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14 March 2013

National Cultural Policy digested

Cover of the <em>Creative Australia</em> policy document Image: Cover of the Creative Australia policy document  

The long-awaited National Cultural Policy, a 121-page document (and that is without appendices) entitled Creative Australia, was launched yesterday in Canberra by the Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean.

The thickness is explained by the fact that the document includes a long version and a concise version, and, as expected, also contains a great deal of information about existing policies that have been made part of the Cultural Policy document, summaries of funding announced earlier in 2012-2013, announcements of continued funding for existing programs, and broad visions, goals and themes for the future.

Much of what is relevant for music centres on the Australia Council for the Arts, its increased funding and changes to its governance structure. There will be $75 million over four years, $5M of it earmarked for a Major Performing Arts Excellence Pool and dependent on matching contributions by state governments.

A skills-based board - consisting of some artists and other members with experience in finance, strategy, risk management etc. - will replace the Australia Council's existing governing board. The assessment of grants will remain the domain of peer panels, but there will be more rotation of peers: 250 peers per year (as opposed to 200) will be engaged on a yearly basis (as opposed to for three years). The number of grant streams, currently 150 of them, will be reduced, and the artform board system will be changed to allow for more flexibility between artforms.

To support donation, private investment and sponsorship, a new funding program will be developed by Creative Partnerships Australia (a new organisation announced late last year) around micro-loans, crowd-sourcing and matched funding. New funding for establishing the program amounts to $8.6M. (One of the case studies included in this section of the document highlights the Australian Chamber Orchestra's successes in building relationships with the private sector.)

A section of the document focusing on the artist's role promises new funding of $20.8M to increase the base funding of elite training organisations over four years (the document, interestingly, goes to the trouble of explaining that 'elite' here does not imply 'elitism' and takes as an example the wide reach of the Australian Youth Orchestra). The same chapter includes perhaps the most eyebrow-raising part of the National Cultural Policy, namely the $8.1M Creative Young Stars Program - money for local MPs to hand out to young people for 'creative, academic and community achievement'. The program doesn't seem to be exclusively about the arts and is designed to be very similar to the existing 'Local Sporting Champions' program.

Another initiative designed after an existing sport program is the ArtsReady program ($3.4M of new funding). Meant to support job seekers, school leavers and at-risk students through on-the-job training, ArtsReady will even be managed through the Australian Football League.

Strong trust in the empowering effects of digital technology pervades the document, including increased access to digitised national collections and various remote learning and virtual classroom opportunities. For the arts training bodies, there is a fairly strongly worded directive on p. 73:

'Arts training bodies will need to move quickly to take advantage of the opportunities provided by high-speed broadband, which enables truly interactive training experiences without requiring students to be in the same location as the teacher.'

When it comes to instrumental teaching, this suggests more opportunities to remote tutorials which have proved successful in remote and regional areas (although recent developments prove that bigger centres are not immune and that instrumental teachers could conceivably see this as a threat as well as an opportunity). Sometimes the assumptions of what can be achieved by digital means seem a touch idealistic - for instance, on p. 57, the document states:

'...collaborations can occur in real time and across great distance and no longer do artists have to involve third parties in the recording or dissemination of their music.'

In primary and secondary level music education, trust is placed on the implementation of the Australian Curriculum: the Arts, which, according to the document, 'will ensure that every student [...] will study the arts in a rigorous and sequential process'. Teachers' training needs are not addressed, at least not in any detailed way or by announcements of new funding, although hope is again placed in increased access to virtual classrooms and interactive teaching resources using high-speed broadband.

The document is structured around five goals, the first of which recognises the importance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures for the Australian identity. New funding is announced for Indigenous languages ($14M for community-driven language resources and activities), accompanied by announcements of continued funding for existing programs. (For the rest of the five goals, see the policy document p. 6).

New funding is also announced for six performing arts companies ($9.3M altogether for Bangarra Dance Theatre, Belvoir, Black Swan State Theatre, Malthouse, Circus Oz and West Australian Ballet). A $20M location incentive is also announced to increase Australia's chances as a filming destination.

Further links

National Cultural Policy Creative Australia (pdf - full document)
Australia Council and the National Cultural Policy (Australia Council for the Arts website - don't miss the FAQ section)

Anni Heino is a Finnish-born journalist and musicologist, web editor and editor of Resonate magazine at the Australian Music Centre.


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