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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