4 Mar 2010

Community Cultural Development Is So Last Century

By Phoebe Coyne
Arts Minister Peter Garrett wants to celebrate the richness and diversity in our communities but defunding community cultural development programs won't achieve this, writes Phoebe Coyne

Peter Garrett's performance as Federal Minister for the Environment has been under scrutiny lately but one of his other portfolios — Arts — hasn't received so much attention. Garrett launched his discussion framework for a National Cultural Policy in November last year, identifying three key themes for cultural policy development in the decade to come: keeping culture strong; engaging the community; and empowering the young.

Garrett appears to make a solid case for funding a range of cultural initiatives: "Culture is at the heart of our nation and the arts are at the heart of our culture, feeding, and in turn, being fed by it. Australian culture is unique, diverse and vital to our present and future wellbeing."

While the rhetoric might have been hopeful, the demotion of community cultural development from the list of funding priorities of the Australia Council and state arts bodies draws his commitment into question.

For 25 years, the "industry" of Community Cultural Development, or CCD, has been chugging away, creating processes and programs the outcomes of which speak for themselves: crime reduction, population health improvements, the cultivation of an active citizenry, enhanced social inclusion, the myriad economic effects of community wellbeing. There's a long list of demonstrable benefits to the kinds of programs run under the banner of CCD. In 1987, the Australia Council for the Arts recognised the CCD sector as "a legitimate and important field of Arts practice".

It sounds great, doesn't it? Right now, it's all looking so last century.

The Australia Council disbanded its Community and Cultural Development Board in late 2004 and its CCD-focused projects were radically de-emphasised. CCD workers read the warning signs and reports of difficulties in the sector began to appear in professional journals throughout the Noughties. The titles are telling: there's "Trouble in Oz", there's "The Beginning of The Century or the End of CCD in Australia? (A Tasmanian Perspective)" and there's "Unsustainable Future? The state of CCD in NSW".

Cut to the end of the first decade of the 21st century, and it appears the authors of these gloomily titled articles got it right. In Australia at least, both state and federal governments are acting a lot like CCD has passed its expiry date and is headed for the dustbin.

The peak body for Community Arts and Community Cultural Development in NSW — CCDNSW — will close its doors next week after 25 robust years in the community, thanks to funding cuts announced by the NSW Arts Minister Virginia Judge in December last year. The staff of CCDNSW received the news that their funding would not be renewed by ArtsNSW two days before their Christmas break started. The $42 million arts funding package announced for 2010 was described in the Minister's press release as support for creative industries.

The CCDNSW will be the second such institution to fall in four months. The Queensland Community Arts Network, or QCAN, shut up shop on 1 December last year after its funding wasn't renewed by the Queensland Government. Funnily enough, the Queensland Government is currently spending the funds they recouped trying to identify and fill the gaps in the so-called "soft" infrastructure of urban centres.

As Lex Marinos, the Chair of the CCDNSW Board noted when the funding cuts were announced, "The reality is that only a small percentage of Australians intersect with the arts as far as attendance at the traditional (and traditionally funded) cultural venues goes. The vast majority include cultural activity as part of their lives through grass-roots community activities — the types of activities imagined, created, and made possible by the artsworkers helped by CCDNSW." 

Marinos isn't the only one to note that the priorities of Australia's arts funding bodies look out of kilter with communities and artists. newmatilda.com's Ben Eltham criticised the Australia Council's More Bums On Seats report in yesterday's Crikey, pointing to the limitations of the Council's definition of the arts: "It's almost as though OzCo set out to define the arts as 'what the Australia Council funds'."

Peter Garrett's soaring vision of a national cultural policy sounds great: "Australian culture is produced by its people. The role of government is not to directly shape culture but to enable all Australians — whatever their background, beliefs and abilities — to explore and nurture their creativity and draw on the wealth of our culture to enrich us all." Indeed, it sounds a lot like a mandate for renewing funding to community cultural development programs.

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Posted Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 15:55

Great article Phoebe, thanks for the hat-tip.

I think the CCD community has comprehensively lost the PR battle since 2004; it didn't mobilise particularly well to fight the changes rammed through by former OzCo chief executive Jeniffer Bott then, and it hasn't mobilised since to defend important orgs like QCAN. In contrast, the major performing arts has mounted well-organised campaigns to protect the interests of their sector, through AMPAG and other lobbying groups. It doesn't help that CCD traditionally sits at the bottom of the arts hierarchy and is often seen by traditional capital-A arts types as not really arts at all. This trend has intensified since OzCo began pulling up the drawbridge in 2004 and turning its back on contemporary and popular culture.

The CCD sector badly needs both an image-makeover and some powerful advocates in the broader political scene. But advocates for art in the community are hard to find these days.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. gkerry
Posted Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 16:48

On the face it, it must seem like the Australia Council and state ministries are cutting CCD programs loose, but I suspect that if you look at the sorts of things funded by the various artform boards you will find a greater emphasis on community based arts than there has been in the past. Who and what is eligible for funding has broadened immensely in the last years; the major performing organisations are being encouraged to reach beyond the downtown venues and are doing so with some success. And I wouldn't for a moment suggest, by the way, that Peter Garrett is a particular supporter of what his bureaucrats call 'heritage' arts. (Funny how 'heritage' is fine if it refers to a dot painting, but not a symphony, innit? Its only okay if it's someone else's heritage.) His clumsy attempt to close the Australian National Academy of Music in 2008 - I was involved with the school at the time - is one example.

While it might be sad that the NSW minister axed a peak body, you must admit that the list of grants in the document to which you link somewhat proves my point: it's for Opera Australia doing stuff in schools, not yet another Boheme at Opera House, and there seems to be a fair bit of cash for projects targeted at Western Sydney, like the hip-hop program, or activities in regional centres. So it may just be that the money is going to artists not activists; maybe the '25 robust years' of the CCDNSW have been so successful that the body is now redundant.

Let's not, moreover, fall into the errors of thinking that there is no art without funding, or that the Australia Council is or should be the fons et origo. I think you'll find that local governments disburse a considerable amount of money in this area; certainly various municipalities in the part of regional Australia where I live consider it an important aspect of their activity.

Finally there are plenty of artists in the 'heritage' sector who actively take part in community programs. Perhaps, again, the compartmentalising of artforms and practices into 'community' and 'whatever else' is indeed a bit 'last century.'

Gordon Kerry

Posted Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 17:38

Gordon, I think you comprehensively miss the point. Grants for Opera Australia to do stuff in schools are exactly the problem.

Apart from the fact that this kind of thing is light-years away from what true CCD represents, for the life of me I can't understand why the single best-funded arts organisation in the entire country needs another grant to do what it should be doing already.

It's true that local governments are the chief funders of arts in the community, but there is an issue when state and Commonwealth levels are increasingly turning their back n the practice. Small-scale community arts projects are the least likely to be commercially viable, in contrast to the large institutions with their ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and development officers

And let's not mince words here: the compartmentalization of artforms into "community" and "heritage" is the result of current policy paradigms and funding structures, not the result of some kind of reverse prejudice by community artists.

Posted Friday, March 5, 2010 - 08:21

Peter Garrett talking about culture is like Peter Garrett talking about the environment. The theory is good but he fails on the follow-through.

Posted Friday, March 5, 2010 - 09:18

gkerry's point is spot on. The fact is that not only are the major companies like the Opera doing community work, so are all the community based groups across the country. Whether its through the local shire or arts groups working with youth or indigenous communities - or even regional arts organisations - the fact is that community cultural development is happening.

For most groups who are on the ground DOING the work, as opposed to talking about it, the removal of CCD doesn't make a whisper of a difference and it is - to be honest - offensive to suggest otherwise to those on the frontline each and every day.

They were important in the 1980s but the funding they get would be better spent on programmes rather than the wages of some people sitting in Sydney's inner west.

If only CCD were as loud as they are now when they had been 'advocating' for us and my attitude might be different.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. gkerry
Posted Friday, March 5, 2010 - 11:13


I quite agree that the 'the compartmentalization of artforms into “community” and “heritage” is the result of current policy paradigms and funding structures, not the result of some kind of reverse prejudice by community artists' - and I don't know that I said otherwise in my original posting. I would respectfully suggest, though, that such paradigms have, clearly, changed; so, inevitably, has the cultural landscape, and therefore the old models of advocacy and funding might be obsolete.

But by suggesting there is a 'true CCD' (though what you mean by that is not exactly self-evident), as against what Opera Australia might do, you unquestioningly imply that such categorical divisions do exist. I may be comprehensively missing the point - yet again - but it seems to me that getting 'heritage' art into the community makes it community art and enriches the community.

Moreover, $60,000 - maybe one year's salary for one dedicated position - for a program targetted at a specific state is arguably a minor contribution for that state to bear, and is a negligible proportion of the overall funds in question.

Gordon Kerry

Posted Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 11:44

The program under the previous government became mostly an expensive pork barrel for the nationals to direct funds to marginal electorates for programs that were a tad dubious in management and visible outcomes ; they were 'make work' programs. The degree of what was in effect, circular self assessment of outcomes makes claims of net benefit questionable. A small number of the individual programs might have crossed the line: acquiring capital assets and purchasing of services at prices well above market value but that is unlikely to ever be known for sure. It needed to be ended, and something better done with the money; there are people in my town who lived with the agony of abscessed teeth because they could not afford a dentist while at the same time $100k was wasted on a program that resulted in two exhibitions( exhibitions that would have happened anyway) in the local hall and single A4 page of acquittal document.

Posted Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 23:28

Some juicy discussion to be had on this issue, certainly. The discussion continues, and this published article was not <strong>MEANT</strong> to be definitive; indeed, I'm assigning my time at present- and forseeably in the medium term, to commit significantly more time- to further explore this arena within the confines of Academia.

Neither is this is, of course, an exclusive issue to Australian policy agenda: There are similar issues and trends internationally, as reported yesterday: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/travel/trouble+with+excellence/2643503/stor...

I take your point in the first posting, Gordon: I do not for one minute speculate that CCD does not morph into different forms, evidently, it will as a subsequence of the political agenda/ climate of “Being so last Century”.

In a broader meta-analysis, international commentators speculate that:
“planning paradigms are mutating from a focus on building 'creative capital' to that of achieving 'sustainable capital'.... They ask: Where are cultural considerations in this new paradigm/ framework? How might culture be incorporated and situated within sustainability planning and related initiatives? How should cultural planning adapt to this increasingly dominant paradigm and context?

The article eliminated the wider cultural climate, indicated above, and the incite provided by Muhammad Yunus Founder, Grameen Bank, and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate: <i>“Culture, after all, is for making it easy for people to unleash their potential, not for standing there as a wall to stop them from moving forward. Culture that does not let people grow is a dead culture. Dead culture should be in the museum, not in human society.”</i>

The Earthwatch Institute's State of the World Report 2010 is entitled <i>Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability</i>, and provides pertinent proposals for doing so.

Discussion from CCD sector and from the likes of Clive Hamilton, Richard Denniss and The Australia Insitute, (back in the grizzly days of the Howard Era), proposed that the Administration of said Government was “Silencing the Dissent” of the NGO/ not-for-profit sector by way of the “bound-by-three year-funding contract” AND gag clauses in contract/ Memorandum of Understanding fine-print. And certainly options are limited (In Ottawa and NSW say, in favour of middle class "High Art"); hands are bound and gags are real when there ceases to be recurrent funding. Doors close, but as you say Gordon- new ones emerge.

Indeed, isn't it about time that we could (in the NGO sector at large) free ourselves from the imperatives of <strong>Consumerism</strong><u><i> to</u></i> Sustainability, and from the clenches and agenda of Government and Corporate interests and Investment? Where <i>is that silver bullet</i>?

Ben pertinently suggested “.....But advocates for art in the community are hard to find these days.” In my observation it's because they potentially have three jobs, perhaps a mortgage, and want to negotiate “having a life” outside of work. It's common to the NGO sector. I am privileged to have the time at present (albeit on an Austudy wage**) to be an advocate: I have chosen the interests of a NSW organisation as I scribe from the other side of the country.

** There is reason/ limited choice why I scribe this on a Saturday night, in favour of being at an “ACDC” concert six blocks away or a “Massive Attack” concert 5kms away- other than the "High Arts" the original article rallied against!

Posted Sunday, March 7, 2010 - 12:04

"Indeed, isn’t it about time that we could (in the NGO sector at large) free ourselves from the imperatives of Consumerism to Sustainability, and from the clenches and agenda of Government and Corporate interests and Investment? Where is that silver bullet?"

The silver bullet(s) : Become commercially viable .
Get an audience like the audiences for "high" art ; an audience that is well heeled , educated, & with the time to write lots of letters to Government in support of the 'high' art form that they love.