word choice: ‘tolerance’. The offending line has been changed and its intended meaning, “continuing to build on the National Arts and Disability Strategy to improve access to culture for people with disability, and for promoting social inclusion through the arts,” is now much clearer. It refers to the (instrumental) benefits of the arts to people with disability and we hope that future support for the National Arts and Disability Strategy can realise this potential as part of its social inclusion agenda.

The treatment of regional arts, arts and health, arts and disability, community participation and other important areas in Creative Australia are brief, but we should remain optimistic about the potential for government support. The Arts Ready initiative, for example, could offer particular opportunities for regional artists and people with disability if the program is well designed, and the Arts Accord may result in clearer support from different jurisdictions for many of these areas.

The initiatives in this section are:

  • $40m for arts & cultural infrastructure projects. Most welcome, although any local government peak organisation could tell you the value of the infrastructure backlog. Already announced.
  • $37m for Creative Futures Project Tasmania. This sounds interesting. New announcement.
  • $12.5m over four years for the Regional Arts Fund. Good program, work continuing. Already announced.
  • $8.1 million for Creative Young Stars. Good initiative; new announcement.
  • Audit programs of the Australia Council and Office for the Arts. Cost unspecified.
  • Arts and Health Framework. Cost and funding commitment unspecified.
  • $1.3m for National Year of Reading
  • $500,000 for the National Arts and Disability Strategy. Already announced.

The glaring omission from this section is the Arts Accord. Many of the priorities mentioned in this section of Creative Australia can be progressed through genuine cooperation between federal, state/territory and local government, in partnership with the sector. The good news is that the Arts Accord is on the Creative Australia agenda, all we need to do is make sure that the opportunity is used to deal with many of these issues.

Creative Young Stars

This is the second of our highlights in the Creative Australia policy, alongside the Arts Accord. It is a highlight not because it is a large pot of money, but because it offers new opportunities for community-based and school-based music making and support for young people in particular. Read more

< Part 3: Modernise Funding and Support | Part 5: What do we know about Creative Young Stars? >