30 June 2014
Joy Burch MLA
Minister for the Arts
via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Ms Burch,
The Childers Group writes to express very real concern about recent changes to the eligibility requirements for the 2014 ACT Book of the Year award, as reported in the press and as confirmed by artsACT.
The surprising change to the award to being for ‘ACT residents only’ is inconsistent with the ACT Government’s Arts Policy Framework as well as contrary to other government initiatives and the work of the ACT’s key arts organisations, many of which provide programs and services to those who live across the border. Many of our artists who work in the ACT – writers, performers, sculptors, musicians, film-makers – reside in our flourishing regional areas. Indeed, the map often used in reference to arts funding makes clear the regions that are considered integral to our arts landscape.
As you are no doubt well aware, there is also an enormous amount of arts activity that happens in the towns and villages adjacent the ACT, and in many instances ACT-based artists are engaged in that activity. The majority of this activity has close, long-term, and ongoing mutually beneficial relationships. Indeed, the Childers Group has been active in advocating for a whole-of-region approach to arts support, including in terms of economic development and cultural tourism.
The new eligibility requirement for the 2014 ACT Book of the Year, that it be for ACT residents only, directly contradicts three key elements of the ACT Arts Policy Framework (the bolding is ours):
- (1) ‘Guiding Vision: Canberra and its region comprise an inclusive, unique and creative arts landscape where excellence is highly valued’;
- (2) ‘Principle One: Facilitate Community Participation in and Access to the Arts: Embracing Canberra’s position as a regional centre and fostering opportunity for increased regional engagement with regional communities’; and
- (3) ‘Principle Two: Support Artistic Excellence and Artistic Diversity – The ACT literary awards recognising excellence in ACT region writing’.
Further, this new requirement is contrary to the fact that for decades the ACT Government has been consistent in acknowledging regional activity by supporting artists who aren’t ACT residents but are able to ‘demonstrate an ACT-based practice’.
Additionally, this recent decision to exclude regional writers from the ACT Book of the Year has created concern and confusion through the wider arts sector. In the near future will all regional artists be excluded from the ACT Government’s support through its arts funding program? Will the ACT’s key arts organisations be required to focus only on the ACT community at the exclusion of all others?
Finally, it is concerning to the Childers Group that the literary community appears to have not been consulted on this change of policy. We have been informed that the ACT Writers Centre, the ACT’s peak body for writing in the ACT region, was not consulted. A significant number of their members reside in the region.
We respectfully ask that you review the recent announcement about the 2014 ACT Book of the Year, and ensure that there is consistency in eligibility requirements across ACT Government’s various arts programs and initiatives.
The Childers Group will contact you shortly to request a meeting about this important – and potentially far-reaching – matter. We would greatly value your consideration of the matters we have raised in this letter and the opportunity to discuss them.
Professor David Williams
The Childers Group
Two brief though important news items for the arts in the ACT:
- as part of ‘new administrative arrangements for the ACT‘, the Childers Group understands that artsACT has been moved from the Community Services Directorate to the Economic Development Directorate. Ms Joy Burch remains the Minister for the Arts; and
- the ACT Government’s ACT Arts Policy Framework is up for review this year – here’s hoping there will be plenty of opportunities for the arts sector and the community to have a say in the next version of the policy document.
The following is the Childers Group’s response to the arts component of ACT Budget 2014-2015. It follows the structure required by ACT Treasury. Our submission resulted in an invitation to present to the 2014 Estimates hearing, which we accepted and put forward our views on 13 June; the Childers Group was one of only two arts organisations to be involved in the budget process. We’ll post a link to Hansard once the transcript is available. Our original budget input, submitted prior to the ACT Government’s announcement of the 2014-2015 budget, can be found here.
Please list, in order of priority, your three main areas of interest or concern regarding the ACT Budget 2014-2015:
- The lack of growth of the ACT Arts Fund – the ACT Arts Fund is the ACT Government’s key arts development mechanism. It supports approximately 20 key arts organisations and a wide variety of programs, as well as groups and individual practicing artists. The Childers Group understands that the Fund receives additional annual funding of an amount that roughly equates to CPI (2.5%), which is ‘passed on in full’ to the key arts organisations. While this modest increase is critical, it is not enough to compensate for the increase in the ACT’s population in recent times. For example, in 2004 the ACT population was 324,000 and it is currently anticipated as 383,000 (source: http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/policystrategic/actstats/population). Therefore, in the space of a decade, there are approximately 60,000 additional people residing in the ACT, many of whom are looking to engage with the city’s arts and cultural sector. What is needed – and the need is becoming increasingly urgent – is a significant funding boost to the ACT Arts Fund, potentially $300,000-500,000, to help cater for the additional demand and the demonstrable increase in costs of delivering arts programs. This would ensure the ACT community has access to a diversity of high-quality arts programs, and that the organisations delivering these programs can do so in a sustainable manner.
- The viability and sustainability of the ACT’s key arts organisations – as noted in our budget submission, the Childers Group is extremely concerned about the ongoing viability and sustainability of the ACT’s key arts organisations. These organisations, which are the backbone of the ACT’s arts sector and enable a large proportion of Canberrans to engage with arts and cultural activity, have – in the main – limited staffing resources and stretched programming budgets, all the while trying to meet the forever increasing demand. While many of these organisations have had success in diversifying their income from non-government sources, opportunities are limited in a jurisdiction where the public sector dominates. Additionally, with the recent loss of a local branch of the Australian Business Arts Foundation, and the national refocussing of that organisation into Creative Partnerships Australia, there is now no ACT-based business/philanthropic brokering body to support local arts organisations who are seeking private-sector support. Further, the Childers Group is concerned about the recently announced cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts and the impact this could have on the ability of the ACT’s arts organisations to access federal arts funding. The funding boost to the ACT Arts Fund mentioned above would go some way to addressing these concerns.
- Arts in education – the Childers Group remains concerned about the lack of specific funding of arts-in-education programs, as identified in our budget submission. To break the longstanding disconnect between the Education and Arts arms of the ACT Government, what is needed is a specific arts-in-education program to ensure school-aged children have access to a wide range of high-quality programs. The Childers Group has previously advocated for an ACT Arts-in-Education Officer to broker relationships across the ACT Government and between government, schools, and program providers, such as the ACT’s key arts organisations.
- ACT Screen Investment Fund – the Childers Group is concerned about the future of the ACT Screen Investment Fund and seeks clarification from the ACT Government about anticipated directions and plans.
What are your views on the ACT Budget in relation to your priority areas?
The Childers Group applauds the ACT Government’s ongoing support of the ACT’s arts and cultural sector. The 2014-2015 budget papers identify a figure of $30.1M being the total investment in 2014-2015 – this is a significant amount for Australia’s smallest state/territory jurisdiction.
However, what is the breakdown of this funding?
The Childers Group understands that $12.743m is invested through artsACT (CSD Output Class 3.2: Arts Engagement 2014-15) and $16.032m through the Cultural Facilities Corporation (CFC Output Class 1: Cultural Facilities Management). However, the 2014-2015 budget identifies that only $8,502,000 of this funding as being dedicated to supporting arts activity. While we note that this is an increase from $8,389,000 in 2013-2014, it is the Group’s understanding that only a maximum of $5M is specifically targeted at arts development – that is, supporting the ACT’s key arts organisations, arts programs, and practicing artists. As noted previously in this submission, this amount had been decreasing in real terms due to the costs of delivering programs and projects.
In addition, there are now significant budgetary pressures on key arts organisations in attracting and retaining skilled personnel, and, in many cases, managing the rising overhead costs associated with maintaining and operating key cultural facilities. All key arts organisations must balance the business/commercial aspects of their operations whilst providing creative engagement for the ACT community. The ACT Arts Fund is no longer able to meet these increasing costs and the community’s demands on the ACT’s key arts organisations.
Are there any other particular issues with the ACT Budget that you would like to bring to the Committee’s attention?
Yes. As mentioned elsewhere in this submission, the Childers Group’s key concern is the lack of real growth of the ACT Arts Fund. The current funding level has fallen behind demand, particularly in terms of the ability of the ACT’s key arts organisation to deliver high-quality and sustainable services but also the ever-decreasing funding available through the Project funding category.
Did you provide a budget submission to the ACT Government?
Do you think that the ACT Budget has addressed the issues raised in your submission?
The Childers Group expresses serious concern about the 2014-2015 federal budget and its impact on the development, sustainability and vitality of the arts in the ACT region. The Group calls on the ACT Government to assure artists and arts organisations that there will be no funding cuts to artsACT’s funding programs as a consequence of the federal budget.
‘We’ve looked at the Budget in detail,’ said Childers Group spokesperson Professor David Williams. ‘It is a big step backwards for the arts. The sector, while usually resilient, will take many years to recover from the proposed cuts – they are too deep and too sudden.’
As the ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said in the ACT Legislative Assembly on 15 May 2014, the impact of this budget will be felt throughout the ACT region.
The loss of more than $28M from the Australia Council’s budget alone will mean reduced support for small to medium arts companies and arts organisations, and fewer grants available to individual artists. Combined with other budget cuts and measures, the Childers Group is especially concerned about opportunities for young artists and their ability to survive, let alone contribute to the life and vitality of the community and develop their careers.
‘Firstly, we call on opposition parties to oppose the Australian Government’s cuts to the arts,’ said Professor Williams. ‘Secondly, we call on ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and ACT Minister for the Arts Joy Burch to ensure that through the forthcoming ACT budget there is sufficient funding to support the ongoing development of the arts sector.’
The Childers Group’s core concerns for the 2014–2015 Federal Budget are:
- With its small funding base for the arts, the ACT is particularly vulnerable to across-the-board cuts. While our arts sector is in a promising phase of development, the Childers Group fears that the ACT Government, faced with considerable cuts in health, education and infrastructure spending, will use the arts budget to help claw back some of its losses.
- We call on the ACT Government to reassure artists and arts organisations that there will be no funding cuts to artsACT and its funding programs.
- Practicing artists and arts organisations are significant contributors to the quality of life, community participation and to the economy through their funded and unfunded projects and small business activities.
- The more you look at the ills of contemporary society – alienation, fragmentation, isolation and depression – the more compelling the need for community participation in the arts scene. What better way of fostering a sense of community, promoting mental health and well-being and reducing the pressures of a competitive, materialistic society than by encouraging participation in the arts.” Hugh Mackay in Arts Funding: Are we missing a golden opportunity?
- The Childers Group is very concerned about the future of the cohesive national cultural policy launched last year, one that was developed through a consultative, evidence-based approach, and one strongly supported by the arts sector. It appears that the major investment in its development by artists and organisations from across the country is to be ignored.
- Australia Council grants will less accessible for most individual artists at a time when other cost of living expenses are rising. Their incomes will be further eroded by the increased cost of health care, petrol, education and transport. Any substantial increase in university fees for visual and performing artists will inevitably lead to fewer trained artists in Australia’s creative sector at a time when city planners and economists are calling for more creativity across the economy. Young graduate artists face challenging career paths throughout their lives, and the 6-month wait for Newstart will become an added and unacceptable stress in their search for work. It is anticipated that many will be forced to leave the sector.
- Infrastructure support will be less available to artists and the community through small arts organisations as they struggle to stay afloat in this new and increasingly difficult funding environment.
- While the Federal Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis, maintains that funding to Australia’s flagship companies has not been impacted by the budget, the Childers Group is concerned about the reduced funds available for individual artists, small arts organisations and arts infrastructure in the arts sector of the ACT region.
- By protecting the flagship companies and asking the small to medium arts sector to make cultural budget savings, the ecology of the arts industry will be severely affected. Creativity, cutting-edge research and risk-taking are the engine-rooms of Australia’s unique, new and exciting arts industry.
- The Childers Group reminds the Australian Government that a thorough review of the merging of back-office functions in the national cultural institutions was undertaken during John Howard’s Prime Ministership. It was found that this would be unworkable and that savings would be minimal.
- Without viable and sustainable infrastructure in the ACT and surrounding regions, artists and the small to medium arts sector will be forced into safe and predictable arts development, and a golden opportunity will be lost.
The Childers Group is very concerned about the 2014-2015 Australian Budget and how it might impact on the development, sustainability, and vitality of the arts. It has been reported that this budget, if passed through the Senate, would cut $87M from the arts sector, primarily from the Australia Council for the Arts and Screen Australia. In terms of the Australia Council, this would most likely mean reduced support for small to medium arts companies and fewer grants to individual artists. Combined with other budget cuts and measures, we are especially concerned about young artists and their ability to survive, let alone develop their careers. We are currently considering the best course of action. In the meantime, below is a variety of reactions so far. We’ll keep adding to this list, so if you read some excellent commentary please let us know.
- The Guardian – an open letter (May 19 2014)
- The Canberra Times (May 16 2014)
- Meanjin (May 16 2014)
- Writers Victoria (May 15 2014)
- The Sydney Morning Herald (May 15 2014)
- Crikey (May 14 2014)
- The Guardian (May 13 2014)
- New Matilda (13 May 2014)
- The Conversation (May 13 2014)
- Ausdance National (May 13 2014)
19 December 2013
NSW Arts and Cultural Policy
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Professor David Williams
Note: for more information about Destination NSW, the source for our image of Braidwood, please go here.
23 October 2013
ACT Budget Consultation
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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.