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’.
What did this ‘moment’ look like? Obviously, the Keating government released Creative Nation, its grand cultural policy vision. But the ‘moment’ also had a noticeably academic flavour. Research was plentiful. Academic interest in cultural policy was high. Cultural policy even had its own academic journal, Culture and Policy, in which leading academics published research and ideas, discussed policy developments and engaged in debate. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ cultural program had matured and was producing regular data tailored to the cultural sector. And the second of David Throsby’s world-leading artist surveys was released, allowing for the first time detailed comparisons of artist populations across two points in time.
Across the Tasman, cultural policy research was also gathering momentum. In 1990 New Zealand established a standalone ministry for culture, leading to detailed data on the country’s cultural sector being produced for the first time. In 1999 Prime Minister Helen Clark snatched up the culture portfolio, elevating culture to the higher echelons of government policy. Culture’s share of government spending rose.
In 2002 the second International Conference on Cultural Policy Research was held in New Zealand. By then, benchmark studies on cultural participation had been released on both sides of the Tasman. Culture and Policy had, however, disappeared, and a new Australian government was taking a piecemeal rather than systematic approach to cultural policy. Despite all the gains across the ‘90s, by 2002 the ‘moment’ seemed to have run out of steam.
In 2008, David Throsby wondered whether Australia was entering a new cultural policy ‘moment’. All the signs were there. A run of academic papers and essays had been released through the mid-‘noughties’, most notably Throsby’s own Does Australia need a cultural policy? and Jennifer Craik’s Re-visioning arts and cultural policy. Policy-related forums were held alongside the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Byron Bay Writers’ Festivals, the second resulting in the collection of essays in Making meaning, making money: Directions for the arts and cultural industries in the creative age. On top of this, culture had its own special stream at the 2020 Summit in 2008, albeit under the sexier moniker of ‘creativity’, and in 2009 Arts Minister Peter Garrett appeared to be making good on Labor’s pre-election commitment to develop a national cultural policy.
A change in government circumstances has interrupted this momentum. However, thanks to recent debate, the new arts minister has a clear road map if he wants to reinvigorate cultural policy reform. Strong consensus has developed in Australia that:
- The Federal Government should have an explicit cultural policy
- A ‘whole of government’ approach should be taken to culture
- A Federal Ministry of Culture should be created. (In the Australian policy context, this would mean a standalone department with a greater advisory and research role and less of a service delivery role)
These three reforms, the first two of which could apply equally to New Zealand, are the most fundamental of those proposed in recent debates. They are reforms that would determine the future direction of cultural policies; reforms that could override any others put forward.
To these reform ideas I would add a fourth: That academics should be provided more opportunities to engage in cultural policy research and debate.
We should, in short, encourage the ‘cultural policy academy’.
What’s so good about academics?
Academics can be thought of as a ‘brains trust’ for the cultural sector. As specialists, academics are able to keep up with the intellectual developments that impact on cultural policy. They can dig deeper than those whose calendars are overrun with more immediate worldly concerns – keeping up with the latest theory and research is difficult for cultural managers, decision makers and bureaucrats.
Academics have another comparative advantage: their work is less tarnished by the possibility of political bias (or at least it should be!). With the rise of ‘evidence-based policymaking’, the perceived objectivity of academics is a precious asset in influencing policy and advocating the cultural agenda to government.
Greater academic engagement is all the more critical if, as Matarasso and Landry claim, cultural policy is ‘one of the most complex areas of modern government’. Engaging the highly specialised intellectual skills of academics is, I believe, as important as the three fundamental policy reforms that emerged from recent debate.
The cultural sector would do well to nuture its academic ‘brains trust’.
Though a rare species, Australasia’s cultural policy academics are world class. Sadly, however, they so often publish and ply their trade overseas, tailoring their work to an international audience. More opportunities to present their work at home would allow academics to engage more directly with Australasian policy and would encourage new researchers into the academy.
How to encourage the academy
So how do we encourage the cultural policy academy? Here are three ideas:
1. Improve domestic publishing opportunities
It’s no secret that publishing is the currency of academia, so the best way to encourage the cultural policy academy is to provide greater opportunities for academics to publish in reputable peer-reviewed journals.
The most obvious solution is to establish a new journal devoted to arts and cultural policy – a journal such as Culture and Policy. The journal’s success would depend on its ability to attract regular contributions from quality researchers. Signs are that enough good research is being undertaken across Australasia to do this. According to ArtsRippa, more than sixty cultural policy-related research projects were underway or planned in Australia in 2008. The response to the call for papers for the Australasian edition of Cultural Trends also revealed a pent-up demand for publication opportunities: so many submissions were received that the edition had to be published across two volumes (despite the call for papers only going out via a limited email shot). A collection of papers on New Zealand cultural policy recently filled up one edition of the Journal of Arts Management Law and Society.
An Australasian journal dedicated solely to cultural policy research may well be viable. But, if creating a whole new cultural policy journal is too daring, risky or expensive, another option is to work with existing journals. The obvious starting points are Media International Australia and the Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management, both of which include cultural policy within their editorial domains.
With an Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2010 ranking of ‘A’, Media International Australia is the pre-eminent Australasian journal in the field. Cultural policy articles have however been thin on the ground since the journal jettisoned Culture and Policy. Ways of reinforcing the cultural policy aspect of the journal’s editorial coverage are worth exploring.
The Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management has an ERA 2010 ranking of C. Ways could be explored to build on the journal’s policy content.
The table at the bottom of the page shows two rankings for cultural policy-related journals: one the ERA ranking; the other a ranking developed by Rentschler and Shilbury.
2. Establish a conference on cultural policy
A conference dedicated to cultural policy could stimulate academic work in the field. Conference presentations are an established step toward publishing, and conferences allow academics to network and forge partnerships with peers, non-academic researchers, policy makers and cultural sector decision makers. Because presentations require less rigour than peer reviewed articles, a conference would also encourage early career researchers.
A whole new conference need not be created – existing conferences could be approached for their interest in appending a policy module to their program, as happened at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festivals mentioned earlier.
The value of conferences is rarely obvious or immediate, but they work well in oiling the wheels of research. Better connections within the cultural policy research community would bring advances in research and theory that would be revealed down the track in better cultural policies.
3. Initiate a cultural policy research network
‘Not another network!’ I hear you shriek. Thanks to technology, networks are easy to set up. But that doesn’t make them any easier to maintain. Networks need energy and resources to succeed, and no network should be created unless it meets a real need.
If a need is identified, and if enough resources are dedicated to its coordination, a network could have powerful direct and indirect benefits for Australasian cultural policy research (the sorts of benefits documented in International networks and arts policy research). Done properly, an Australasian cultural policy research network could improve communication and connection within the research community and act as a useful open archive of intelligence on Australasian cultural policy.
The success of a network would rely heavily on attracting and engaging members, and especially ‘star’ academics. Academics tend not to be great online networkers, so any network would probably work best as an addition to a journal or a conference rather than as a standalone entity. Interestingly, this also works in the reverse: Rentschler and Shilbury find that a journal’s ranking benefits from a connection to an ‘academic/professional association’. A network would benefit from association with a journal, and a journal would benefit from the backing of a network.
These are just three ideas to encourage cultural policy academy. In each, costs can be kept to a minimum by utilising existing resources. With the right sequencing, foresight and cooperation, any of these proposals is viable.
The importance of cultural policy academics – and the wider cultural policy research community – should not be underestimated by the cultural sector. A more active academy can provide the intellectual muscle with which the sector can improve its advocacy and its engagement in the debate over cultural policy reform. This debate will be all the more important if the new Minister for the Arts intends to continue the cultural policy momentum that was building before the last election.
This article first appeared as Australasian cultural policies in ArtsHub, 18 February 2011.
|Rankings of Australian and international cultural policy journals|
Rentschler & Shilbury**
|Published in Australia|
|Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy||
|Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management||
|Published outside Australia|
|The International Journal of Cultural Policy||
|Journal of Cultural Economics||B||A|
|Cultural Trends||B||Not ranked|
|Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society||C||A|
|International Journal of Arts Management||C||A|
|* ERA = Excellence in Research for Australia** Rentschler & Shilbury (2008) Academic assessment of arts management journals: a multidimensional rating survey, International journal of arts management, Vol. 10(3); 60-71.|