UPDATE OCTOBER 2018: The City of Melbourne has committed to undertake further work in response to these concerns.
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Here are some questions for artists, organisations, workers and residents to consider in responding to the draft in writing or via consultation sessions:
- Have artists or Elders of the Boonwurrung or Wurundjeri communities had the opportunity to contribute to this document prior to publication? Are references to Aboriginal and Torres Islander culture informed by their guidance?
- Arts Strategy 2014-2017 articulated a sophisticated set of outcome areas and plans on achieving them across the key areas: connecting artists and audiences; activating artists’ ideas into the public realm; spaces for artists to live and work; funding for artists to test, develop and realise ideas; recognising and celebrating artists; and inviting artists to explore, interpret and reinterpret cultural heritage. The expertise of Melbourne’s artists was central to that strategy, while in this strategy they are absent. How will the provocation on imagining “the world’s most creative city” address current needs and expand current thinking in a city already recognised as a global arts capital? How can the detail of Melbourne’s arts scene be articulated more usefully throughout this strategy so as to inform its approach? How does the strategy understand its relation to the previous strategy of 2014-2017?
- The language with which city context is offered is generic, applying equally to any of a range of global cities. The introduction’s reference to Adelaide Contemporary is inaccurate: no government commitment has been made, and a separate proposal by the South Australian Museum is also under consideration by the newly-elected government, with a final decision to be made within six months of the appointment of AGSA’s next Director. The strategy section risks confusing readers by suggesting that the best way to develop new thinking is by starting from scratch, rather than taking as its starting point both the previous strategy and the current context. How can context be offered which presents the sophistication of Melbourne’s arts scene as well as using a language that presents a clear understanding of the local culture? How can the document present a more useful cultural, creative, demographic and economic context of the city to which it must respond? Has the strategy been informed via reference to the creative strategies of analogous Australian and international cities?
- Missing from the document is an account of how the strategy addresses the most significant factors to impact on creative practice and the local industry during the strategy’s term, such as: the relocation of multi-year-funded organisations from Council-owned buildings, and the future of City Village; NGV Contemporary and the Southbank Precinct development, and their impact on place development, spaces for artistic production, and the availability of philanthropy; the end of Federation Square’s non-commercial public space, and its impact on arts and community festivals and events. How does the strategy’s framing understand its local industry context?
- The impact of the metro rail development is overemphasised in this document, including through the Düsseldorf case study. How can the strategy avoid depicting Melbourne as a set of problems about to be disrupted by a metro upgrade? How can the document articulate what is analogous to Melbourne about Düsseldorf?
- Melbourne already has a performing arts centre and a visual arts precinct under further development. How does the Te Oro case study relate to the framing of this strategy? How are the lessons relevant to the contemporary Melbourne context? How can the existing and emerging conditions be brought to bear on it, as well as better articulating how Auckland offers a useful analogue to Melbourne?
- The diagrams articulating the strategy have not yet reached that point of clarity where they come across in the way that they intend. The terms surrounding the circle diagram are inconsistent (some nouns, some verbs), making their function unclear. The long-term timeline omits reference to any element of creative program e.g. grants, commissioning, peer review and assessment etc. What is the strategy? Is it a commissioning process for addressing urban planning issues? Who determines which projects are selected? Is there any scope for artist-initiated proposals, such as those that would be received through a contestable grant program? Or is the strategy exclusively about tackling existing problems through creative projects? Are the project examples offered in the one-page outline indicative of the entire scope of the City’s next creative strategy? Through this document, is the City of Melbourne rejecting all past strategy and program areas to devote the entirety of the arts budget to redressing urban planning problems?
- If the strategy is a monthly ideas brainstorm for an annual commissioning process, how will decisions be made? How will the strategy support fair pay and fair working conditions for artists? How will artists’ moral rights and intellectual property be respected and remunerated through the ideas generation process?
- How does the strategy link into and collaborate internally on achieving other Council policy priorities? How will this strategy make best use of functions and regulations within Council’s scope to foster the sector and champion artists e.g. Brokering relationships across Council departments? Facilitating public space permits? Incentivising property owners to offer spaces for art? How are accessibility, disability arts, cultural diversity, audience diversification and audience development going to be addressed by the strategy?
- The appendix on measuring creativity omits reference to current standards and approaches, including those used by the city’s funded organisations and those mandated by Council, and those developed by local universities who are active in creative industries research. How does the strategy inform, relate to or impact upon multi-year organisation funding? Is Council moving towards funding that is exclusively project based? If so, how will organisations be supported through that disruptive transition, and how will Melbourne continue to foster a sophisticated arts ecology without losing artists and organisations to other municipalities, towns or cities?
- The City of Melbourne has earned a national and international reputation for initiating and leading artistic development e.g. via Creative Spaces, Biennial Lab, the Arts House and Meat Market programs, and through its grants programs. Both emerging and established artists, and both independent organisations and major institutions, have chosen to create work by and for Melburnians because of the expert leadership of Council’s past arts strategies. How does the new strategy understand the context from which it begins and the impacts of its implementation? How should the reader interpret the absence of all existing City of Melbourne arts strategies and programs from the document’s articulation of its strategy? How will artists continue to lead and inform the City of Melbourne’s creative strategy, program and decision-making?
Feedback on the strategy is open until Tuesday 17 July 2018.
IMAGE: Four cards I contributed to Melbourne Now’s Zoom at the NGV.