Recently, the Office for the Arts launched a discussion paper for the development of a new National Cultural Policy:
Consultation began on a National Cultural Policy in 2009, and has involved the arts and culture sector, creative industries, the public at large and government. This has informed the development of this discussion paper, which outlines goals and strategies for the new National Cultural Policy.
What do you think about the goals and strategies in the discussion paper?
This is the preamble I wrote to the Australian Theatre Forum Open Space National Cultural Policy Group submission.
It’s often said that language – the urge to communicate – is the defining aspect of our humanity. The evolution of language in our species around a million years ago paved the way for the complex societies and cultures in which we now live. As deep as the desire to communicate is the urge to make, which can be seen in every culture and in every child. Human beings are, by definition, communicators and makers. It is an inalienable right of our biological heritage, and the basis of every culture on earth.
The arts are a lynchpin of our culture, but they are not the whole of it: they are one aspect of the continually changing and endlessly diverse network of ideas, actions and values which make up our personal and national identities and our culture. Culture is not only a defining aspect of our humanity: it is the lifeblood of any notion of citizenship. As countless thinkers have noted, access to culture is the basis of any healthy democracy.
Art is the specialised act of making, developed over thousands of years in every culture on earth. The arts reflect our innate inventiveness, our imagination. They express the conflicts and harmonies, the dreams and desires and fears, of our social and individual lives. The arts belong to everyone: the ability to respond, to be moved, to be empowered, to be excited, to speak and to make is not the privilege of the few, but the birthright of the many.
Theatre, as a collective activity which incorporates individual visions, can be seen as a microcosm of culture. Every act of theatre is in some sense utopian: a group of people come together to imagine a different reality, and work together to communicate that reality to others. Others come to witness this act of making: not to be passive consumers, but to participate in an experience. The experience ripples out through the responses of the audience and, through them, into the wider culture. Sometimes it literally changes lives.
Most Australians understand theatre through main stage and commercial productions, but contemporary Australian theatre, especially among the independent companies that constitute its best practice, reaches much more deeply into the community and has developed an enviable international reputation. Contemporary Australian theatre intersects actively with local and global culture at all levels of society, adapting international influences to fit regional experiences, finding new ways to galvanise collective imagination. The theatre community has skills and visions that can be applied far beyond its present reach, and represents the best impulses of Australian innovation in thought, practice and technology.
A National Cultural Policy must recognise the complexity, depth and diversity of Australian culture. It must emphasise the right of every Australian to have access to his or her culture, to exercise his or her birthright to make and to speak. It must identify the barriers of class, education, race, place or economic status that impede the exercise of these rights, and seek to dismantle them. It must understand that culture is a living thing, dynamic and continually changing, and seek to be inclusive of all the languages, values and experiences that together constitute Australian culture.
Most of all, a National Cultural Policy must recognise that nurturing our culture is fundamental to nurturing our citizenship, not only of Australia, but of the wider world in which we live. In the 21st century, we are not only citizens of this country, but of the globe. The policy must cultivate practical methods of enriching our collective national imagination, so that each of us will become individually more empowered, more educated and more questioning members of a vital democracy. It must aim to encourage all Australians, individually and as a nation, to attain their true potential: as human beings, as cultural participants, and as citizens of a diverse, dynamic and challenging world.
This preamble prefaces the ATFOS submission to the Australian Government’s National Cultural Policy discussion paper.
Commissioned and endorsed by:
Jude Anderson, Artistic Director, Punctum
Stephen Armstrong, Chair of the Theatre Board, Australia Council
Alison Croggon, independent arts journalist
Susan Donnelly, Executive Director, Australian Major Performing Arts Group
Brenna Hobson, General Manager, Belvoir
Chris Kohn, Artistic Director, Arena Theatre Company
Alice Nash, Executive Producer, Back to Back Theatre
Alison Richards, Independent theatre artist and academic
Sonya Suares, General Manager, Red Stitch Actors Theatre