Editorial: Australia’s arts and culture policy: The state of play

It's a comfy bloody country
'Cos we know what's in our heart
Beer and boots, not wine and suits
Cricket - not art! [1]

The cricket v art observation made by Casey Benetto’s Bob Hawke in Company B’s highly successful production of Keating! satirises Australian attitudes to culture in the 1990s. If recent media coverage is any indication, national priorities have not shifted far.

In the same month that government interference in the peer review process for research in the Arts and Humanities was revealed by Senator Kim Carr, and the Australia Council reported that the Arts provides a bigger tourist drawcard than sport, Cricket Australia’s governance problems hit the headlines. Guess which issue got the greatest coverage?

Given the influence of the media on political debate, [2] it is unsurprising that the arts have remained on the policy backburner for so long. But the health of our arts and cultural policy, and indeed the education policy that supports our future arts professionals, represents more than just a footnote on national entertainment interests. Writing in The Conversation on the 20-year anniversary of the release of Paul Keating’s Creative Nation, viewed by many as Australia’s most important arts and culture policy consideration, Rebecca Hawking captures the broader facets of our national art and cultural policy:

“As Australia’s first Commonwealth cultural policy document, Creative Nation forever changed the way that Australians saw themselves. Culture was now an economic concern, the arts were for all Australians, and the nation could no longer so rigidly define its national identity through its British colonial past.” [3]

How does our current policy landscape for art and culture reflect our identity and what should future policy consider?

In this edition of NiTRO, our contributors consider the current state of play in art and culture policy development and suggest avenues for a reinvigorated approach.

Rupert Myer AO, until recently the long-serving Chair of the Australia Council, reflects on some of the things he has learned during his long career in arts and cultural policy and offers advice for those holding responsibility for leadership and policy direction;

Peter Tregear (Melbourne) suggests that the current system of support is in need of a revamp if our future artistic culture is to be advanced and protected, while Justin O’Connor (Monash) challenges all of us to review and change our thinking on arts policy.

Sandra Gattenhof (QUT) traces our history of cultural policy, arguing for policy reform that includes young Australians; while Eileen Siddins (JCU) calls for the inclusion of health and wellbeing of artists to be included as a central policy feature

Executive Director for the National Association for the Visual Arts Esther Anatolitis explores how priorities emerge in the absence of any national arts and cultural policy; and from a political perspective, PJ Collins, Founder and Secretary of The Arts Party, anticipates what we should expect from the major political parties after the 2019 federal election

International colleagues,  Patrick Finn (University of Calgary) and Abigail Gilmore (University of Manchester) provide Canadian and British perspectives on arts and cultural policy that may serve as useful pointers for Australia’s future direction.

[1] My Right hand man from Keating! by Casey Benetto performed by Company B. https://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/keating/myrighthandman.htm

[2] Davies, A. (20 September 2018) A very Australian coup: Murdoch, Turnbull and the power of News Corp. Guardian Australia.  https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/sep/20/very-australian-coup-murdoch-turnbull-political-death-news-corps

[3] Hawkings, R. (2014) Paul Keating’s Creative Nation: a policy document that changed us. The Conversation. October 2014. https://theconversation.com/paul-keatings-creative-nation-a-policy-document-that-changed-us-33537