Cultural policies Australasia

Cabbage tree Tongariro by Christopher MaddenThrough 2010 and 2011 I wrote a number of essays for ArtsHub and Culture360 on cultural policy issues in Australia and New Zealand. I have put these essays, plus a couple of others, together in one collection and organised them around four broad themes:

  1. Australasian cultural policies (ie in general);
  2. Analyses of the cultural sector and cultural policy issues;
  3. Arts councils, arts funding; and
  4. The cultural policy system.

Putting them together like this gives them a coherence lacking in their chronologically ordered online counterparts. If you do download the full document I hope you find them interesting and useful. Online versions of all the essays appear on this website.

The collection is downloadable as a single document: Cultural Policies Australasia (PDF 1.8MB). A full list of contents is below. Continue reading

Measuring the economic impact of cultural policies

Sydney Opera House impactIs there a way to measure the impact of a country’s cultural policies overall, at a general, or ‘macro’, level?

Economic theory predicts that cultural policies will have an expansionary impact on the cultural sector (see Modelling the economic impacts of cultural policies). This article uses data from Australia and New Zealand to show the theory in action.

The article, published in Culture360 Magazine, uses data from Australia and New Zealand to compare trends in government cultural expenditure and cultural employment. The data reveal a remarkably strong correlation between cultural expenditure and employment in both countries: on both sides of the Tasman, as governments increased their financial commitment to culture, cultural employment grew.

The data are not only consistent with the predictions of Economic theory, they allude to a degree of cultural policy success in both countries.

Continue reading

An introduction to New Zealand cultural policy

Cabbage tree Otago peninsulaIn recent years New Zealand’s employment in creative cultural occupations has grown faster than total employment. This is in stark contrast with Australia, where creative arts occupations have taken a dramatic plunge.

Could the difference simply be due to a ‘lag’ in New Zealand data, or does it signal something more substantial? Have New Zealand’s cultural policies been more successful in promoting cultural sector sustainability? Or has New Zealand benefited from its special citizen-in-residence, film-maker Peter Jackson?

If the strong growth in cultural employment is due to the ‘Jackson effect’, then New Zealand cultural policymakers face an unusual succession planning problem: what to do when Jackson’s run ends.

In An introduction to New Zealand cultural policy I look at New Zealand’s cultural policy system and take a quick scan of recent policy developments and issues.

The online version of the article is in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. Or alternativly you can read the whole thing in one lump in my collection of essays Cultural Policies Australasia (PDF 1.8 MB).

This is the third in a series of article I have written for the Culture360 magazine. The others are An introduction to Australian cultural policy and Policies for boosting arts demand (see also the supplemental post Modelling the economic impacts of cultural policies).

The article follows up on some of the issues raised in my editorials for the special Australasian edition of cultural trends.

Policies for boosting arts demand

Demand expansion hand drawnPolicies that encourage arts demand can return balance to an oversupplied Australian arts sector and fix many of the ills of Australian cultural policy.

Policies for boosting arts demand, the second of my articles for Culture360[1], expands on my ideas for rebalancing an Australian arts sector that is showing the classic signs of oversupply.

As evidence of oversupply, I present data showing increasing levels of creative arts practice and declining relative incomes of professional artists. The policies that dominate Australia’s cultural policy system tend to work to boost supply, so they are likely to aggravate problems associated with oversupply, such as declining relative incomes. Policies aimed at boosting arts demand – ‘demand-side policies’ – can work to alleviate the problems. Continue reading

An introduction to Australian cultural policy

John Howard an the Cronulla riotsConstantly in flux, passing between portfolios and ministers, and rarely featuring high on government agendas, cultural policy in Australia has been a constant battle against disorganisation and disinterest. But all that could change if the current government follows through on its commitment to develop a national cultural policy. We may be at a rare turning point in Australian cultural policy – a point as critical as the birth of cultural policy in 1908, the establishment of the Australia Council in 1975, and the release of Creative Nation in 1994.

An introduction to Australian cultural policy is a potted history and a cursory survey of Australian cultural policy. The first of three articles I have written for Culture360, it aims to introduce Australian cultural policy to readers in Europe and Asia. Continue reading

Modelling the economic impacts of cultural policies

Supply and demand curvesIn Policies for boosting arts demand I build on my argument that Australian cultural policy needs more demand-side policies. The case is based on the observation of recent data on the Australian cultural sector and some simple economic supply and demand modelling. This post supplements these articles by explaining the modelling process and reasoning that underpin them. This is a rough draft – I welcome comments or suggestions.

Recent data suggests that the Australian arts sector is grossly ‘oversupplied’. In the first decade of the century, Australian participation in creative arts work increased dramatically – in some arts activities it more than doubled or tripled! At the same time, artists’ relative incomes have declined. The Census, for example, shows that the full time incomes of artists dropped by $4,000 relative to other professionals. The figure below puts the two trends together to illustrate how dramatic the inverse relationship has been between involvement in creative arts practice and artists’ incomes.[1]

These are classic signs of a sector straining under the weight of labour supply: increases in labour supply tend to reduce wage rates, which is likely to be reflected in declining incomes. Australia’s cultural policies predominantly work on stimulating supply, and so are likely to have made matters worse. Continue reading

Crowdsourcing government arts funding

Crowdsourcing government arts fundingGovernment arts funders could harness the power of crowdfunding to get more bang for their buck.

Crowdfunding is on the rise as a way of supporting community projects. Made possible by web-based technologies, it works like this: people who think they have a good idea for a project post a proposal on a dedicated website. Information is provided on the project’s aims and objectives, how it will work, and its budget. Anyone can pledge money to the project via the website. Projects that raise enough financial support proceed.

Crowdfunding is a democratic funding system that relies on the ‘wisdom of crowds’. One dollar equals one vote. Because a voter makes a financial commitment, reckless voting and conflicts of interest are kept in check. Additional checks are usually put in place to guard against bogus operators looking to run off with voters’ funds.

Probably the most well-known crowdfunding scheme is the USA’s Kickstarter. The model has been applied to the arts at United States Artists and at We did this in the UK. And in Australia, ‘four energetic, tech-savvy, eccentric team members’ in Sydney’ have launched Pozilbe, ‘Australia’s 1st crowdfunding platform developed for creative individuals, groups and organisations’.

Crowdfunding sites exist in a highly democratised, technology-savvy space away from the tentacles of government. They work in a way that most government funding doesn’t. They lack the centralised control of government funding programs. They rely on modern technology. They are democratic, open and transparent.

Crowdfunding seems anathema to bureaucracy, and this might well be part of its appeal.

Yet, despite all these differences, crowdfunding has similarities with at least one form of government arts funding – peer review. Continue reading

Estimating deadweight loss in arts funding

Deadweight loss in arts fundingA rough estimate puts deadweight losses in Australian arts funding at $3.6 million in 2009-10.

Crowdsourcing government arts funding argues that government funders could use crowdfunding to reduce deadweight losses associated with their arts funding.

This is a post script to explore how big those deadweight losses might be. A rough estimate for Australia puts deadweight losses in Federal arts funding at $3.6 million in 2009-10.
Continue reading

Australasian edition of Cultural Trends

In 2010 I coordinated a special Australasian edition of Cultural Trends, the academic journal that ‘champions the need for better evidence-based analyses of the cultural sector.’

The special edition, which is in two parts, aims to expose to an international audience a selection of issues occupying cultural policy researchers and statisticians in Australia and New Zealand.

As well as coordinating the special edition, I drafted two editorials (pre-print drafts available below) in which I try to crystallise the state of cultural statistics and cultural policies in Australasia Continue reading

Encouraging the academy

Encouraging the academyAustralasian cultural policies would benefit from academics and researchers having more opportunities to publish, share their ideas and engage in cultural policy debate.

While writing an editorial for a special Australasian edition of the journal Cultural Trends (the second volume of which is due out soon), I had the chance to review the history of cultural policy in Australia and New Zealand. Looking back, I was struck by how much academic writing, research and debate took place in the ‘90s, when Australasia was enjoying what has been called a cultural policy ‘moment’.

Continue reading

A poverty of inquiry

Imagine if the number of Australians playing sport doubled in five years. Would the Sports Minister go out to the media crowing about the success of sports policy? Most likely. What if research showed participation in a football code – say, Aussie rules – tripled over four years? Would the AFL shout this from the rooftops, exalting a new wave of popularity for Aussie rules? You bet. Why, then, when trends of this magnitude occurred in the arts, hardly a word was said?

Continue reading

Cross-country comparisons of cultural statistics

Taxpayers money by Louisa Bufardeci

Image: Louisa Bufardeci

Cross-country comparisons are popular in cultural policy. This paper looks at how cultural statistics are used in the making of such comparisons. Analysts have identified a general ‘sloppiness’ in comparisons of cultural data between countries. This article documents some of the major problems in both data production and data presentation and provides a ‘checklist’ of good practice.

Continue reading

Advocating cultural policy change

An arts council by any other nameRecently I was asked by literary journal Overland to respond to an article by Ben Eltham, Culture is bigger than the arts. My response appears in An arts council by any other name.

Those who read the article may have got the impression that I was less than impressed with Ben’s article. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. I agree with Ben that Australian cultural policy needs to be progressive.  But, as a policy researcher and analyst, I found myself reacting not so much to what Ben was arguing, but to how he was arguing it. In my response I identify some methodological problems that I think weaken his case for policy reform.

Continue reading

An arts council by any other name

An arts council by any other nameThe literary journal Overland asked me to respond to an article in its September 2010 issue, Culture is bigger than the arts, in which Ben Eltham pleads for Australia’s cultural policy to be liberated from its stuffiness. Ben calls for cultural policy to adopt a wider notion of culture – one that  includes game design and all manner of ‘screen based art forms’ – and for policy to move on from supporting ‘elite’ arts.

Continue reading