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Initial Thoughts on Creative Australia

“Creativity has to be learned just like anything else.” These words, uttered by playwright David Williamson in his lecture to the National Tertiary Education Union in November last year, were in rebuttal to the myth that artists are born, not trained; that creativity is not, as it is often claimed, innate.

This may seem an innocuous enough myth – except when it’s raised as an argument against funding for the arts at school and tertiary levels. This is what Williamson was arguing. Society’s need the arts, and artists need training and support. It follows, then, that like most socially beneficial goods, funding for the arts should, in part, come from broader society. Not only does this make intuitive sense, it is also an economic necessity.

The title of Williamson’s lecture was “Living dangerously: The future of creative arts education in Australian universities.” It was a call to both improve funding for the arts and an argument for why that funding needs to come from government. He addressed a range of issues, from expensive early training to the difficult middle years – which are “all too often the final years” – through to inadequate support for the industry, institutions and for artists themselves.

The lecture was delivered in November, three months before Arts Minster Simon Crean’s announced his new Creative Australia policy this week – the first such initiative since Keating’s Creative Nation policy in 1994 nearly two decades ago. That’s a gap of nearly two decades, despite the fact that, as Williamson points out, “the arts sector contributes $30 billion a year to the GDP – more than agriculture, forestry and fishing combined” (a point rarely mentioned in ‘outcomes-oriented’ discussions of the arts). This figure also leaves out other difficult-to-quantify value that art contributes to an individual or a society.

Creative Australia will have over $230 million in funding over five years, of which $190 million is new money. One of the four principles of the revamped Australia Council will be to support all stages of the artistic lifecycle, which echoes some of the concerns raised by Williamson in his lecture, and Creative Australia is comprised of many initiatives aimed at doing just that.

At a very high level, there’s $20 million in funding for elite training institutions (such as NIDA); over $9 million for six performance arts organisations; over $60 million available for funding and grants; and over $8 million will go toward research and up-skilling the arts industry. There’s also funding to help lure international film production back to Australia.

Australia need artists who produce world-class art, and we need a mature, stable industry that take it to the masses. These initiatives target both the artists and the industry, both of which are important for developing and maximising the social and economic impact of a thriving arts sector.

It’s true that we don’t yet know fully what shape the policy will take, how effective it will ultimately be, or whether it’s vulnerable to a change in government. But the allocation of this money, at a time when most budgets are shrinking, is a positive sign that we are correctly recognising the value of the arts and the are addressing the issues highlighted by David Williamson last year.

We welcome the initiative and are excited to support its mission to bring arts to fore in modern Australia.