What’s in it for me?

The National Cultural Policy was worth waiting for. Arts Minister Simon Crean kept pushing Treasury until he got the money to put behind the ideas. He got the National Curriculum review on side to ensure every child will get an arts education and he utilised to the hilt his own portfolio in the placement of arts with local government and regional development.       As a result, he has delivered a policy which has the potential to place culture at the centre of Australia thinking for the first time in a generation.       After 20 years in the policy desert, the arts and cultural sector was excited just to be getting a policy.  What artists and those around them wanted most is clear from reading the hundreds of public submissions to the National Cultural Policy Review.

Artists and arts lovers were yearning to see the value of what they do acknowledged and funded accordingly.  They got it.       A policy that acknowledges arts and culture is essential to the life of every Australian is long overdue. We have the proof in the statistics on how we choose to spend our time and our money.  In the words of Creative Australia:  ‘Almost every Australian engages with arts and cultural activities – reading books, going to movies, visiting galleries and museums, listening to music and participating in a wide range of creative pursuits.’       Particularly welcome, were the words which compared arts favourably to its cultural competitors: ‘Indeed there is more direct involvement with the arts than there is with sport or religion, the other two cultural markers.’       Similarly a policy that says creativity is central to Australia’s economic and social success should be axiomatic. The Government is simply catching up with the clear research available for many years on the positive outcomes of arts engagement for mental and physical health, education, and economy and community well-being.   In fact catching up would be generous. The policy stops short of a fully-integrated commitment that could reinvent health and community services sector by focusing on well-being through culture, though it does make significant steps in valuing the arts in education and economy.

The essential message of this policy is that a strong arts and cultural sector is good for everybody, not just for artists.  But for the sector itself, the acknowledgement at the heart of Creative Australia will make a profound psychological difference.       The warm fuzzies are backed up with genuine potential for new funding, audience development and creative opportunities.  So, apart from feeling good, what do you get?       More money   The funding package is more generous than anyone expected. In his speech to the National Press Club, the Minister totalled the new at $235 million. Included in that is $60 million for artists and arts organisations and $5 million for Major Performing Arts Excellence Pool with an agreement with states and territories for matching contributions.   The

Broader and fairer assessment   The Australia Council will increase the number of peer assessors and develop a more flexible art form board structure. Artists who have missed out on funding because their work doesn’t fit into conventional genres or because they are out of favour with current assessors are set to benefit.       More time   Many artists complain they spend more time filling in grant applications than producing work. Arts organisations are frustrated at spending their budgets on administrators to manage application and compliance processes.  The policy promises streamlining of grant applications and better co-ordination with local and state governments through a National Accord, a step that will benefit anyone in the arts who receives funding or provides services to government at any level.       New audiences   Perhaps the most exciting initiative in the policy is the commitment to an arts education for every Australia school child. While the basic right of every student to an arts education ought to be obvious – and as Professor Brian Caldwell pointed out recently is an obligation under our international treaties – in recent years, public schools have cut art and music at an alarming rate. Giving children an arts education builds audiences and understanding for the arts. It’s a long term investment but has the potential for enormous benefits for the entire cultural sector as well as short term benefits for those in the education sector.       Better visual thinking   The establishment of a new Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Design will be a major opportunity for visual artists and architects to see their creativity integrated into public spaces.

Training opportunities   Training initiatives will provide opportunities at many levels. Young people with creative potential will benefit from the establishment of an ArtsReady program which will support job seekers, school leavers and at-risk students to fund arts careers through on the job training. For those aspiring to the elite training organisations there is significant additional funding of $20.8 million over four years. Arts managers will benefit with $4 million to build the professional capacity of the sector.

Teaching opportunities   The loss of TAFE funding and squeezing of university courses has meant many artists who depend on teaching for a relatively secure income are doing it tough. The training opportunities outlined in the policy will be good news for the established artists too as they reap opportunities as teachers and mentors. If the education policy is to be effective, schools will need art, music and drama teachers as well as greatly improved teacher training.        More corporate partnerships   Arts organisations can expect to benefit from a stated aimed of ‘a culture of giving, partnership and investment, mentorship and entrepreneurship’.  By making life easier for corporate sponsors and philanthropic foundations, the Government plans to encourage more private sector funding.  There is an additional $8.595 funding for Creative Partnerships Australia and negotiations with the Australian Tax Office have produced some concessions on cultural gifts.  The battle for tax concessions for bequests to the arts is still on.       More original Australian work   The Government has cherry-picked top companies producing original Australian work and rewarded them richly.  $9.3 million will go to six Major Performing Arts Companies: Bangarra Dance Theatre in NSW , Belvoir Company B in NSW, Black Swan Theatre Company in WA, the Malthouse in Victoria and Circus Oz in Victoria.       More indigenous opportunities   The community language funding of $13.983 will provide some opportunities to writers, publishers and theatre companies and visual artist will get continued support through the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program.  There are also specialised training and employment programs.  Two major institutions will get special opportunities: the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies for the digitisation of their collections and the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Education at Charles Darwin University, which gets $30.6 million including a new gallery space.       More regional opportunities   The policy builds on an establishment commitment through the Regional Development Fund, promising a minimum of $40 million for arts and cultural infrastructure projects in 2013. Regional artists, arts organisations and communities will be key beneficiaries, especially those working closely with communities.

More international opportunities   The funding of a National Live Music Co-ordinator to boost contemporary music industry exports may present real opportunities for musicians wanting to break into the international market.  The international market will also bring opportunity here with the $20 million Location Incentive; especially if it works as a precursor to an increase in the Location Offset should the Australian dollar remain high.

Deborah Stone | dstone@artshub.com.au

Deborah Stone is Editor of artsHub.

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