Australia 2020: A vision for the arts

The year is 2020 and, surprise! We’re no longer having a national debate about the value of the arts. The arts are central to education, to social and economic well-being, and to creative life. We can no longer imagine a world where the arts isn’t as high a policy priority for government as the environment and the economy.

It begins in schools. By now, arts in education means more than just excursions to galleries and artist visits to schools. Education at all levels incorporates artistic methods and approaches. Alongside the other core curriculum essentials, kids learn sophisticated approaches to composition and form, to developing a creative vocabulary and to collaboration across materials and disciplines. Experimentation and improvisation are educational techniques that are applied across more than just the arts. We speak of a scientific method and an artistic method, and kids are clear on the contexts in which each apply. Across both approaches, process is privileged above product. An arts education is just as much about innovative problem-solving and the discovery of new literary genres as it is about critiquing the masterpieces of art history and today.

Teachers are more comfortable taking creative risks with their students, because they are supported by a nationally supported arts curriculum which offers up-to-date and flexible modules. Teachers are well-trained and well-paid, having access to continuing professional development programs that rival those of the professional associations for architects and doctors.

It extends into the urban fabric. Percent for art programs are an essential component of all new construction projects in 2020. Beyond merely cosmetic approaches to landscaping and public art, all large-scale construction must accommodate the arts. This might mean new developmental, rehearsal or performance spaces for arts organisations, or new workshops and studios. By building the arts into new developments, the arts are built into new communities. In 2020 nobody perceives arts organisations as inaccessible institutions, and no longer do they all seem to exist only in the CBD. This attracts artists into the newly built spaces, accelerating the evolution of creative communities with their cafés, bars and other local economic multipliers. Emerging and established artists interact within their local communities, making it easier for new talent to be nurtured and for mature talent to be applied. Rather than waiting for the urban fabric to create itself, the arts are seen as an important investment in creating areas where people want to live.

It feeds the community. Arts-led community cultural development is a preferred mode of outreach at the local government level. Every local council is funded to employ at least one community cultural development facilitator, targeting at-risk and disadvantaged communities. The emphasis is on collaboration, inclusivity and empowerment. Community radio and television feature innovative programming which is structured around that community’s priorities and passions, not what can most easily be imported and broadcast. Community images feature on billboards that used to carry advertising images for addictive products. By 2020, it’s not just the kids who have developed a critical vocabulary for analysing the images around them. It’s become very difficult for advertisers and politicians alike to swamp the community with fabricated reasons to spend or vote.

In these ways, Australians have come to understand art as being more than just about the works themselves – more than just about something you’d look at in a gallery, or watch on a stage. The notion that a work of art could be divorced from the conditions of its creation has become absurd. The question “How do you make it?” makes for many a long evening’s discussion. By the same token, both corporate and private philanthropy are experiencing a new heyday, as the fine arts enjoy a new level of excellence, bolstered by growing numbers of critically engaged audiences. In 2020 people are curious, excited by new ways to explore their environment, and fascinated when they come across art that expresses something new – that makes something new possible.

It’s a part of life. In 2020 our children come home with new ideas every day – and they laugh at our old-fashioned caution. They admire artists as risk-takers: confident enough to see a process through, intelligent enough to perceive the subtlety at each crucial point along the creative process where a choice is made. Governments invest in the arts because they foster transferable skills, they build communities, they enhance security and they boost investment. And because they remind us why we are alive.


My response to the 2020 Summit was first published in Neos Kosmos on 2008.