Reset: A New Public Agenda for the Arts – program

You can download the full program, with full speaker bios and information and watch and listen to the recordings of each of the sessions below.

Thursday, 11 November

The conference commenced with a Welcome to Country by Robert Taylor and conference opening by Jessica Alice, Chair, Arts Industry Council of South Australia and Tully Barnett, Flinders University.

Keynote: Caring for Stories in a time of Separation
Kirstie Parker, Jacob Boehme, and Daniel Riley, in conversation.

We began our two days with a wide-ranging conversation between three First Nations leaders and arts visionaries, about what we could learn from the extraordinary times we are in, what are the big priorities for ongoing change and action in our sector and beyond, and what does caring for Country, people and stories mean in a time of ongoing separation and crisis in the colony.

Panel: Public Value and the Cultural Sector: moving beyond ‘jobs and growth’
Andrew P Street, Elaine Chia, Geoff Strempel, Julia Zemiro, and Julianne Schultz, in conversation with Justin O’Connor.

There is an almost unchallenged narrative that the best way to improve understanding of and investment in arts and culture is to promote the sector as contributing to job creation, innovation, and economic growth.

‘Creative industries’ has bundled together the cultural sector – such as performing arts, galleries and museums, music, screen, radio and publishing, design and crafts – with an array of entrepreneurs and tech industries. The sector is divided into those expected to bring commercial returns, and those requiring public funding to stem ‘market-failure’. Misleading growth metrics, return-on-investment arguments, and a focus on ‘jobs’ (with little attention to the actual conditions of cultural labour) have distorted our understanding of the public purpose of culture.

How can we develop a new language for the public value of arts and culture, and take an inclusive, mixed ecology approach to public provision across the whole sector? How do we return culture to its rightful place in public policy, where it might sit beside education, health, research, basic services, and public infrastructure? Can we reimagine a new social license for culture beyond the failing economic rationalism of the last decades?

I’ll Take That as a Comment hosted by Christie Anthoney, Associate Director City Culture, Adelaide City Council

I’ll Take That as a Comment offered five people each day, selected from an open callout process, the chance to put forward proposals for change in the arts and cultural sector. On Thursday we heard from Heather Robinson, Greg Ogle, Yarmila Alfonzetti, Kate Larsen and Anthony Peluso.

Panel: Democracy, Participation and Justice: centring culture as a civil right
Ali Baker, David Pledger, Jo Dyer, Norm Horton, and Scott Ludlam, in conversation with Jessica Alice.

‘Democratisation of culture’ has become a buzz phrase encapsulating increased digitalisation and access to information technology, and the impact of this on sovereign consumer choices. Yet this limited vision fails to reckon with threats to democracy, such as monopolies, undermining of a free and independent media, state capture and corruption, the hollowing out of the public sector, culture wars and a sharpening anti-intellectualism.

If we take culture to be a civil right, essential alongside other rights, then embracing the work of participatory democracy and justice should be central to everything we do. This approach to arts and cultural policy brings us into dialogue with education systems, urban and regional planning, telecommunications, media diversity, decolonisation, and reparation.

How can the arts and cultural sector reclaim cultural democracy, learning from First Nations ontologies, and the collective and community organising traditions that have been central to cultural work? How might we consider issues like governance, divestment, climate justice, and policies that can provide both the rights and the means for people to participate in culture? How can we place arts and culture at the heart of a healthy, diverse, inclusive, and participatory democracy?

Evening event featured short provocations on urgency by guest speakers Alexis West and Tory Shepherd, hosted by Vincent Ciccarello.

Friday, 12 November

Introduction and opening comments by Jessica Alice and Justin O’Connor.

Keynote: Reset and Real Recovery: a vision for the future of Australian arts and culture by Tony Burke MP, Shadow Minister for the Arts, introduced by Mark Butler MP, Member for Hindmarsh and hosted by Jessica Alice.

Panel: A Fair Deal for Artists: winning the economic rights of cultural workers
Aaron Connor, Alison Pennington, Lauren Carroll Harris, Melina Morrison, and Rebecca Conroy, in conversation with Emma Webb.

Artists and other arts workers are some of the lowest paid and most insecure workers in Australia. While the pandemic has both shone a light on and accelerated this state of play, it did not cause it. Conventional arts advocacy must confront its own cognitive dissonance here – the promotion of the job creation benefits of the arts while artists themselves are often not treated as workers or provided dignified employment.

For decades most artists have been made to masquerade as ‘very small business’, whittling out sub-standard incomes in the gig economy, missing out on entitlements that many other workforces still take for granted, and subsidising public cultural life with unpaid labour. However, there are growing movements to combat precarity and poverty, and re-examine wealth and income distribution, that could dramatically improve artists’ working lives.

How could we create a fairer deal for artists and arts workers? What roles are there for unions, collectives and self-organising, co-ops and mutuals; and for employment and job guarantee programs, basic income pilots, portable leave entitlements and anti-wage theft campaigns? Can we reimagine labour, care and equity in the arts and cultural sector?

I’ll Take That as a Comment hosted by Christie Anthoney

I’ll Take That as a Comment offered five people each day, selected from an open callout process, the chance to put forward proposals for change in the arts and cultural sector. On Friday we heard from Stevic MacKay, Cadence Belperio and Phillip Kavanagh, Patrick Frost, Anna Goldsworthy, Tiffany Lyndall Knight and Rhen Soggee.

Panel: A New Public Agenda: campaigning for the future of arts and culture
Ben Eltham, Emma Webb, Esther Anatolitis, Jade Lillie, and Simone Tur,
in conversation with Tully Barnett.

The arts and cultural sector is facing a crisis in Australia. After years of cuts, the gig economy, undermining of the public and democratic value of the arts, and the ever-widening gap between haves and have-nots, the sector has been slammed by the pandemic. The way out of this mess will not be paved with incremental tinkering.

Rather, we need to forge a bold new public agenda for arts and culture. To do this the
Australian arts and cultural sector must re-learn the language and work of public good, and unearth concepts like planning, regulation, public expenditure, participation, and democratic rights, as foundational for supporting culture in everyday life. Pursuing this agenda will mean questioning ideas that have underpinned arts and cultural policy for several decades and building new models of sector organising and leadership.

How could a new ‘policy imaginary’ for art and culture embrace global challenges like climate change, decolonisation, the future of work, and a post-growth world? What would an ambitious public reconstruction of the arts look like? How do we build and transform our advocacy and campaigning strategies to take on the good fight?

Evening event: Art, Activism, and Urgency for a Just Future

We end the conference with three inspiring addresses from Australian Greens spokesperson for the arts, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (coming to us on video from Glasgow), artist, activist and educator Daniel Baron Cohen (coming to us on video from Brazil) and writer, curator, teacher, and currently Research Fellow, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Material Culture and Art, South Australian Museum and University of South Australia, Jared Thomas; alongside an action-focused short wrap by the conference organisers. Hosted by Satu Teppo, Acting Executive Director, Don Dunstan Foundation.