The Role of Community Arts Networks in Supporting Community Cultural Development in Australia – Sometimes Unfashionable but Always UsefulBy Lisa Philip-Harbutt Director, Community Arts Network, South Australia
Community Cultural Development Symposium 2012
September 18 2013
First I pay my respects to the traditional custodians of this land we meet on today. Next I pay my respects to the waves of travellers who have come to this small island and who have stayed. My final respects to all my peers within this room today with special note of thanks to Felicia who asked me to speak this morning.
I reckon to understand why I have been asked to come for a chat you need a glimpse into
- Who I am and why I do what I do
- Who I work for and how networks have and do work in Australia
- What the larger cultural context is in Australia and how cultural policy works for us.
So I have structured my chat around these 3 areas.
Now I am someone who hates power point but loves abstract video projection. I love loosing myself in the colour and movement, so this key note presentation has been divided into 3 sections of spoken word and video for you to watch and listen to. This is good for me as I get a bit shy sometimes and this way you can lose yourselves in the imagery whilst just listening to me. Saves you looking at me all the time and helps me stay on track. But I am not going to just do all of the work. During each video I would like you to have a question in your head and depending on time we may be able to have discussion based on some of your answers. Don’t worry there is definitely no right or wrong answers to these questions.
So the first question is…..
Who are you and what do you do?
As Artists and Arts workers, our work is sometimes isolating, so the second question is…..
what do you do to get and stay connected to other people?
The last question is…..
As citizens how do you influence your society’s decision makers in relation to arts and cultural development?
Video 1 who are you and what do you do?
So the first question is…..
who are you and what do you do?
When I walk into the front bar of a pub in outback Australia and lean onto the counter, someone I have never met before may ask “G’day, how you going? Wot do you do for a crust?” Translated this is a welcome, an expression of interest in interacting with me and request for information to place me within the known context of the speaker. For they want to know if I am friendly, well-adjusted and what I do for a living. I reckon it is a good example of the need for all of us to discover more about each other. Human beings seek interaction – it is a highly pleasurable thing and we also seek self understanding. Interaction with others allows us to both reinforce our own sense of self “they are just like me” and explore difference ”they are kind of different but I enjoyed talking to them anyway”.
I have learnt from years of working cross-culturally that a kind of formal introduction and openness to explain where you are from is crucial. For many indigenous peoples it gives an opportunity for them to locate you. To do this well, we must learn to open up and tell our stories.
So we start with my story- My name is Lisa Philip-Harbutt. My Mum lives on Eyre Peninsula in regional South Australia, out where the desert touches the sea, at the eye tooth of what they call the great Australian Bite. My father who passed away 3 years ago called it gods country. I live in Adelaide the Capital city of South Australia. My son also lives in Adelaide. It is an 8 hour drive between these two places. My daughter, son in law and new granddaughter live 12 hours away to the East of Adelaide in the state of Victoria. My last 5 years have been spent swinging back and forward between my children and my parents. One lot need me less while the other has needed me more. Luckily I love to travel so the 1,000’s of K’s I do is not a problem. I come from a long line of travellers but for the last 3 generations we have travelled the land of Australia. My ancestors have tended to travel by choice; they were not forced to leave their land. Many of us have never owned land or spent long periods of time in one place. I live and work in the city but much of my artwork is made in the desert country. What we in Australia call “the bush”.
At 5 years of age I apparently stated “I am an artist”. My prospector/miner parents said “well how about that, an artist.” hoping, I expect, that I would grow out of it. I spent the next 35 years exploring this notion of being an artist. I did not make that claim again however until about 13 years ago when I turned 40. In the years between other people (my parents included) saw me as a practising artist, but when the guy in the pub I described earlier asked me what I did “for a crust” I described the tasks I did to earn a living. So I answered “I design costumes and sets for theatre”, “I work with kids at risk making videos that tell their stories”, “I work with ex-offenders writing poetry etc”. I resisted naming my profession as I had never explored just one art form and did not always agree on the social definitions of art and to be honest was a bit disappointed in how society treated artists. In my early 40’s I added another art form to my toolbox- researching. I went back to Uni and undertook a Masters in Business by research writing a thesis on decision-making in the arts sector.
These days I am working as the Director of a small membership based arts organisation called Community Arts Network of South Australia. Ironically (since many of my tasks are now arts management) I now call myself an artist once again.
But this has occurred because I have been developing my own definitions of art. Now when asked the question What is art? I tend to answer “Art is a verb”. This tends to stop people in their tracks and think. Usually “what the bloody hell is she on about” but still it makes them think. For me art is an action word, it is not just about the artefacts that fall out of the process. In my practice these could be as diverse as performances, sculptures, videos, installations, poetry or a thesis- The art is the creative activity which occurred that allowed these artefacts to manifest.
But my wacky definition of art doesn’t always cut it with the community so I have developed a visual description of art too. I like to think of the shape of circle on a stick when I think of the function of the arts. For me this is the shape of Art…..
It is the shape of a hand held mirror. And Art often reflects back what is going on around us asking us to engage with it again.
The shape is also that of a magnification glass. This kind of art allows us to examine something up close in minute detail which we may not be able to do without the art.
And the shape is also the magical looking glass the thing that we look through and fantasize all sorts of possible futures.
The area in which I work has many different names…. But it matters less to me what we are called but matters more what we do and why we do it.
Community Arts, Community Cultural Development (which gets shortened to CCD), Participatory Arts, collaborative arts practice, even Political Art or Arts for Social Change. No matter what we are called all this work involves the collaborative creation of an artistic expression in which people are actively engaged in the process of contributing to their own culture.
At CAN SA, the term community cultural development (CCD) is commonly used for the philosophy that fosters an environment in which cultural democracy can occur. CCD values community expression through the arts as ways in which communities can:
- create a sense of place.
- affirm their values.
- assert their differences.
- communicate their aspirations
And what is Community Arts? Community Art is a name given to artistic expression of a community.
The word community is sometimes seen as a quaint, warm, fuzzy concept. Our need however, to perceive community, to experience community and belong in communities is essential to our systems of social organisation. It also supports our means of generating understandings. Here is a good quote By Adams & Goldbard:
Community describes a unit of social organization based on some distinguishing characteristic or affinity: proximity (‘the Cambridge community’), belief (‘the Jewish community’), ethnicity (‘the Latino community’), profession (‘the medical community’) or orientation (‘the gay community’). (Adams & Goldbard 2001, p.107)
The size of the community often determines however, the meaning of the term community. To use the Adams & Goldbardexample, members of the Cambridge community may, because of the sheer size of the geographic location, never have any contact with each other. They are called a community but may never function as one. The ‘Jewish doctors of Cambridge’ may however not only know each other but may function as a community of support or action. As may the Latino community or the Gay community.
The activeness or passiveness of the community can also transform the nature of that community. The people who live in Cambridge may through what is perceived as a threat or an opportunity join together to become a functioning community. It may be a highway planned to extend through their historic centre or the opportunity of having a large, new educational centre nearby. These events may cause discussion and debate but they will also encourage active participation in contemplation of the place of the individual within community and community within society.
Community Arts describes art produced within any of these communities and relating to that community’s view.
So these days I am fairly clear on my profession and the work I do but who knows what the future will bring. In 2037 when I zimmer frame up to the front bar, say g’day to the bloke next to me. I expect that my answer to the inevitable ‘crust’ question will still be “I am an artist and I often work with community”. And my hope is that this draws a smile of understanding.
Video 2 Community Arts Networks in Australia
As Artists and Arts workers, our work is sometimes isolating, what do you do to get and stay connected to other people?
I am here today to talk about Community Art Networks in Australia.
So we tackled definitions for Community and Art in the first video but what is a Network? My definition is… a complex interconnected web of things or people.
I have been the Director Community Arts Network of South Australia (CAN SA for short) for 9 years. So lets start with that network.
CAN SA was formed in the late 1970s and incorporated in July 1980 when a group of artists and arts workers met regularly sharing information, connecting with each other and undertaking skills development. It was the first of these networks in Australia. It was also a time of significant societal change. The effects of social movements such as feminism, the peace movement, anti-uranium movement, union movement, disability, multiculturalism, indigenous rights etc had permeated the cultural fabric. There was an expectation that all Australians had the right to access and participate in the arts and that this relationship was important to the development of a truly unique Australian culture.
CAN SA now has a dedicated team of staff members supporting communities to explore their own arts and cultural practices, networking and providing professional development training for and with organisations and freelance artists and arts workers. CAN SA’s members come from a wide range of backgrounds spanning Arts and Culture, Community Development, Disability, Health, Ageing, Youth and Justice. We have spent 32 years supporting the development of active community cultures though arts practice. Our philosophy is based on community cultural development which in academic terms demonstrates an exchange model of knowledge transfer. We see our work as participatory action research and have an iterative approach as demonstrated by our policy of continuous improvement.
CAN SA’s Vision is Invigorated Communities fuelled by arts practice.
Our Mission is to Lead in the development of community arts practices through strategic work with a diverse range of artists, organisations and communities.
And our Values include … Creativity, Collaboration, Pluralism, Active Citizenship and Social Inclusion.
Our Goals for 2013-15 are:
To stimulate community arts practices across a range of communities and sectors.
To advance the development of accessible professional development opportunities relevant to the sector.
To generate innovative Arts Programs with targeted communities.
To lead by modelling an agile and resilient organisation.
By the late 1980’s in Australia there was a Community Arts Network in every state of Australia and since then there were a few times when they have joined up as a national network. The National networks proved to be very useful when they were responding to the events of the day. The model of national networking was very different at different times and historically seems to be linked to where the money came from. At times they had been representational with funding from the National funders, with every state having a CAN or equivalent organisation involved. At other times they have been from the ground up, with like-minded organisations understanding the value of networking nationally and finding ways within their budgets to do so.
Given the vast distances in Australia getting together for face to face meetings is very expensive- both in EO time and plane fares etc. And yet face to face has proven the most effective way for a national network to keep on top of things. We have tried to video conferencing and the skyping but there is nothing like sitting down and eating a meal with someone to get you really connected. Technology does help it maintaining networks but travelling and experiencing each other’s cultures really does kick start and reinvigorate members of the network.
At our most effective, the national networks have rotated the location of the face to face meetings with members of the network hosting. We also overcame issues of equity with all costs being pooled and shared to ensure that smaller and/or more distant states where still able to attend. We saw the purpose of the national network was to
- share information and knowledge;
- provide representation and united responses to national issues affecting the ccd and community arts fields;
- contribute to national projects
- provide professional development opportunities and collegiate peer support between Network members
The National networks were also very useful as reference groups or advisory committees for National projects. 3 national projects that were run by CAN SA but that were advised by national network were:
- The graduate diploma in CCD. University accredited post graduate training
- Artwork Journal. Which documented the practice for 18 years and allowed critical debate to flourish
- Ccd.net an early website and portal for online discussion
All 3 of these successful projects are currently unfashionable and no longer attract support.
Both structural changes and changes in vision of the organisations has at different times complicated the commitment of state based organisations to national networking. Companies with limited or no national funding have always struggled to work nationally. And over the years even our federal funding also came with more and more strings attached.
Currently there are only 2 of the original CANs left in the Australia, and they happen to be the two oldest ones. There is a loose grouping of like-minded organisations from every state that includes CAN SA and CAN WA who connect and offer support to each other. And the National funding body Australia Council under their Community Partnerships Committee has just established a new National Sector Development Initiative with funding for national projects and national networking. But to start this intuitive they have had to make dramatic cuts in other areas. Most significantly for CAN SA the pool of funding we have been eligible for our core costs no longer exists.
For 32 years we have successfully initiated many new projects and programs, staying ahead of the fashionable and contributing across the boundaries of both community and arts sectors. Research from the Australia Council for the Arts (More than bums on seats – Australians are participating in the arts) states that nine out of every ten Australians aged over 15 made the arts part of their lives in the past year.
We should be rejoicing in these figures as a ‘job well done’ but instead we are feeling once again on shakey ground. But being over 30 years old we have proven that we are in it for the long haul and as such are once again rallying the troupes and ensuring we stay connected to the rest of the interconnected web that supports us. Like the rhizome plant we travel far and wide putting out the runners and ensuring that should CAN SA not manage to attract funding for next years the Community Arts plant will still continue to live on without us.
The Rhizome metaphor leads me to a new notion of network that I think is useful to consider here in Singapore. I call it Meshwork. It first popped up in the literature through International Development and Feminist thinking but in recent times it has appeared through web development and IT in relation to connecting and developing people to undertake develop of games etc.
My definition of Meshwork is a self-generating network. Unlike many networks it is not funded or imposed from above. But like the rhizome plants with meshworked organisaions sections of it can die off whilst other sections flourish.
Whilst CAN is not necessary seen as popular with funding bodies, we know we are useful so many of our strategies have been built so that the meshwork is strong. We:
- only work in partnership
- do things with people rather than for people
- our aim entering a new area of work is to “do ourselves out of the job” (exit strategies)
All of these catch cry’s demonstrate our commitment to empowering others so that if we are not around our legacy will continue. The future is in all our hands.
Video 3 Cultural Policy – for or by the people
The last question is…..
As citizens how do you influence your society’s decision makers in relation to arts and cultural development?
This video is called Cultural Policy – for or by the people?
In Australia many of us who work in the arts, always start an event with an acknowledgment of the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I have always done this. I did it today.
It seems particularly relevant in relation to this last section of what I am talking about so I thought I would pause for breath and have a go at explaining why.
In Australia before the arrival of European ‘whitefellas’ like me, the Aboriginal peoples spent over 40,000 years developing sustainable ways of existing in a sparse and fragile environment. Their cultural practices were based on the land they inhabited and Australia has a very wide variety of landscapes and climates. Sustainability called for quite formal approaches to living in harmony with the land. In many areas the lands fragility called for a nomadic existence. And with over 7 hundred different language groups there developed cultural mechanisms that guided ‘social behaviour’ that could be seen, although they had a very different form, as equally if not more effective as our modern cultural policy documents are today.
In Aboriginal societies language is not only seen as a form of communication but also as a method of harmonising with the land. The stories have to be told to maintain culture and law.
Now you may ask why I am starting with a history lesson from the land down under? Well more than a few atrocities occurred when whitefellas arrived in Australia and over the next two centuries, different government policies tried to obliviate all of the original Australian culture. It took a beating but it did not die- (luckily for us- for we are currently in need of a better understanding about the land that sustains us). I am not aboriginal but I am Australian and the first Australians have a lot of wisdom and knowledge and are willing (given the appropriate respect) to share their knowledge which allows the likes of me to be a good Australian in all senses of the word.
So an acknowledgment of country and the paying of respects is an introduction I undertake, as a small indicator to the people around me of my philosophy.
This leads me to this last section of my talk which is really about all of us- and the role we can play as citizens empowered to contribute to our nations cultural policy.
My body understand the word culture as something that illustrates what it is to be human and something that encourages me to really live my life. Adams and Goldbard state:
Culture in its broadest, anthropological sense includes all that is fabricated, endowed, designed, articulated, conceived or directed by human beings, as opposed by nature.
They reckon Culture includes both material elements such as buildings, artefacts and the like and immaterial ones like ideology, value systems, languages.
Humans have a need to interact, to use language . We are social animals built to walk lightly on this land. We have been achieving this with very mixed results and policy and planning are ways we endeavour to improve this.
Now Policy is a trickier word than culture for me but my current favourite from a dictionary is ‘a definite plan or a method of action’. I like the wideness of this definition of policy because it allows me to think both process and product. But we all know there is no either/or, yes /no simple answer in this discussion. We really know it is always both and a lot more too.
But when you put the two things together, culture and policy, for me it becomes
A method or plan that guide ways of living.
Which brings us to leadership and the role governments play in cultural policy.
Much of our current understanding of cultural policy is linked to the capitalist society in which we live. So most people think of policy guiding the distribution of arts funding. In Australia this happens at a national level through the Australia Council for the Arts. Aus Council prides itself on being arm’s length to government and its decisions on funding occur through peer assessment boards or committees.
Given my definition that policy can be either ‘a definite plan or method of action’; a scan of the literature would suggest that in relation to national cultural policy, we have tended to lean toward the active. The occasional grand statement has been bought forward by governments of all persuasions but they do seem to be shelved quickly. for the more ‘hands on approach’ of financial assistance through ‘arms length’ funding bodies.
In 2008 after 10 years of conservative government the new federal Labor Government led by Kevin Rudd included an arts and culture stream in its National 2020 Summit. The Summit brought together 1,000 participants from across the nation with the aim of harnessing the best ideas for building a 21st century Australia. One of the key ideas from that Summit which the Government agreed to consider further, was the need for a broader cultural policy framework. The last point in the then Arts ministers’ discussion framework reads:
“Australian culture is produced by its people. The role of government is not to directly shape culture but to enable all Australians – whatever their background, beliefs and abilities – to explore and nurture their creativity and draw on the wealth of our culture to enrich us all.”
Since that time we have had another federal election that ended with a hung parliament. And the Labor Party has eventually formed a minority government with support from a green and 2 independents allowing it to continue its leadership role. Now in this latest little political shakeup the arts minister Peter Garrett has lost the arts portfolio which highlights the point I have been working toward. That although politicians think they are in control they are sadly mistaken. If we remain beholden to the whims of elections, cultural development is slowed down. I prefer to encourage active citizenship and therefore active cultural policy development. My by the people model.
Each state and territory of Australia also has its own government and its own way of doing “arts policy”. They also have their own arts funding bodies that distribute money and support the development of state based culture. In South Australia where I am from Arts SA has a number of times decided to explore the idea of coming up with an arts (or cultural) policy. These explorations have never really come too much. The current State government’s policy framework is based on a state strategic plan. Arts and culture do not have a section of this plan. Some may think that this lessens the role of Arts SA but the head of this department Alexandra Reid thinks the reverse. She is of the opinion that it allows the arts to fit across the whole of the strategic plan, giving them a flexibility that could not happen otherwise.
At a local government level organisations like my own have spent over 30 years trying to encourage elected members to see the value of the arts. To do this effectively has called on the introduction of cultural policy documents. For in many cases this is the only way to get an arts and cultural worker and a budget line within local government. And although there is often a level of community consultation they are usually written by bureaucrats and endorsed by elected members. They are a ‘for the people model’.
So within Australia’s 3 tiers of government it really seems to be horses for courses. I am not totally negating the role of any of the 3 levels of government for in many ways they still hold firmly on the purse strings. But my ideal model of leadership comes from a very different time and place.
Chinese Taoist Philosopher Lao Tzu wrote around 600BC
“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say “We have done this ourselves”
And now to wrap this all up I put the case for acknowledging country as an illustration of Australian policy in motion. For the last 20 years Artists and arts workers have paid traditional aboriginal owners to welcome strangers to country in a culturally appropriate way at the beginning of our arts event. And when this is not possible we have done the formal introduction of acknowledging country and the traditional owners ourselves. In the early years audiences were curious, some dismissive and a few hostile but over the years the acceptance has grown. And now politicians have come to realise the power in the act – At the opening of our latest federal Parliament, the new Prime Minister Julia Gillard added a welcome to country and a smoking ceremony by the local aboriginal people to the opening of Parliament. The beginning of a new tradition whereby artists representing “the people” have influenced social behaviour of our leaders. It is an example of good policy from the bottom up. An example of Cultural Policy by the people!
I hope this traveller has bought stories from over the sea that have left you thinking about the ways you can get active and get on with contributing to social change.