The National Cultural Policy ‘Creative Australia’ is an important milestone for Australia. Several years in the making, its development has been the work of an enormous number of people who have given it creative, scholarly, consultative, financial and political attentions. It’s a rare and important thing that this much deliberation and care has been given to the arts.

A national cultural policy is core to the work of government, encompassing the arts, education, business, sport, trade, health, transport – indeed, all of the ways in which our everyday practices make and remake the diverse culture that we know as Australian. Regional Arts Victoria welcomes Creative Australia as a positive first step towards a comprehensive cultural policy that is inclusive, constructive and inspiring. I’ve very much enjoyed reading the responses of colleagues so far. Like any good artistic work, Creative Australia asks questions and engages us all in a national cultural discussion. Here are just a couple of those open questions: Opportunities for regional engagement –

  • The National Arts & Culture Accord, Creative Young Stars and ArtsReady. Each of these initiatives require the direct involvement of local MPs, which has the potential to transform local, regional and remote arts communities. Local members of parliament who oversee the allocation of local arts funding programs will need the guidance of local artists and expert organisations, immersing themselves in the local arts ecology, and developing a better understanding of the practical realities of creative practice in regional and remote locations. A question for all of us: How will artists and independent arts organisatons build those new creative connections, especially across regional and remote areas?
  • The continuation of Regional Arts Fund, the Australian Government’s primary vehicle for fostering regional creative practice, in partnership with each state’s regional arts organisation. Through the Fund, organisations like Regional Arts Victoria work closely with thousands of artists each year, as well as partnering with other regional bodies and local governments. While the National Cultural Policy provides for no increase in the Regional Arts Fund, this will be necessary in the absence of any other new program or specific area of focus on regional and remote artists. With regional Australia and local government among Minister Crean’s portfolio areas, there’s a rare opportunity to engage directly with these areas of significant cultural development. The question remains: How will we foster regional arts without an increase to the Regional Arts Fund?

Opportunities for further development –

  • Specific programs for regional and remote arts and culture will be an important addition to Creative Australia. The national network of Regional Arts Development Officers, for example, is the most immersed and specialised way in which the Australian Government fosters regional creative practice. Regional Arts Victoria’s four Regional Arts Development Officers work in long-term local government partnerships in Gippsland, Swan Hill, Ballarat and the Great South Coast. Overstretched, yet in demand, these creative arts facilitators are vital to regional arts development, and therefore more are needed. As I continue reading through the Policy, another question comes to mind: How does Creative Australia foster regional arts?
  • Festivals are largely missing in Creative Australia yet, by their very nature, they are a preeminent driver of artistic as well as industry development. Festivals play a leading role in setting the national artistic agenda and presenting it to the world, as well as to the general public. Their intensive annual turnover of program and staff provides some of the most important and reliable career pathway opportunities for the entire gamut of arts worker roles. Their keen business acumen, competitive marketplace differentiation, strong audience development focus and attractive sponsor exposure yield significant innovations in arts management. And their place-making impact, complementary annual calendar and transformative tourist experience give the arts a rare creative influence over cities and towns. In our arts ecology, it is the festivals who make art public, opening up new arts experiences by bringing artists together in ever-new configurations. No cultural policy is complete without a festivals policy. How will the arts ecology be enriched by the knowledge and the practices that festivals develop? To foster regional arts pathways, resource sharing and professional development, Regional Arts Victoria will reinstate the Festivals Network, extending the Melbourne network I’ve fostered in previous festival roles, as well as reinvigorating Regional Arts Victoria’s 2003-2007 FestNet.

Opportunities for further consultation and development exist in disability arts, visual arts, architecture and design. How will we foster and champion disability arts as well as accessible arts? How will we ensure that visual artists are paid for exhibitions? How will architecture, craft and design’s unique practices and works inform Creative Australia, and how will architects, makers and designers be recognised as artists?

Many more such questions are inspired by the National Cultural Policy, and vital among them is the role of the journalist. On launching Creative Australia, Minister Crean reflected on the dearth of arts coverage in the increasingly sensationalist mainstream media. Forums like Creative Foyer ensure that the arts have a specialised place for analysis and exchange, but what about the mass media? With the number of arts journalists dwindling across the traditional media, how will we ensure that a national conversation is fostered, and that everyone has the opportunity to take part in developing the values and the ideas that give our lives passion and purpose?

Let’s keep asking those questions.

First published on Creative Foyer in 2013.