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Supporting culture when everyone's on YouTube

By Stuart Cunningham


There are young Australians who are already making a name (and money) for themselves in the latest market for creative content – and it didn’t exist a moment ago. YouTube is a huge repository of amateur content, but it is also rapidly evolving into a site that has legally contracted Hollywood movies and TV shows but is working out ways to share revenues from advertising with gifted and committed amateurs whose creativity attracts a big following. Can government play a role in assisting Australian creative talent to catch some of dynamism of emerging markets for culture? Peter Garrett’s call to develop a National Cultural Policy could be an important opportunity to take innovation to the next stage in this country. The deadline for formal submissions closed yesterday. Most submissions want more recognition, and funding, for the arts. We think this is a great time to close the gap between innovation and cultural policy. 2008 and 2009 were the years for bringing Australian innovation policy into the twenty-first century with the Cutler innovation review, Venturous Australia, and the government’s major policy package Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century. These laid a necessary, but not sufficient, platform for attention to the role culture and creative sector play in innovation. In a recent presentation to the Museum of Victoria, Innovation review chair Dr Terry Cutler pointed to “lots of areas of under-emphasis in the innovation agenda” in addressing the relationship between innovation and a national cultural policy. For decades cultural policy has been stuck between two poles – one arguing that the market has failed, so governments must subsidise culture; the other arguing that government cultural subsidies also fail and the public should be allowed to choose its own culture. There is a middle way that takes full advantage of Australia’s strengths in culture and creativity, on the one hand, and innovation and market dynamism on the other. If the debate is going to another be left-versus-right squabble, fought out on the grounds of ‘market failure’ versus ‘government failure’, the timely national debate that the Minister urges is likely to degenerate into another theatre of the culture wars. That would be a wasted opportunity, because we can “grow the pie” - connect creative talent to growing markets for culture and innovation, and shift the debate toward stimulating and supporting emerging markets. The principles proposed by Minister Garrett to frame a National Cultural Policy – “keeping culture strong”, “engaging the community”, and “powering the young” –offer plenty to build on. Keeping culture strong resonates strongly with the Minister’s commitments to indigenous culture. Indeed, the way in which government interacts with the Indigenous art market could be regarded as a template for government’s role in growing the market for culture. Government has played an important role in stabilising the international and national market for Australia’s premium cultural export – Indigenous art. This has been a “cowboy capitalism” market – roistering, robust but uncontrolled, inequitable, distorted and ultimately corrupt. Government has made a number of necessary regulatory interventions which have had to be carefully structured, culturally appropriate, and market-specific. It has sought to support key points of wholesale and retail as much as points of production and it has focused on supporting the growth of markets through export. Engaging the community means producing work which is not only relevant but also attracts new audiences. “Audience development” has for long been a mantra for arts funding and advocacy bodies. But this can also mean new market growth. For example, the social network market that has grown around YouTube and other large social networking sites has created the conditions for cultural producers to develop revenue-sharing strategies as well as “broadcast themselves”. Those who were once ordinary vloggers (video bloggers) are organising themselves into production teams as they expand the business side of social networking. This fits hand-in-glove with the third theme, powering the young. This is where the Minister’s framework comes closest to the link with innovation. Linking his thinking to the recent Cutler review of the National Innovation System, he speaks of “creativity for wider consumption”, “new opportunities for experimentation and exhibition”, and “direct funding for individuals whose creative activity pushes the boundaries to new knowledge and ways of doing things – analogous to the public funding provided to scientists and academics for their research”. Stuart Cunningham is Director at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) at Queensland University of Technology. He co-authored this piece with Jason Potts, a Principal Research Fellow at the CCI. Their submission can be found as No.54 on the National Cultural Policy website here.   This article was first published on The Punch   Image: Natalie Tran on YouTub

Publisher: The Punch
Year: 2010
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