This afternoon I participated in the democratic process. Sounds very noble and boring, doesn’t it? Actually, I joined a whole bunch of other arty types to talk about arts practice in the ACT and government support for it. It was an interesting discussion, although it will be far more interesting to see what our great and mighty leaders do with our input.
The event was a consultation session run by a private firm contracted by ArtsACT to conduct a review of the arts in the ACT. Amongst a little bit of outright whining, there were some interesting discussions about the way in which governments support the arts, and how arts funding could best be utilised to the benefit of the arts community.
There were a few comments about the level of importation of art product, and the proportion of government funding that flows out of Canberra to artists based interstate or overseas. There was also a particularly interesting point made about the lack of support for arts businesses, which are, presumably, one of the most sustainable forms of arts activities.
But I think the most interesting point made, from the perspective of someone who has only been in Canberra for a little over a decade, was that Canberra had a much healthier and more robust arts community in the 80s and 90s. While I was well aware of most of the organisations, what these ‘older’ Canberrans were reminiscing was an atmosphere of creativity that could rival that of Seattle or Paris. At least one person who had lived through it remarked that she hadn’t thought about it for years. It made me sadly jealous of those who have had a longer association with the city.
Still, I can hold out hope that a new era of cultural vibrancy may yet dawn on our little concrete jungle. The group I found myself in this afternoon certainly has more than its fair share of optimism. One of them was so optimistic that she even thought it possible that our elected officials may one day actually take pride in the achievements of creative Canberrans. I’m optimistic, but not that optimistic. As long as the minister for the arts is a lawyer with a strong cultural cringe against his constituents, I hardly see that happening.
What I hold out hope for is a revival of creative energy. I am in one sense thankful that I don’t have an older picture of what a creative Canberra looks like, because a new era of that kind of culture is sure to look very different from the old one. I was surprised to learn that Happy Feet was largely created in Canberra. That is certainly a different image of creativity from what must have gone on in the 80s and 90s, but that kind of creative energy is something to get excited about (as long as they can find better script writers, because Happy Feet was crap in the dialogue and plot departments).
At any rate, if you would like to contribute your $0.02 worth to the debate, it’s not too late. You can get along to the last consultation session on Wednesday 4 November at Belconnen Arts Centre, or you can complete the survey.