Professor Kay Ferres

Griffith University

Kay FerresKay Ferres is a professor of cultural history in the School of Humanities, Griffith University. She is the author, with David Adair, Who profits from the arts? Taking the measure of culture in Australia. Sydney: Currency House, 2007. In 2007-2009, she undertook a review of international work in the development of cultural indicators for the Cultural Ministers Council. A report, Vital Signs: A Cultural Indicators Framework for Australia, was presented to the CMC in 2010. ‘Cultural indicators: assessing the state of the arts in Australia’ with David Adair and Ronda Jones, appeared in Cultural trends Volume 19.4, 2010.

Arts+: cultural value and cultural policy

In his essay ‘Culture and Canberra’ published in Meanjin Papers in 1946, the cultural commentator A.A. Phillips considered how government could usefully support ‘a quickening of cultural activity’. Remembered now for coining the phrase, ‘the cultural cringe’, at the time Phillips was anticipating the end of ‘empire citizenship’ and the creation of a new Australian citizenship. Phillips’ vision was to ‘elevate the People to the role of Patron of the Arts’, but he sounded a note of caution about government intervention: ‘administration must have its rule-of- thumb standards of measurement; culture must be qualitatively estimated, it cannot be submitted to the discipline of the yardstick’. Against the ‘inevitable rigidities’ of state administration, Phillips argued that cultural organisation needs ‘a delicate flexibility’. However, he was clear about the achievement that could be ‘qualitatively estimates’: it was ‘progress in the art of being unselfconsciously ourselves’.

More than sixty years after the passage of the Nationality and Citizenship Act in 1948, Arts Minister Simon Crean released a Discussion Paper, National Cultural Policy, for public comment in 2011. Its aspiration is to ‘position the arts to play an important role in driving innovation across the nation and contributing to productivity’. ‘A creative nation’, it declares, ‘is a more productive nation’. The paper imagines a policy that encompasses the core arts, creative industries and cultural heritage. Responding to the paper in the Australian, Lindy Hume commented: ‘The bureaucrats may draft this policy, but only Australia’s artists can animate it’ (October 21, 2011).

This paper asks: what is the dividend that the arts are assumed to deliver, and how have shifting assumptions about cultural value shaped cultural policy? Does the innovation framework offer opportunities for the arts to demonstrate that they animate and vitalise Australian public life? It develops its answers through case studies of two cultural organisations: Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. In returning to the legacy of A.A. Phillips’ work, I want to build on his critique and draw on the democratic impulse that underpinned his ambition for the arts in Australia to consider how citizenship currently figures in the measurement of culture.



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