Monday, 30 July 2012

Comment - The NCP... Or Lack Thereof

On The National Cultural Policy - Initial Thoughts

Certain People are dragging their feet.  While the rest of us sit, drumming our fingers impatiently on the table-top, Certain People seem to have stopped, any momentum they once had lost in a languid flurry of not-a-great-deal.  Talk is cheap, so Certain People prefer it to action, which costs money, and plenty of it.  Finger drumming, if Certain People are not careful, will soon turn to finger pointing, and They don’t want that.  No.  That would mean they’d have to speed up.  And time, it seems, is most certainly not of the essence.

This country doesn’t actually have a dedicated federal Arts Minister.  No, that under-appreciated portfolio has been lumped onto Simon Crean’s plate, seemingly lost under lashings of Regional Development and a side of Local Government.  Despite this, Certain People claim the Arts is incredibly important, that it needs to be nurtured and supported and encouraged in order to grow and prosper, well into coming centuries.  And so they whipped out the cheap talk, and now, more than four years later, it’s time to point fingers.  Where, oh where, is our National Cultural Policy?  

Back in April of 2008, at the Twenty20 Summit, the idea for such a policy was first mooted, the first since Keating’s Creative Nation, back in the early ‘90s.  Arts Minister at the time Peter Garrett, dabbled with it but nothing stuck and so when Crean took up the ball in 2010, any notion of a long-term Arts policy was effectively dead in the water, floating belly up, much like the future of the Arts itself.  Crean however, vowed to make it his “number one priority as Arts Minister”.  Indeed.

Oh yes, there has been movement here and there – an internet forum, a research paper by a philanthropist, a bringing together of Minds (sans many actual artists), a vague call on the public, the odd bit of rhetoric, a discussion paper into what the Australia Council could be doing better (pushing Certain People along, would be one thing), along with the expected bit of Coalition backlash (even that was somewhat half-hearted).  But what else of this groundbreaking policy, this plan which will ensure the Arts strides forth into the creative sunset, our culture sound in the knowledge it’ll be backed to the hilt and beyond?

It’s at the point now, that if Certain People do get around to releasing a National Cultural Policy any time soon, it won’t be taken seriously, mainly because they’ve not been seen to be taking it seriously themselves.  If we’d been seeing a hive of activity over the past few years – focus groups incorporating not just the Arts agencies with the highest profile or that necessarily bring in the most revenue; a concerted effort to engage the public at every opportunity; a revamp of the Australia Council before anything else – then we could forgive the late nature of official implementation, if and when it occurs.  

But given we’ve seen naught but the odd, almost token, gesture amongst the vague talk, there’s doubt this will be anywhere close to the monstrous, chest-beating policy, stomping on the creative terra, it needs to be.  I mean, if one says things like, “If I had the money, it’d be out now”, you can hardly then take it (not to mention Certain People) seriously.

We in this country enjoy, at this point in time, a vibrant culture and a strong arts scene, across the board, whether it be music, visual arts, theatre, literature or anything else you care to name.  Without a viable Cultural Policy however – one which provides for the long term viability of the Arts (funding opportunities, mentorships, residencies, education, support networks, international opportunities, overall ongoing nurturing and encouragement), as opposed to focusing on single projects which are wont to come and go – this culture, this scene, will likely wither and die.

People will always create, but without a definite plan (in a world rapidly desensitising and relying on an increasingly digital model), these creations won’t be afforded the stature and the focus they need, in order to become part of the national consciousness, which is of course, paramount.

For it is culture and the Arts which contributes to tourism, to the economy, to the long-term happiness of a country’s people.  Without the Arts, we are doomed to a future of Bland and Unexciting, of Monotony and Boredom, a future with no future, a chill, dull wind whipping across a once proud and creative landscape, nowhere to turn, nothing to inspire innovation and change.

As such, Certain People need to stop dragging their feet.  They need to realise that time is of the essence and that they need to act, decisively and effectively.  We need a National Cultural Policy, and we need it now.  If one is to be released in the near future though, Certain People had best be prepared for it to go under the microscope – the Arts community in this country is waiting.  Impatiently.

Samuel J. Fell

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