On Wednesday 18 April 2012 at The Street Theatre in Canberra, the Childers Group held its first forum, ‘The Arts in the ACT Region: Burning Issues and Radical Ideas’.  The invited special guests were: Robyn Archer, Creative Director of the Centenary of Canberra; Vicki Dunne, ACT Opposite Spokesperson for the Arts; Yolande Norris, You Are Here Festival Producer; Caroline Le Couteur, Greens Spokesperson for the Arts; and Omar Musa, poet and performer.

Each special guest was asked to present a burning issue and a radical idea.  Approximately 140 members of the ACT-region arts community attended and many took the opportunity to share their own burning issues and radical ideas.  Genevieve Jacobs from ABC Radio Canberra facilitated the two-hour discussion.

The following serves as a summary of key points; it does not purport to document every issue or idea, but the key themes.  The ordering of the key points does not necessarily reflect the priority of the arts community or the Childers Group.  The Childers Group also wrote an article about the forum, ‘ACT a crucible of the arts’, which was published in The Canberra Times on 28 May 2012.



  • what is our identity?
  • Canberra is a small city with a large cultural structure
  • Canberra is an innovative and creative city
  • important to recognise that Canberra is a regional city, but strategically it’s very well placed
  • the Centenary is making Canberra and Australia value local work
  • value what we’ve got
  • don’t listen to negatives – stop talking about Canberra having an inferiority complex!
  • generally the ACT-region arts community is silent – stand up and be heard! (the Childers Group is an excellent evolution)
  • make a connection between the south of the lake and the north of the lake
  • Canberra has great youth circus – build on this
  • it was generally agreed that Canberra and the region is rich in creativity and the arts are valued; investment in and the promotion of this flourishing region was strongly recommended by many attending the forum

The region

  • go beyond the border – the border means nothing
  • there’s great arts activity happening in the surrounding region area
  • from a regional perspective, Canberra can be parochial


  • we don’t have clear statements of what we want, i.e. a comprehensive, meaningful cultural policy

Support for artists

  • cultivate local production
  • support the voice of individual artists
  • many artists don’t get support from local audiences
  • concern that artist salary levels are too low (it was noted that this is also a national problem)
  • how best to support artists with disabilities?

The economy

  • the economics will defeat us if we are not creative in delivery
  • there’s a schism between professional and community arts – there needs to be an investment in both
  • housing affordability is a major challenge – what will this mean to the future of a creative capital?
  • investigate and build alternative revenue streams
  • how to build a culture of philanthropy?
  • collecting and applying data is important

Arts in the public realm

  • Canberra has a good compilation of facilities – bring it all together
  • Canberra is too fond of the wrecking-ball i.e. it demolishes buildings too soon
  • how to make the Kingston Arts Precinct and the Fitters Workshop truly come alive?  New Acton is a great example of an arts precinct that brings everything together beautifully
  • public art: how to get the balance right in terms of the expenditure and how to get the process right in terms of outcomes?
  • art is an everyday part of life: how can we better integrate it?
  • the ACT planning system doesn’t actively enable the arts
  • spaces  are needed for contemporary music gigs
  • The Canberra Times could make a more positive contribution to how complex arts issues are resolved

Engagement, marketing and tourism

  • the main problem lies with Canberra not telling its own story – there’s a lot happening and people don’t know about it
  • how to bring the arts community and the broader community together?
  • value and recognise local arts activity, not just ‘the blockbusters’
  • the national cultural institutions tend to get all the limelight
  • ACT tourism bodies need to take local arts activity seriously beyond the work of the national cultural institutions – there’s little interconnection with tourism and local arts events and activities
  • cross-sector, cross-jurisdiction, cross-organisation collaboration is paramount
    how to engage the transient members of the ACT community?

Arts in education

  • we need to expand participation
  • we need to hear from new strong voices
  • more funding and support for facilitating engagement in the arts by young people
  • how to get more people involved in poetry?


Engagement, marketing and tourism

  • an ACT-region arts calendar
  • an arts web-site based on the ‘AllHomes’ model e.g. ‘AllArts’
  • make the most of
  • use the internet to sell Canberra content nationally and internationally
  • tour and/or broadcast Canberra content to regional areas (and vice verse)
  • find ways to bring back artists who have left the ACT region
  • import the inspirational
  • take up the opportunities presented by the National Broadband Network
  • keep the You Are Here Festival going
  • expand the Multicultural Festival to include more arts
  • make the most of the Centenary of Canberra
  • be outrageous, provoke comment

The economy

  • double the ACT Government’s arts budget by 2020

Arts in the public realm

  • a future-proof showcase venue to market ACT-region arts product nationally and internationally
  • more adaptive re-use of old buildings
  • let arts precincts grow on their own, flourish in an organic fashion, rather than rush or force them
  • more local arts commissions in public art
  • more art in architecture
  • more functional art, e.g. bike stands designed by artists
  • sound barriers so people can sleep and people can listen to music and bands can perform
  • make Canberra a centre for guerilla art

Arts in education

  • an ACT-wide poetry slam program in schools (hip hop and slam poetry is a great opportunity to engage young people in arts activity)
  • we have an amazing and vibrant youth culture – let’s build on this
  • nurture the instinct in our children to go out and develop art


Here’s a huge thank you to everyone who attended the Childers Group’s inaugural forum, ‘Burning Issues and Radical Ideas’ last night.

It was completely brilliant to see so many people pack out the Street Theatre stage – there was over a 100 of you up there! – and more spilling into the auditorium. Inspired by our extraordinary special guests – Robyn Archer, Vicki Dunne, Yolande Norris, Caroline Le Couteur, and the utterly unstoppable Omar Musa – we were amazed how forum participants were brave enough to ‘move up to the table’ and share their burning issues and radical ideas.  Without the artful facilitation of ABC Radio’s Genevieve Jacobs, well, we couldn’t have done it.

What happens now?  We’ll be distilling the notes that were taken – one of the Childers Group members ended up with 10,000 words in his laptop! – and posting them here, as well as forwarding them to all those who are in the position to make the arts in the ACT region really come alive, including the ACT Government, the NSW Government, key arts organisations, just to name a few.  Perhaps most importantly, we hope that you’ve taken away some great ideas yourself, and that you might even run with them and make them happen.  If so, do let us know how you’re going and if there’s anything we can do to help.

Please note: we’re committed to hearing feedback on all our activities, including the ‘Burning Issues and Radical Ideas’ forum – you can post comments to us below, or chat to us via our Facebook page, or email us direct if you’d like to be a little more private about it.  We might even sit down and have a coffee with you.  Whilst we’re a volunteer-run group without funding and limited resources, we’re always interested in new and exciting ways to engage the ACT-region arts community.  And we want your thoughts.  Yes, we’re serious.

Much gratitude to our supporters: The Street Theatre, BMA Magazine, and the wonderful folk at New Best Friend for their ongoing graphic design and web-site design and management.

And yes, we’ll be doing it all again.  Stay tuned.