Monday, June 13, 2016

Denison Debate - Fantasy, Strategy or Reality. (2013/the olden days)

In early 2013 the Federal Government had recently released its first National Cultural Policy since 1994. I participated in the Denison Debate; The Creative Economy- Fantasy, Strategy or Reality, alongside Professor Julianne Schultz, founding editor of the Griffith Review, Esa Laaksonen, Director of the Alvar Aalto Academy, Finland and David O'Byrne, then Tasmanian Minister for Economic Development. Natasha Cica, currently director of Kapacity.org and then heading up the Inglis Clark Centre at Utas curated and facilitated this debate and the others in the series.
I've added my talk below, though the best part, as always, was the discussion. There is a video of all of it somewhere online though I'm unable to find the link (and have emailed the uni and will update when I am able). We may have been archived, which is quite lovely in itself. 
EDIT - the university has come up with the goods. If you would like to watch the debate, you can do so here. 
  Since then support for the arts from all levels of government has morphed, been decimated, been promised, been disappeared and been spent. It has also been re-imagined at a state level as something that supports tourism and jobsngrowth. That link is the Tasmanian government's cultural and creative industries strategy, which has some good stuff in it, but there overwhelming emphasis is on jobs and branding and tourism with nary a mention of creativity. Maybe one or two. There is also significant mention of the Tasmanian Creative Industries Ltd, our new peak body, I understand they have recruited a web designer.
  While MOFO's pulsing and leching its way through town, and to New Norfolk, there are still some that question the existence of a Mona driven renaissance, particularly in some quarters of the arts - and still others who believe that it cannae have been renaissance when it was always happening, just not noticed. Everything has changed though mofos, and nothing ever stays the same.
This is a truly wicked and cocky take on mofo and consequently, my town


(from the olden days)
The Denison Debate - 
Fantasy, Strategy or Reality
To begin with I’d like to acknowledge that the release yesterday of the first National Cultural Policy since 1994 is a game changer. The statement (and I’m paraphrasing) that  “creativity is central to Australia’s economic and social success;  that a creative nation is a productive nation” is not a notion that you often come across in the quagmire of public policy and political announcements.To read the National Cultural Policy (or the executive summary in my case, at least!) makes my heart rest easier – despite and because of the fact that the creative is, in its very essence, difficult to quantify – and to justify its existence at the level of policy inevitably requires quantification. In Tasmania at the moment a group of arts practitioners, public servants and prison employees are working to develop a strategic plan relating to arts in prison. It has the full support and encouragement of the prison’s inaugural change manager, Brian Edwards . Prison may not be a microcosm of our greater community, but it is an excellent case in point to illuminate some of the issues we’re touching on here. The creative economy. An oxymoron?No, it’s not, the world we live in relies on this kind of quantification and for a creative project to ‘succeed’ in a controlled environment such as prison means it needs to be justified in a pecuniary sense. In a society that does not, as a whole, understand, let alone experience the benefits – or the beneficence of creativity it need to be justified in that manner.Encouraging the creative in prison is not a new idea but nor is the notion that the prison experience should be purely puniative.  The 2011 report from the UK Arts Alliance and Arts Council of England, Unlocking Value, the economic benefit of the arts in criminal justice, opens with a poem from a prisoner and ends with appendices and tables that quantify the outcomes of arts in prisons and prove that there is a tangible benefit to the greater community if the creative is practised inside.There are of course those who believe that it is wrong to give prisoners a creative outlet – it is wrong to encourage them to change, transform. They are in prison to be punished, they are there to learn repentance. We know that that model does not lead to reform – and that prisoners who are released from prison having experienced a punishment model of incarceration are, in  most cases, not reformed. There is a lovely example of how the creative can be fiscally wrangled to prove both economic and societal benefits.  It does make me wonder though, about how the creative, the gift of creativity, that gives to both creator and receiver alike, can thrive in a community that requires a value beyond the incredible sensation in your belly, your heart – or wherever and however it is that you individually experience it.Our obvious example is Mona – look at us Tasmania, walking taller since this offering of beautiful, shocking, disturbing and transformative art has been presented to us and the world – and look Tourism Tas, at the increase of visitors to our fine city.But – those sensations – as we receive the gift of creativity - the as yet unquantifiable feelings that arise when we experience the creative speak reams beyond the bottom line. The sensation that occurs to me, for example when I stumble upon a beautiful wordsmith, or that sentence I read in the blink of an eye and carry around with me for days, doesn’t fit into MYOB.Lewis Hyde, in his 1979 book The Gift, subtitled ‘how the creative spirit transforms the world,’ writes of this brilliantly – I urge you all to get your hands on it. I can’t begin to summarise what he says – but he does say this. “there is no technology, no time saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of value exchange, creativity is automatically devalued.”It is a conundrum – and one that keeps giving and giving. So what is it that I am saying?That the creative can’t be valued but it must, that there can be no economy of the creative, yet there is one? To tease it out a bit here’s a tiny case study:Island is Tasmania’s only literary and cultural magazine, a magazine of 34 years standing that publishes poetry, fiction, the Tasmanian papers, essays and more. A magazine that has relied on government funding for many years though that is changing.We receive submissions from all over the world – and we commission works from Taroona to Tokyo and beyond. We publish work that takes our breath away, challenges us and I’m not sure how my co-editor Matt experiences it, but it gives me flutters in my belly and sometimes, brain aches. That is the creative touching my life, I can’t put a dollar figure on that, I can not quantify that experience – but I can tally  the cost of printing, distribution,  the hours we spend writing dry documents like acquitals, applications and pitches to potential advertisers.We pay our contributors, but in this case – the ‘economy’ is beyond the financial – we can’t pay them a dollar amount for all the hours they spend on a line in a poem, for all of their previous writing  experience, but we do pay them money for their art.That work is then picked up at bookshops around the country or arrives in letterboxes around the world– that could be your letter box if you take notice of the flier on your chair – and then it is read by so many, who are touched in the unique way that the creative is experienced in our lives.So – the creative can not be economised, yet we live in a creative economy. The expression of creativity and the experience of the creative transforms us and by dint of our world aligns with economy.We live in the reality of a creative economy. This does not diminish the practice of creativity – but only for as long as it is not driven by the bottom line.

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