SUBMISSION: Framing the Future – the NSW Arts and Cultural Policy Discussion Paper

19 Dec

19 December 2013

NSW Arts and Cultural Policy
Arts NSW
PO A226
South Sydney  NSW  1235

FRAMING THE FUTURE – THE NSW ARTS AND CULTURAL POLICY DISCUSSION PAPER

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the development of Framing the Future, the NSW Government’s Arts and Cultural Policy Discussion Paper.

One of the regular fireshows developed and performed by Goulburn's Lieder Theatre

One of the regular fireshows developed and performed by Goulburn’s Lieder Theatre

The Childers Group is an independent arts forum for the ACT region established in 2011, comprising expertise across all art forms as well as experience working at the regional, territory/state, and national levels.  Since our establishment, the Group has delivered three annual forums attended by over 300 people including representation from the main political parties, held a variety of meetings with major stakeholders such as the Cultural Facilities Corporation and Tourism ACT, and submitted our issues and ideas to the ACT Government, the NSW Government, the Australia Council for the arts, as well as through the media.  In 2012 the Group joined ArtsPeak, the national confederation of 30 key arts advocacy organisations.  For more information visit www.childersgroup.com.au. Consequently, what follows is informed, considered, and situated in a national policy context.

We congratulate the NSW Government for preparing Framing the Future and for seeking community comment.  The document identifies a range of issues, opportunities, and actions, many of which will have significant positive arts and cultural outcomes, particularly in challenging economic times which appear to be ongoing.

However, we wish to raise the following six key areas where we believe the document could be strengthened, and these issues and suggestions should be considered in the development of any NSW arts and cultural development strategy:

  1. Acknowledgment that the ACT forms a part of NSW and plays a significant role in the development of regional areas – for example, data published in Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events, Australia, 2009-10 (ABS) clearly indicates that people living in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory were more likely to visit an art gallery (46% and 30% respectively) or museum (46% and 45% respectively) than those living in the states.  Additionally, we wonder how much discussion there was between the NSW and ACT governments in the development of Framing the Future.
  2. Increased strategic funding relationships between NSW and the ACT, specifically in terms of the arts development of regional communities – there is a clear opportunity for the NSW and ACT governments to work together on an ongoing regional arts development fund to enable mutually beneficial partnerships.  For example, enabling NSW regional artists to access ACT infrastructure, and increasing the capacity of ACT arts organisations to provide services in NSW regional areas.
  3. Recognition of the advantages of artists basing themselves in regional areas due to cost-of-living pressures in the major cities, particularly Sydney, many artists are choosing to move to regional areas to progress their careers.  While there is limited arts infrastructure in these communities, this is somewhat offset by significantly cheaper rent/house repayments and access to digital technologies (noting, however, that access to digital technologies can also be limited).  It should also be recognised that many migrant communities are moving to – or are being settled in – regional communities, with the resultant possibility of rich and diverse arts and cultural expressions and needs.
  4. Many NSW regional towns, such as Braidwood, are significant hotbeds of arts and cultural activity, but access to arts infrastructure is limited.

    Many NSW regional towns, such as Braidwood, are significant hotbeds of arts and cultural activity, but access to arts infrastructure is limited.  Image Source: Destination NSW – Braidwood.

    A commitment to the development of regional arts infrastructure – we note that on page 12 the following vision is stated: Our aspiration is that the depth and diversity of culture across the whole of NSW, from metropolitan centres to regional NSW, is recognised and supported, and that regional communities have access to the state’s cultural experiences and meaningful opportunities for participation and careers in the arts. Whilst we applaud this vision, we note that many regional communities have limited or no arts/cultural infrastructure.  For example, Yass has no cinema, working theatre, or gallery.  Nearby, Goulburn fares better but only in modest terms.  The nearest government-funded arts infrastructure to both communities is in the ACT.

  5. Arts in education – how will regional and isolated NSW communities benefit from the roll-out of the national arts curriculum?  This needs to be better articulated in any NSW arts development strategy.
  6. Arts projects in regional communities – there is a need to significantly increase the funding available for the development of arts projects in regional areas, particularly in remote and isolated communities.  Further, funding of touring productions and investing in facilitators and associated amenities could assist in rural communities accessing and participating the arts.  We note that in regional communities arts activities are often initiated and delivered by an individual with entrepreneurial flair and interest in his/her local community.  Few NSW-funded events/exhibitions reach smaller regional communities, of which there are many.

In relation to regional development, we draw Arts NSW’s attention to recent investment lifestyle attractors, for example seasonal benefits, regional produce, and ‘arts and craft’. There is significant tourism potential in regional areas and there is an opportunity for NSW and ACT government tourism agencies to broker stronger partnerships to develop the visitor economy.

Important: we note that a consultative forum in the regional areas of NSW immediately adjacent the ACT would have enabled these communities to engage with the development of Framing the Future.

The Childers Group is available to meet with Arts NSW to expand on the above points.

*

 The Childers Group strongly recommends consideration of increased cooperation between the ACT and NSW for the benefit of both jurisdictions. As our cities, towns and regions change and grow, so too must our thinking in terms of providing opportunities and encouragement for our artists to develop and contribute, and nurturing creativity and social engagement within the wider community.

With this kind of support, the ACT/NSW region will continue its role as a vibrant, engaged, confident and sophisticated part of Australia.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on Framing the Future.

[signed]

Professor David Williams
Spokesperson

www.childersgroup.com.au
childersgroup@gmail.com

Note: for more information about Destination NSW, the source for our image of Braidwood, please go here.

ACT BUDGET SUBMISSION 2014-15

1 Nov

Whatever form they take, the arts transform, chronicle and illuminate the world around us.

Whatever form they take, the arts transform, chronicle and illuminate the world around us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 October 2013

ACT Budget Consultation
Treasury Directorate
GPO Box 158
CANBERRA, ACT 2601

The Childers Group welcomes the invitation to provide input into the 2014-15 Budget development process. We believe support for the arts is an essential component of any budget.

The Childers Group is an independent arts forum whose advocacy is based on the principles of:

  • independence;
  • objectivity;
  • valuing the arts; and
  • pride in Australia’s national capital city and the surrounding region.

We note the 2014-15 Budget will continue to the ACT Government’s focus on growing the economy, improving liveability and opportunity, better health and education outcomes, and urban renewal.

Our submission focuses on the contribution the arts sector can play in:

1. Improving liveability and opportunity;
2. Better health and education outcomes; and
3. Further development of infrastructure projects.

1. IMPROVING LIVEABILITY AND OPPORTUNITY

Engagement and participation in the arts contribute to the quality of life.

Whatever form they take, the arts transform, chronicle and illuminate the world around us. The arts contribute to the quality of life in the ACT and are a central and sustainable part of life in our community.*

The ACT enjoys a national reputation in terms of its participation in the arts. We should invest in that reputation. Similarly, we lead the nation in attendance at cultural events. The ACT Government can build on that.

Canberra is experiencing the maturation of a wide range of arts activity with a rich and exciting array of events and programs. These activities challenge our perceptions, inspire confidence, and create cohesion in our community.

Significantly, the arts also represent a major attraction for tourists and visitors to Canberra and the surrounding region. We have become an attractive destination in terms of our cultural facilities and the lifestyle attractions, e.g. a lively arts and cultural events calendar, excellent wineries and great restaurants.

Recommendation 1: That the ACT Government considers cultural tourism as a major investment opportunity in the 2013/14 budget.

The arts are also a central aspect of the creative industries, which are drivers in innovation, creating new opportunities for growth in the economy. The Centenary year has generated many new opportunities in this area – opportunities too good to miss.

Many of these opportunities have been initiated through ACT Key Arts Organisations and infrastructure facilities. For example, Crafts ACT: Craft & Design Centre commissioned Canberra designer/makers to design and make a range of Centenary souvenirs involving local manufacturers and skilled staff. The products have proved a very popular success, especially with visitors to Canberra.

Recommendation 2: To ensure the viability of our Key Arts Organisations and key arts facilities, The Childers Group strongly urges the ACT Government to ensure stable funding for ACT Key Arts organisations and arts infrastructure, with CPI increases granted on an annual basis.

There is also the critical issue of superannuation and long-service leave provision. The increase in superannuation up to 12% begins in 2013 and increases steadily over the next five years. This will have an impact on all funding for organisations and one-off projects. The Childers Group notes there are greater long-service leave obligations in the ACT.

Recommendation 3: Funding levels for Key Arts Organisations must be regularly revisited to ensure quality and retention of staff, enabling delivery that is professional and sustainable and that ensures the arts reach the wider community.

Artistic Director/CEO Caroline Stacey and the recently refurbished Street Theatre

Artistic Director/CEO Caroline Stacey and the recently refurbished Street Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Childers Group applauds recent ACT capital works investment in projects such as extensions/refurbishments to the Street Theatre and the Tuggeranong Arts Centre. However, all infrastructure facilities must be complemented by appropriate investment in skilled personnel to ensure the success and viability of the facility.

At present it is difficult to attract, recruit and retain the highly skilled arts managers needed for this task. A key issue in recruiting and retaining arts workers in Canberra is appropriate pay for arts workers. Payment of ACT arts workers’ salaries commensurate with their skills and experience will ensure the retention of qualified people with the necessary expertise to manage Canberra’s arts and cultural services. It will also ensure the sound management and development of strong policies and protocols within the key arts facilities built by the ACT Government.

Recommendation 4: The benchmarking of professional arts workers’ salaries with salaries in the community sector and with arts personnel in other states and territories.

On the question of a fee for service, while the Childers Group considers that the community should make a direct contribution to the arts, there is already a considerable fee-for-service culture in the ACT’s arts sector. For example, most programs and workshops provided by ACT Government-funded key arts organisations have a fee attached, as do membership organisations. However, the Childers Group also acknowledges that fees need to be kept affordable in order to maximise accessibility. It should be recognised that for many communities, participating in arts activities is as much about social interaction as creative production, and these activities should be low cost or free wherever possible, which is consistent with the accessibility theme raised in the Loxton Report.

2. PROVIDING BETTER HEALTH AND EDUCATION

The arts contribute to better health and the quality of education.

Involvement in arts activity, from a young age and within our schools environment, is an important means of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a sense of wellbeing. Art forms such as poetry and painting help us look differently at our everyday experiences. Literature and film tell the stories that we know or want to know and theatre makes us laugh and cry. Music uplifts and inspires us, and the language of the healthy mind and body speaks to us through dance and movement.

The Childers Group strongly supports the National Advocates for Arts Education **(NAAE) statement about the development of The Australian Curriculum: The Arts and its central principle of the entitlement of every young Australian to an arts education, one that includes all five artforms of dance, drama, media arts, music and the visual arts. Engagement in the arts throughout a child’s schooling, including early childhood, has immeasurable benefits which are now both quantifiable and proven in countries that have invested in strong arts programs within their schools.

The NAAE** further states that, arts education across all art forms is central to young peoples’ cultural understanding, their ability to express ideas and to problem solve. Education in the arts is the essential means to build a skilful, knowledgeable, arts literate, articulate, healthy and confident generation equipped to deal with 21st Century challenges. The arts play an important role in other parts of the general curriculum: literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, cross-cultural and environmental awareness, social and ethical development’.

The Childers Group welcomes agreement by State and Territory Education Ministers to the curriculum’s final form, and their strong commitment to its implementation.

Recommendation 5: That the ACT Government budgets for implementation of The Australian Curriculum: The Arts and provides the necessary professional development and resources that will enable teachers to deliver the curriculum to every ACT student, from the early childhood years to Year 10.

To support implementation of The Australian Curriculum: The Arts and the links between schools and communities, the Childers Group advocates for the establishment of an Arts-in-Education officer position spread across the Education and Arts portfolios. In the first instance, this should be a three-year initiative. Similar initiatives in other states, for example WA, have proved very beneficial. Establishing and consolidating existing links between artists, arts organisations and schools and the tertiary sector should be a key component of the work. A strong artists-in-schools program also supports the professional development of classroom teachers and provides links between students and practising artists.

Recommendation 6: The establishment of an Arts-in-Education officer position that would build relationships, partnerships and programs between the Education Directorate and the Community Services Directorate. Ideally this should be a Senior Officer Grade C, paid for by the Education Directorate, with the officer spending 50% of time in Education and 50% at artsACT.

Recommendation 7: Continued support for the successful Artists-in-Schools program by providing Key Arts Organisations with a special support fund. This would encourage arts organisations to devise their own residency projects by developing collaborative arrangements with other Government agencies, the private sector, the Australia Council and tertiary institutions.

3. INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

With quality infrastructure facilities, the arts make a significant contribution to the community and to the economy.

The Childers Group acknowledges the recent ACT capital works investment in projects such as extensions/refurbishments to key arts facilities and the planning for additional cultural facilities. Realisation of the Visual Arts Hub at Kingston is another important initiative taken by the ACT Government that is fully supported by the Childers Group.

Canberra Glassworks

Canberra Glassworks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In terms of additional facilities, the Childers Group particularly recommends investment in professional dance infrastructure in the ACT. Canberra needs a high-quality dance hub with state-of-the-art facilities that could be shared between a number of organisations, offering space for the creation of new work, performances, master-classes, residencies and forums, and opportunities for ACT-trained dance artists to return to the Territory as choreographers, dancers, facilitators and researchers. The Canberra Glassworks complex offers an excellent model for professional practice and community engagement that puts the ACT at the forefront of development of the visual arts.

Recommendation 8: That the ACT Government initially investigates national and international models and then commits to development of a professional dance hub in the ACT that will attract major dance artists to the Territory, particularly the many choreographers, dancers, facilitators and researchers who have initially trained here in Canberra.

SUMMARY
The Childers Group strongly recommends consideration of increased investment in the arts as outlined in this submission. As our city and the region grow and develop, so too must our thinking in terms of providing opportunities and encouragement  for our artists to stay, while nurturing creativity and social engagement within the wider community.

With this kind of support, the ACT region will continue its development as a vibrant, engaged, confident and sophisticated National Capital with strong regional connections and artistic networks.

The next creative generation and the community depend on it.

* artsACT Policy Framework 2012

** NAAE National Advocates for Arts Education Statement, June 2013.

Is it right here, right now, that we will reinvent the ACT’s culture of arts review and criticism?

26 Oct

Viennese art critic Dr. Gertrude Langer inspecting a local art show, Brisbane, 1940 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Viennese art critic Dr. Gertrude Langer inspecting a local art show, Brisbane, 1940 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you write a book, or choreograph a dance, or compose a song, or produce a play or film, and no one reviews it, could it be that you never created it in the first place?

In a way that’s what was discussed at this year’s Childers Group forum.  Focussing on the Role of the Arts critic, on 18 October 2013 at the Gorman House Arts Centre in Canberra we gathered together a wide range of reviewers, critics, and arts leaders/thinkers as well as a lively and engaged audience to spark a conversation.  Who is an arts critic?  What exactly is it that they do?  How important is their work – does it matter at all?  What makes a good review?  Does a reviewer have responsibilities?  Are there more or less reviews going on these days?  And what of the online environment: does this open up opportunities for more review, but, if so, what sort of quality can we expect (or demand)?  What’s the nature of the ACT’s culture of review?  And, perhaps most importantly, where do we go from here?  What are the challenges ahead?  If you weren’t able to squeeze yourself inside the Bogong Theatre on the 18th, then you’ve now got a bit of a sense about what was discussed.

Going back to that opening sentence: if there’s one thing that artists struggle with, truly struggle with, it’s the silence, the silence that can meet a piece of work.  For months and years, sometimes even decades, an artist slowly but surely brings a work to the world.  Most likely there’ll be some kind of celebration – an opening night, a launch, perhaps even just a party on the deck at home.  There’ll be champagne and cheese; there’ll be slaps on the shoulder and the odd kiss on the cheek.  But the next morning?  Well, there’ll be that silence.  Sure, over time, people – good people, kind people – will offer up some kind of response.  ‘Congrats, it looks wonderful.’  ‘I loved it – you’re amazing.’  ‘Not sure.  I kinda wasn’t terribly moved.’  (This last one from the brave but honest and much-needed friend!)  Except this isn’t review or criticism; it is response.  Artists want response, but they also want more, the greedy devils.

A good piece of creation operates on many levels: there’s the conceptual, the meaningful, the emotionally engaging, and then there’s the sheer entertainment side of things.  A good piece of creation sends ripples out into the world.  A good piece of creation – sometimes, rarely – changes things.  A good piece of creation matters; it can matter more than we can ever possible know.  It’s this that a reviewer might explore: they might (should?) situate an artist’s work in a broader context, investigate what the artist (and also theatre, publisher, gallery etc) was trying to achieve, and why this might have any broader resonance, and then come to some kind of conclusion.

Whilst it might help a consumer make a decision, say in the way a restaurant review could, but it is much more.  It is not more opinion.  It is not simply a recommendation.

As it was said at the forum, a good review ‘illuminates’.

What else was said at the forum?  Towards the bottom of this post is the raw data, which is code for ‘the notes we scratched out on a napkin while standing at the back of the crowd’.  If you attended, and see weaknesses in these notes, send us an email and we’ll correct/expand them.  Also, please have a read of two thoughtful responses from two bloggers who were there: Whispering Gums and Only the Sangfroid (‘If art criticism is going to have a place in the world of tomorrow, it’s going to have to re-imagine itself’); there’s also this piece by Kim Anderson that we published on this site, courtesy of Art Monthly.

But there were two key issues/opportunities raised during the discussion on the 18th, and there’s the challenge – for the community could take them up.

The Childers Group's 'Role of the Arts Critic' forum, 18 October 2013, Gorman House Arts Centre

The Childers Group’s ‘Role of the Arts Critic’ forum, 18 October 2013, Gorman House Arts Centre

The first is that while the ACT does indeed have a fairly robust culture of criticism, through the traditional print media, other press outlets, and the blogosphere, there is an opportunity for an arts organisation to deliver – perhaps on an annual basis – a master-class in writing arts review and criticism.  As was raised at the forum, Realtime, which bills itself as ‘Australia’s critical guide to international contemporary arts’, would be more than happy to come to the ACT to deliver these workshops.  All it would take is someone to make a phone-call.  Not only would this initiative build skills in reviewing, but would also increase the number of reviewers, and this would be an excellent outcome indeed – for all.

The second issue/opportunity: doesn’t the ACT region, the core of which, Canberra, has been celebrating its centenary, deserve a high-quality ‘journal’ dedicated to review?  Wouldn’t that be a brilliant legacy of 2013?  Might that be the way that we as a cultural community continue to grow and expand and deepen?  Could that be that’s how we become even better artists?  Could that be how we become an even better region?  The technology is at our finger tips and much of it costs nothing; it is also obvious that we have a community that comprises good critical and creative thinkers, so we’ve got the writers.

We can make this happen.  And maybe, just maybe, it would help inform our audiences, help connect with our community, and also – now this would be the greatest outcome of all – help keep that silence at bay.

Here’s that ‘raw data’.

The nature of criticism:

  • criticism is a serious and public function
  • a critic must have a critical view point, an in-depth contention
  • a review should illuminate
  • a review should also understand a works creative, cultural, social and political context
  • a critic should be disinterested, as in ‘stepped back’ back a little from the work
  • the review should be as artful as the work reviewed
  • the reviewer should know their audience – is it an arts audience or the general populace
  • the criticism is valuable if it’s informed
  • it all comes down to the expertise of the reviewer
  • a reviewer needs ‘street cred’
  • but whose street cred?
  • criticism should engage
  • criticism should be about knowledge
  • criticism is about starting a public discussion
  • a review should further dialogue
  • a review is about advancing the art form
  • sometimes critics have to go straight to the jugular
  • but what’s the point in a critic being destructive?
  • critics should provide insight
  • a critic is a trader of ideas
  • a reviewer must be honest, which can be difficult
  • how can/should we define ‘qualified opinion’ or ‘quality comment’?
  • there’s no such thing as objective criticism
  • some critics are terrified/anxious about taking on the significant artists
  • a critic who themselves can’t take criticism doesn’t make a good critic!

Criticism and its readers:

  • people read reviews to find out what’s happening, to be informed; so a critic is someone who tells you what’s going on
  • the public is looking for criticism; they don’t want to the critic to hold back
  • in Australia, people don’t take online critics seriously (and artists still yearn for print review)

Criticism in the ACT:

  • Canberra is a culturally engaged community, there are many events across parts of society, so there’s limited press space for review
  • the city’s still feeling the loss of Muse Magazine
  • there are three pillars in the arts: artists, audiences, and interaction (i.e. review, criticism, discussion) – the interaction side of things needs to be strengthened in the ACT, though it’s no different to anywhere else
  • issue: Canberra is small, ‘incestuous’ – it’s hard to get artists writing about each other
  • the public discussion about public art in the ACT didn’t bring out a nuanced discussion
How important is it that we have a culture of robust and thoughtful arts criticism and dialogue? (Image source: Wiki Commons)

How important is it that we have a culture of robust and thoughtful arts criticism and dialogue? (Image source: Wiki Commons)

Criticism and the artist:

  • unfavourable criticism that comes from ignorance is hurtful
  • what do artists get out of arts criticism?
  • the worse thing is to be not to be reviewed at all
  • artists, if they choose, can incorporate criticism into the development of their work/practice
  • artists need to be resilient
  • but if an artist has a deliberately thick skin they might not be a good artist
  • artists are often highly critical of each other
  • artists should exercise their own critical faculties

Challenges for the future:

  • building expertise in on-line reviewing i.e. making sure online criticism is informed
  • see how restaurant reviews work – they’re very popular – and use that model for the arts?
  • due to limited payment, not every media outlet can attract the best critic/writer – this is a challenge
  • while newspapers are places where debate happens, they don’t have a moral duty to review, including ACT artists or amateur/school productions – so who takes on that role?
  • what do we do with critical silence?
  • arts organisations have a role to place in building resilience

A significant opportunity:

  • for an organisation or a number of organisations to host workshops and forums to build skills in reviewing and being a reviewer
  • who’s up to take this on?

*

The panelists at our forum were: Robyn Archer AO (Creative Director, Centenary of Canberra), Kerry-Anne Cousins (visual arts critic), Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak (contemporary arts critic), Roslyn Dundas (CEO, Ausdance National), Marion Halligan AM (author, critic), Cris Kennedy (film critic), Helen Musa (Canberra Critics Circle), Jack Waterford AM (Editor-at-large, Canberra Times), Caroline Stacey (CEO/Artistic Director, The Street Theatre), and Ashley Thomson (Editor, BMA Magazine).  The forum was facilitated by Yolande Norris.  Thanks and gratitude to you all for your time and being involved so enthusiastically.

*

Thanks also to: Allan Sko at BMA Magazine, Barbie Robinson at ArtSound FM, Helen Musa at City News, Genevieve Jacobs at 666 ABC Canberra, Joseph Falsone and team at the Gorman House Arts Centre, and Karmin Cooper at New Best Friend for graphic design support.

*

 Many others helped to make this forum happen. You know who you are.

YOUR INVITE TO OUR NEXT FORUM – THE ROLE OF THE CRITIC!

12 Sep

TheChildersGroup_Forum OCT2013_V2

Love letter to a critic, from an artist, by Kim Anderson

24 Aug

CALL_ART_CRITICS_2The Childers Group’s next forum, to be held at noon on Friday 18 October at the Gorman House Arts Centre in Canberra, will focus on the role of the arts critic.  To get the conversation started, Australian artist Kim Anderson provides a personal account of why a vibrant culture of arts criticism is so important.

Where are you, my love? I languish here, yearning for you to cast your discerning eye in my direction. I long to see your face light up with sudden recognition of my genius – which surely must be obvious to you?  I send you emails, invitations by post, media releases to which you need only add your valued name before publishing; I try to make it as easy as possible. And yet despite my attempts to seduce you, you are continuously unaware of my existence. Your lack of response is agony to me. Please, I beg you, come to my show, favour me with your words of appraisal and your shrewd nod of approval.  Even disapproval. Anything. Just look at me. Acknowledge me. For without you I remain unnoticed, unrecognised, merely wilting into the crowd of countless others like me.

Wherefore art thou, my dearest art critic?  What’s happening to you?

You and I, we have a complicated relationship – there’s a bit of love, a fair amount of hate, some amount of disdain, and possibly a lot of confusion involved. I don’t think we’ve ever actually agreed upon your role. Some would argue that your raison d’être is merely a construct of the needs of media industries and academia. Nevertheless, it is fairly evident to me that we need each other – I might timidly raise the possibility that you actually need me more. I can keep making art without you, even if it is unacknowledged and unseen by the vast majority, but you must rely upon the continued creative output of artists such as myself in order to have something to critique. But having said that, and feeling momentarily empowered by the thought, it is my responsibility to create art that is worth writing about.  Maybe we’re both at fault here; perhaps I’m just not coming up with the goods. Either way, the glaringly awful truth is that you, the authoritative voice of mainstream institutional Art Criticism (capitalisation deliberate), are in trouble.

Oh, dear, this is such a difficult letter to write. My heart contracts in making these claims; this is only coming from the best of intentions. Bluntly pointing out your particular failures will only lead to further disharmony between us, so I will lightly sketch a picture of some of the issues we are facing.

First of all, visual art needs a response, but I’m afraid that the current one is rather unsatisfying.  Recent statistics declare that more people are ‘participating’ in the arts than ever and they are turning up to the blockbuster exhibitions in droves.[1] But where are the audiences for the smaller shows, the more cutting-edge contemporary galleries and artist-run spaces? And where are the critics to inform those audiences, to challenge them to view art and artforms outside the mainstream? Unless such events are part of a festival program and promoted in the corresponding media campaigns, they rarely draw comparative numbers let alone column space.

We must work together if this relationship is to survive and thrive. Marcel Duchamp makes the point that the creative act is not performed by the artist alone, that it is the spectator who ‘completes’ the work of art by deciphering it, interpreting its inner qualification, and bringing it into contact with the external world.[2] You, my dear critic, are a special kind of phenomenon: a spectator yourself, presumably with some expertise on the subject of art, you are also an intermediary between the artist, their work, and other spectators with less insight than you.

This is really a huge amount of responsibility, and perhaps it’s where the vital importance of your role lies. I’m sure we can easily agree on the key elements of good quality arts criticism: yes – providing an informed visual analysis and recounting your experience of the work, providing context for the artist and their methods/concepts/techniques etc., and – the essential factor – stating your opinion and how you arrived at that particular value judgement. Ideally you are conducting an intelligent dialogue with your audience, inviting them to respond by viewing the work in question with additional knowledge and understanding.

But – and this is the trouble – the space for your voice is diminishing, in a rather paradoxical way. In mainstream media lines are being cut from reviews, and arts programs are disappearing from our screens and airwaves at an alarming rate, and yet at the same time the space for discussion in the virtual sphere – the Internet – is increasing exponentially.[3] The old canon is fading away, those familiar names that were once published several times a week with feature-length reviews on weekends.  Certainly their word-counts are decreasing until they are becoming little more than brief ‘what’s-on’ listings.[4] Your expert voice is struggling to be heard above the ever-increasing cacophony of bloggers, twitterers, Facebookers, and YouTubers; the new era of Web 2.0 is threatening to drown you out.

Viennese art critic Dr. Gertrude Langer inspecting a local art show, Brisbane, 1940 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Viennese art critic Dr. Gertrude Langer inspecting a local art show, Brisbane, 1940 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This concerns me, for despite everything I am still on your side. In this age of ‘Like’ and ‘Unlike’ (apparently a verb now) everyone can be a critic – where does that leave your refined art of sustained, meaningful analysis? Once considered a specialised skill, ‘critiquing’ is now something that anyone can do at any time. This new online democracy certainly has its advantages in generating animated conversation and interaction amongst arts audiences, however I feel truly uneasy about a number of issues: the lack of quality control, lack of transparency, and the anonymity. Real names are not required, therefore no-one is accountable. There is even a danger that the seriousness and depth of intellect required for decent critical writing is being parodied and belittled by such tools as the “Arty Bollocks Generator” that spew out incomprehensible jargon-filled rubbish easily mistaken by the unsuspecting and uninformed as genuine commentary.

I urge you to fight against this, even if it means using the very medium that threatens to destroy you. In fact, there is room for both the old and the new. Artists, such innovative folk, have been quick to embrace ‘new media’ (such non-descriptive terminology as it is), but there is still a place for more traditional techniques. We are still drawing, painting, and sculpting more than ever alongside and even in combination with the use of the Web and other new technology. In taking yourself too seriously you have been a species slow to adapt, but this is survival of the fittest and there is no reason why you cannot save yourself. It is obvious that the public want to talk about art, to make sense of their experiences. They need your insight to inform their discussions about what constitutes good, interesting or worthwhile art, so it’s up to you to dive into the fray and provide it by whatever means you can.

Why not follow the lead of artists and negotiate a way for a cross-disciplinary approach to your own artform, a fluid and active engagement between the old ways and the new? The ‘traditional’ spaces could be enlivened by allowing contributions from some of the more well-informed online ‘critiquers’ who, I might venture, tend to visit the more obscure shows. This might not only reinvigorate the arts pages but also allow some of the less-established, unpublished writers to develop their skills and thus revive the whole profession. Or you yourself could grasp the opportunity to stop the humiliating belittlement of mainstream arts criticism by charging head-on into the virtual frontline and elevating the discussion above the level of ‘Like’ and ‘J’.[5] A further challenge could be to take yourself off the well-worn paths to the larger institutions, and wander into a space you’ve never been to before (there are hundreds of them, appearing and disappearing all the time), and hopefully your readers will follow suit.  Even – dare I say it – visit the alternative arts spaces in regional areas, and I don’t just mean the public galleries.[6] You – and your audience – might be pleasantly surprised, even excited. Be the one voice that doesn’t just join the chorus of reviews for the ‘big’ shows – a bold move, I know, as it may not necessarily satisfy the higher powers that provide your paycheque, but it may revitalise your profession and bring a newer audience back to the ‘older’ media.

I know you can’t see every single show nor use every method that’s available to deliver your words – you too are only human. I can’t really pretend to rescue you from the crisis you’re facing. After all, I’m just an artist – what would I know?  Maybe that’s the heart of the problem in this relationship: it’s not you, it’s me. I’m the one failing to inspire your attention and interest. If that’s the case I am deeply sorry, I will try harder to excite and provoke you. Maybe your expectations of me are too high, but, please, don’t give up on me yet. Let’s smooth this over. Come to my show, just once. If you write about it and I sell a drawing I promise I’ll take you out for dinner.

Notes:

This article was one of two Highly Commended articles 2012 Emerging Arts Writer’s Award, which took the theme, in keeping with Art Monthly’s 250th ‘Critical Lining’ issue (June 2012), of the ‘art of art criticism’. Republished here with kind permission from Art Monthly.

*

A Batchelor of Fine Arts graduate from the University of Ballarat Arts Academy, and a Masters graduate from the University of Dundee, Scotland, Kim Anderson won (for the second time) the Ballarat Arts Foundation’s Eureka Art Award.


[1] As shown in the Australia Council’s well-known study, More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts, released in 2010. The blockbusters that the majority of people are ‘participating in’, are generally international in origin and hosted by major public institutions.

[2] Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act, Lecture at the Convention of the American Federation of Arts, Houston, Texas, April 1957; iaaa.nl/cursusAA&AI/duchamp.html

[3] This is not unique to Australia nor to the visual arts. The crisis in critical writing in general has prompted a huge amount of discussion and concern in Britain and the US, where even larger populations and presumably larger audiences cannot seem to salvage the situation.

[4] Looking forward to the weekend ‘Arts’ pages, so often I find myself disappointed and frustrated by their brevity and triviality, or even worse, their absence altogether.

[5] Blogger/critics such as Nikita Vanderbyl (Vociferous Whimsy blogsite: nikitavanderbyl.com/), and Michelle Kasprzak (michelle.kasprzak.ca/blog) provide more long-form reviews, while better known Australian voices such as John McDonald and Marcus Westbury have gone in the other direction and complement their print contributions with online content: johnmcdonald.net.au and www.marcuswestbury.net.

[6] The arts are thriving relatively unnoticed outside the cities too you know – we’re not all painting rural landscapes (nothing against those who do of course!)

Claiming the date: our next forum is just around the corner!

29 Jun

How important is it that we have a culture of robust and thoughtful arts criticism and dialogue?

How important is it that we have a culture of robust and thoughtful arts criticism and dialogue?

The Childers Group has been busy beavering away behind the scenes, contributing a submission to the development of the ACT Government’s budget for 2013/2014, providing feedback on the resultant budget, and also attending the associated ACT Legislative Assembly hearing process (we hope to be able to link to the Hansard report shortly).  However, we’re also working on our next forum, which will focus on arts review and criticism and is to occur on Friday 18 October, noon to 2pm, at the Gorman House Arts Centre in Braddon, ACT. We’ll be providing more details shortly, but ink it in – to say the least, it’s going to be an interesting discussion!

The 2013-14 ACT budget and the arts: what we reckon

9 Jun

ACT-Budget-2013-14On Tuesday 4 June 2013 the ACT Government released its budget for 2013-2014.  Here is the Childers Group’s response to the arts component.

In the Childers Group’s budget submission dated 25 February 2013, a number of priority areas were identified, based on feedback provided through our two well-attended public forums and the various formal and informal discussions we’ve had over the last two years.

We consider the following the most critical:

  1. The realistic support of key arts organisations – ensure that through the ACT Arts Fund CPI continues to be provided to Key Arts Organisations on an annual basis.
  2. Appropriate pay for arts workers – ensure that there are no professional arts workers employed by Key Arts Organisations earning less than the average Australian wage of approximately $55,000 per annum
  3. Private-sector philanthropy – there is an urgent need for an incentives-based approach that brings together business and arts in the ACT, not necessarily paying an individual to broker relationships but rather developing a suite of strategic benefits for investment by business and individuals in the arts.  We strongly advocate for the ACT Government to provide seed-funding in the first instance.

What are our views on the ACT Budget in relation to our prority areas?

We applaud the ACT Government on its investment in the arts, particularly in relation to the following (although we note that not all of the funding below is ‘new money’):

New Works:

  • $1.8 million upgrade Canberra Theatre
  • $1.5 million Ainslie Arts Centre
  • $1 million Gorman House Arts Centre over 2 years
  • $300,000 to progress the Kingston visual arts hub

Works in progress:

  • $80,000 Belconnen Arts Centre feasibility and forward design
  • $3.6m allocated to the Fitters’ Workshop

Events:

  • $3.6 million Enlighten
  • ongoing funding to the Multicultural Festival and associated Fringe event
  • please note: we advise that the ACT Government, in collaboration with the ACT-region arts sector, should actively seek ways to build connections for ACT artists with this events

PhotographerHowever, we remain concerned that the financial sustainability of the ACT’s key arts organisations does not appear to be addressed.  All key arts organisations deliver a wide variety of professional programs, including those relating to community engagement and participation, as required by the ACT Government and to try to meet community need, but they do so with dwindling resources.

A critical issue is superannuation and long-service leave provisions. The increase in superannuation up to 12% begins in 2013 and increases steadily over the next five years and will have an impact on all funding, for organisations and one-off projects. The position of arts organisations in relation to retaining staff and meeting ACT long-service leave obligations is also a real and increasing cost attached to the $55,000 per annum figure mentioned above. The arts have legal and moral employment obligations like any other business and if there is a commitment to addressing retention of artists and arts staff in the ACT then there are real costs attached to that – arguably more so than other states e.g. there are greater long-service leave obligations in the ACT.

It should be noted that retaining and attracting skilled arts managers is now problematic as the ACT is not keeping abreast with salaries for senior personnel managing key ACT Government arts facilities. The investment in arts facilities and the resulting hubs requires highly skilled expertise to both manage and fully develop those hubs, through astute programming and strong community engagement.

What other areas of concern do we have with the ACT Budget?

Regarding the ‘disbanding of the ACT Cultural Council’ (as it is referred to in the 2013-2014 Budget Papers), the Childers Group believes that the Cultural Council model had served its purpose but no longer is it the model to best be a conduit between the ACT-region arts community and the ACT Government. However, we do seek clarification on what mechanism(s), if any, will replace the Council.  The Loxton Review of the Arts recommended the establishment of a ‘Ministerial Arts Advisory Council’ – is this still being established?  If so, what will its role be, and how will it be funded?  If not, how does the ACT Government see it being kept informed of issues in the sector?

We understand that the ACT Government remains committed to peer-assessment of arts grants applications.  However, we suggest that there is need for clear communication about how the various strands of arts funding will be assessed.  For example, will Key Arts Organisation funding be assessed through a different mechanism than Program and Project funding? Additionally, will peers be paid?  If so, has a budget been allocated for this?

We believe these matters are critical for our sector and request clarification on how the ACT Government intends to proceed, particularly given the upcoming assessment of a number of key arts organisations’ funding arrangements (5-year) in the very near future.

Do we think that the ACT Budget has addressed the issues raised in our submission?

MoneyNot entirely.

The Childers Group fully recognises that these are challenging economic times internationally, nationally and locally, and that governments at all levels must make difficult decisions.  In this context, we again congratulate the ACT Government for maintaining its investment in the arts.  However, on top of the priorities already mentioned in this survey response, we reiterate the following areas where the ACT Government can and should make a contribution:

  • Ongoing funding of the You Are Here festival – this initiative has been one of the Centenary of Canberra’s great successes, meaning that emerging and divergent art-forms flourish in a professionally curated context, whilst enlivening the city centre.
  • Increased support for one-off arts activities the Project Funding category is – regrettably – supporting fewer projects each year due to the increasing cost of delivering arts projects; this is especially true of the performing arts.
  • Improved arts publicity and promotion services – the Childers Group believes that with a more strategic approach cultural tourism could be strengthened in our region. The Childers Group has met with ACT Tourism to encourage a more entrepreneurial approach to Regional Cultural Tourism.  We believe incorporating regional attractions, including the district’s superb wineries and small galleries, will result in greater awareness of the distinctive creativity in our region.
  • A dance hub – a review by AusdanceACT found that there is an urgent need for good dance facilities in the ACT, particularly for professional practice.
  • A world-class artist-in-residence program – the Childers Group strongly advocates for ongoing funding of $200,000 over the next four years in order to fully realise the potential of its artist-in-residence program.
  • Significantly enhanced arts-in-education services the establishment of an Arts-in-Education Officer position would build relationships, partnerships and programs between the Education Directorate and the Community Services Directorate.
  • A whole-of-government service approach to arts development encouraging all directorates and agencies to examine ways in which they may directly or indirectly support the arts would enhance cultural life in Canberra.
  • Building creative partnerships with the regions – in many ways the ACT not only services the arts and cultural needs of its own citizens but also those who live in the neighbouring regions.  The regions have their own strengths and challenges, but greater partnerships between the ACT and the regions would result in deeper and more diverse opportunities.

The Childers Group is open to feedback on the above.  Our email address is childersgroup@gmail.com.

You’re also very welcome to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

A letter to the Australia Council about Writing Australia

10 May

29 April 2013

Libbie Christie
Acting Chief Executive Officer
Australia Council for the Arts
PO Box 788
Strawberry Hills NSW 2012

cc: ACT Minister for the Arts, ACT Cultural Council, artsACT

Dear Ms Christie,

WRITING AUSTRALIA

I am writing to express the Childers Group’s concern at what we understand to be the Australia Council for the Arts ending its funding arrangements with Writing Australia and, through this decision, withdrawing its support for national writing infrastructure.  This letter follows previous correspondence from the Group about Writing Australia, sent in January 2012.

The Childers Group is an arts advocacy body for the ACT region, and comprises arts leaders committed to developing and promoting the arts activity from Canberra and its environs.  We situate our advocacy in a national context, as evidenced by our membership of Arts Peak.

As no doubt you and your colleagues are aware, the writing sector is currently undergoing considerable change.  The nation-wide network of writers’ centres is a key component of the national writing infrastructure and is well placed to provide advocacy and increased opportunities for professional writers during these dynamic times – in this regard, the newly formed Writing Australia organisation aimed to be a coordinated and articulate voice.

The Childers Group’s previous advocacy on this matter centred on the need for Writing Australia to maintain its presence in Canberra, with its administration operating from an office provided by the National Library of Australia. The National Library, in the context of the other national cultural institutions, was the appropriate place for the operational base of Writing Australia.  Furthermore, Canberra and its surrounding regional areas have a high level of engagement in professional writing activities, as evidenced by The Invisible Thread (Halstead Press, 2011; editor Irma Gold), a major anthology published as part of the current centenary of Canberra celebrations.

Through artsACT, the ACT Government’s arts funding agency, the ACT Writers Centre, the University of Canberra, the National Library of Australia, and a working group of eminent ACT-based Australian writers including Marion Halligan and Alan Gould, the ACT made a considerable contribution to the early development of the Writing Australia concept.

wa_logoHowever, the Childers Group is now concerned to be informed by the literary sector that Writing Australia has lost its support from the Australia Council.  This concerns the Group for two reasons: (1) that the Australia Council appears to be walking away from the emerging Writing Australia organisation and all that it had achieved to date, particularly in terms of touring established professional writers to areas beyond Sydney and Melbourne; and (2) that the Australia Council’s decision appears to set the various state and territory writers centres adrift into a new period of regionalised support rather than coordinated arts development within a national framework.

It is also of concern that there has been no official announcement or correspondence from the Australia Council about this decision, leaving the message to be circulated through rumour and innuendo.

The Childers Group maintains its view that there is a need for writers to have access to national infrastructure, and that the foundation of this infrastructure is the network of writers centre, which needs reinforcing through an appropriate level of financial and organisational support.  The Group also maintains its view that in order for writers to maximise the opportunities presented by this rapidly changing operating environment that there needs to be a level of coordination and singularity of purpose which had been available through Writing Australia.

Respectfully we ask two key questions:

  • What is the status of the Australia Council’s funding of Writing Australia?
  • How is the Australia Council, through its Literature Board, continuing to support the national coordination of writing infrastructure in Australia?

To correspond with the Childers Group on this matter, please email childersgroup@gmail.com.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

 

David Williams AM

Spokesperson

Arts advocacy in the era of the barbecue stopper

2 May

bbqWe all do it: watch the television or listen to the radio or scroll through our Facebook and Twitter feeds waiting for news of a politician who has spoken in an informed, energised and convincing manner about the value of the arts to Australian society.  Of course, it does happen – for example, in April this year the Australian Government launched Creative Australia, the national cultural policy – but it’s fair to say that it happens all too infrequently.

Contemporary political discourse tends to focus on what some have deemed to be the ‘barbecue-stoppers’: immigration, taxation, interest rates, and, most recently, the National Broadband Network and the alternative proposed by the federal opposition.  In this context, discussing challenges faced by artists and proposing solutions does tend to get drowned by what are considered issues that matter to ‘working Australian families’ – as if artists don’t have families and don’t have work to do!

With the federal election looming in September this year, how can all those with an interest in the arts make a difference?

Keep reading over at artsHub.

We expand our expertise

25 Mar

We are delighted to announced that we’ve expanded our areas of expertise, adding writer/educator Rosanna Stevens, singer-songwriter/musician James Fahy, and long-term arts worker Meredith Hinchliffe.

All of us who are involved in the arts are currently enjoying this extraordinary air of celebration in the ACT region.  It’s so important as a network of creative communities that we build on this groundswell of activity and starting thinking about what happens next.  To this end, the Childers Group has added three new members.  There is no doubt that Rosanna, James and Meredith will make terrific contributions to our advocacy work.

As a collective of arts advocates, the Childers Group is committed to maximising our diversity of expertise and strategic thinking.  Getting out of touch with the work of our artists and creative practitioners is simply not an option for us.  That’s why we’ve expanded our expertise – we want to make sure that our advocacy work is informed by the best brains possible.

JAMES FAHY

James Fahy

James Fahy

James Fahy is a MAMA-nominated multidisciplinary artist based in Melbourne and Canberra. He has written for entertainment magazine BMA and ANU newspaper Woroni, and had fiction published in ACT literary journal Burley. Alongside Rosanna Stevens, Duncan Felton and Adelaide Rief he is a co-director of the ACT young literary organisation Scissors Paper Pen. In March 2013 James completed a research internship with independent think-tank Grattan Institute.  As a musician, James has performed as a featured artist at the FUSE Music Conference in Adelaide, received national airplay for his EP The Sun Will Burn Through This Cloud, and played with high-profile acts including The Beards, the Wildes, A French Butler Called Smith, Beth and Ben, Peter Combe, and Novocastrian touring veterans Benjalu. In 2012, James was nominated for an award at the MusicACT Annual Music Awards in the category of Best Folk Artist. In 2010, James co-founded Canberra-based label Nash Cap Productions with Bec Taylor and Julia Winterflood. As an events organiser, host, musician and interviewer he has taken part in a string of festivals such You Are Here, the Canberra Multicultural Festival, the Illawarra Folk Festival, and the Woodford Folk Festival. With Joe Oppenheimer, James founded and co-produced the Pedestrian Orchestra, a year-long series of fifty concerts and arts performances aimed at encouraging Canberra’s emerging talent.

MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE

Meredith Hinchliffe

Meredith Hinchliffe

Meredith Hinchliffe has been involved with the arts since 1977 when she began work with the Crafts Council of the ACT. As part of the CCACT exhibition program she curated many exhibitions including several of individual artists and group exhibitions.  These included all craft media – ceramics, wood, textiles, leather, metalwork and, to a lesser degree, glass.  Craft ACT was included in some touring exhibitions and during her time at the organisation, Meredith showed an exhibition of Molas from the San Blas Islands of Panama. Meredith was a contributor to The Canberra Times from 1978 to 2009 and writes review articles of crafts and visual arts exhibitions and books.  She also writes about issues of importance to the arts.  She has written articles about for a number of journals, including the National Library News, Smarts, Pottery in Australia, Craft Arts  International, Textile Fibre Forum, Object and Ceramic Art and Perception. Meredith worked at The Australian Bicentennial Authority, artsACT and Business Development in the ACT Government.  She was responsible for grant programs in each area.

Meredith Hinchliffe was appointed the full-time Executive Director of the National Campaign for the Arts Australia Ltd in July 1996, until the organisation was wound up due to lack of funding in August 1997.  During this period she built up a strong network of media contacts and assisted with the successful campaign for Artbank to be retained as a government operation. From August 1997 to December 1999 she worked as a freelance consultant. In 2000 Meredith began an appointment for two years as Project Manager, Australian Science Teachers Association. She was appointed Executive Officer of Museums Australia, the national professional association for museum workers and museums in July 2002. She worked as Public Arts Project Officer for artsACT and has managed several public art installation projects. From July 2008 to April 2009 she was the inaugural Executive Officer of the Donald Horne Institute for Cultural Heritage at the University of Canberra.

Meredith has served on the boards of a number of local arts organisations and was President of Ausdance ACT until May 2011. She is approved to value Australian ceramics, glass, textiles, jewellery, leatherwork, wooden objects and furniture from 1950 for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program and has undertaken numerous valuations of works in most media, including the valuation of the Tamworth Regional Gallery’s textile collection. Meredith has been involved in a number of projects, including curating the Survey exhibition of the Tamworth Fibre Textile Collection in 2010. In 2000 she was awarded an ACT Women’s Award in recognition of her significant contribution to the ACT community in the arts.  In 2011 she was awarded an Australia Day medal by the National Gallery of Australia.

ROSANNA STEVENS

Rosanne StevensRosanna Stevens is currently the Communications Officer at the ACT Writers Centre, Senior Ambassador for the Australian National University Student Equity division, and co-producer and founder of Canberra’s young literary organisation, Scissors Paper Pen. In 2012 she was the recipient an artsACT grant to visit a variety of literary communities, initiatives and organisations in the United States of America. She also received CAL Creative Industries Career Funding while completing a three-month internship with San Francisco publishing house, McSweeney’s.

Rosanna has been a guest of the National Young Writers Festival, Adelaide Writers Week, You Are Here festival and the Emerging Writers Festival. She has also acted in a range of minor positions at literary festivals including Chairperson for the Melbourne Writers Festival, Volunteers Coordinator for the National Young Writers Festival, and Communications Officer for You Are Here festival. In 2011 she was National Young Writers Month co-Ambassador for New South Wales, and Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre Young Writer in Residence in Perth. Her short fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published nationally, and her work has received favourable mention in The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Australian.

Within her role at ANU Student Equity, Rosanna provides creative writing workshops to high-school students based in regional areas. Her passion for providing creative opportunities to young people and challenging popular educational paradigms has seen her work with students in Young, Bega, Goulburn, Yanderra, Canberra, Collector, the Blue Mountains, Chicago and San Francisco. Rosanna is currently completing a Master of Philosophy at the Australian National University.