Australia’s National Cultural Policy – a new hope

The launch of the National Cultural Policy on Monday by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister Tony Burke provides a much overdue glimmer of hope for those of us working in the arts and culture sectors, a hope that we will once again feel useful and an integral part of the Australian workforce and zeitgeist.

The policy triggers hope that First Nations people will be at the aspirational heart of our cultural landscape. So much has been done in the past 5 years to develop and showcase new indigenous talent, but this sharp focus could cement an originality to our artistic expression that redefines what it truly means to live in and on this land.

The policy also aims to frame ‘artists as workers’ and the new Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces could well address many of the stark inequities and insecurities artists experience in their day to day lives. I hope that the establishment of Writers Australia and Music Australia will provide incentive for a much greater proportion of our artists to be creative, by offering new pathways, new audiences and much overdue equitable remuneration for the commercial use of their work.

The integration of government, philanthropic AND commercial sectors of funding is one of the most interesting parts of the new proposal. Popular music is no longer the dominant force in commercial music it once was. There was a time when popular music was almost excluded from funding that came from government through the Australia Council for the Arts. It was seen as a self-sufficient industry, supported by the record companies and publishers who reaped great rewards from investing in their own particular artists and songwriters.

But for every signed or ‘featured’ artist, there are 10s if not 100s of others doing extraordinary artistic work, telling their stories and recording innovative new music. It’s a long way to the top if you’re a signed artist, let alone someone on the other side of the fence, a ‘nobody’ who must remain a nobody lest any of the commercial spoils and dividends be steered away from the rich coffers of the established commercial institutions.

And then there are the musicians who support and ‘work for’ the featured performers. Skilled and experienced players and singers, who have been so poorly represented in Australia for decades. Some would call them session musicians, non-featured performers or hired-guns, but essentially they are expert freelancers, going from job-to-job (if they are lucky), representing themselves within an industry that skews so much of the negotiating power to the heavy-hitters and larger companies.

It is my hope that the framing of artists as workers in the new cultural policy will include, if not place a spotlight on these hidden musicians who create so much of the music we listen to every day. The establishment of Creative Australia can offer all musicians the hope that they will be cared for, nourished and granted opportunities to be the best artists they can be. There is much to do, but where there a flicker of hope, there is always the chance that Australia will become no only a better place to be an artist, but a better place – full stop.

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