We would like to acknowledge the Jagera and Turrbul peoples the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet. We would also like to pay our respects to Elders past, present and future.
On Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 March 2018 Arts Front brought together 40 leading artists, policymakers, academics and rights advocates from across the country for the Arts Front Rights Symposium.
Over two days at the Brisbane Powerhouse the attendees worked on the development of an Arts Front 2030 Visioning Framework. We took a hands on approach interrogating a suite of international rights agreements to which Australia is a signatory, and unpacking what they mean in practical terms for the task of developing a framework for a shared vision for the future of arts and culture in Australia.
The focus on Day 1 was on sharing the specialist knowledge and experience in the group, whilst Day 2 was about collectively applying that knowledge to shape our shared visioning framework for 2030.
Our goal was to contribute to the development of a rights framework for arts and cultural policy in Australia that we can share with the broader Arts Front membership and other key partners and stakeholders for their input and feedback.
This included work on the development of a Rights Tree to help visualise the interconnectedness and core values underpinning the work.
Why a rights-based approach?
The idea of using international right agreements as a point of reference in developing a framework for our shared vision for the future came from Arts Front First Nations leader, Bob Weatherall:
“If we adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous People they can be the guiding principles that governments and anybody else should adhere to when drafting policies or legislation in regards to Aboriginal people”
As part of its commitment to First Peoples First, Arts Front is adopting the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People as its starting point in developing a shared arts and cultural framework.
The aim in referencing international rights-based agreements in this work is to help us create a new, shared, artist-led framing for arts and cultural policy in Australia that reflects international benchmarks and is independent of partisan politics. This approach helps identify and distil the fundamental elements of national cultural framework and shared vision for the future - the things that are non-negotiable for all of us, regardless who is in power. Given the politicisation of the arts and the axing of our most recent national cultural policy, Creative Australia, just months after a change federal government, this is of critical importance to the future sustainability of arts and culture in Australia.
Australian Cultural Compact - a key outcome from the Symposium was the decision to develop a rights-based Australian Cultural Compact. The Compact sets out shared principles and agreed actions to re-invent culture and the arts in Australia by 2030. A working group was established to lead the creation of a draft to be released publicly in 2019 for comment, feedback, revising and reshaping by the whole sector and broader community.
For Australia to fulfill its potential as a nation culture and arts needs to move in from the margins to take on leadership roles. Under the Compact artists and cultural leaders will agree to strengthen relationships and build true solidarity. It calls on artists and cultural leaders to stand together, take ownership and responsibility for the future of the arts and the country, and lead change through our day to day actions.
The Compact is a response to the national policy void and the failure of our political and legal systems, our corporations and institutions to provide leadership and create the society in which we want to live. It aims to provide the cultural and arts sectors with a shared framework to connect and coordinate in addressing national watershed issues through collective action (treaty with First Nations, climate change, refugees, diversity, equality etc).
The Compact represents a radical repositioning of culture and the arts in Australia. It rejects the marginal status of culture and the arts, reimagining it at the centre of everything we do as individuals, as communities and as a country. The Compact rejects the predominantly economic criteria for measuring the value of culture and arts. It seeks to reclaim culture and arts as fundamental to part of how we live our lives, adopting the definitions and understanding of culture and the arts demonstrated by Australia’s First Nations cultures.
Parallel to the development of the Compact, we will begin work on an Arts Front Ten Year plan (2020 - 2030) outlining the practical things we can all do to achieve the shared visions for the future. Feral Arts will host a national Arts Front gathering in mid-2020 for sector representatives, partners and stakeholders to finalise and sign off on the Compact and contribute to the ten year plan.
The concept of a rights-based approach has generated a lot of interest and support from a wide range of people. But our conversations in the lead up to the Symposium have also shown that whilst interest is high, the level of knowledge of our rights and responsibilities under these agreements is comparatively low. One of our opportunities, starting at the Symposium, is to help build the awareness and understanding of our rights across the arts sector and broader community.
In adopting a rights-based approach the Symposium also aims to bring leading advocacy voices from diverse parts of the arts sector together on a level playing field to work on shared values and a shared platform for whole of sector advocacy. It is forum for us to explore the interconnections in our work and to build relationships to strengthen our presence and identity.
First Peoples First
The decision for First Peoples culture and arts to be the underpinning of the emerging framework is based on an understanding that any viable or legitimate future arts and cultural policy must have first peoples culture and arts as its basis and foundation.
This positioning of First Peoples arts and culture as inextricably tied to a recognition of the unresolved status of the place in which we live. It is an acknowledgement that ownership of Australia has never been ceded by its First Peoples and that 230 years after occupation by the English, no treaties or agreements have been negotiated.
It connects the work of the Symposium (and Arts Front more broadly) with moves towards treaty / treaties currently being progressed by First Nations leaders across the country. It asks some questions of the role of the arts sector in support of this work.
The Rights Tree
The Rights Tree is being developed as a way to visually explain key elements of concepts and ideas underpinning the Arts Front framework. The root system and tree trunk represent First Peoples arts and culture and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Each of the branches represent different parts of the arts sector and the various international rights frameworks that relate to them.
These key concepts and principles include:
- First Peoples First - First Peoples culture and arts is foundation supporting all arts and cultural practice in Australia
- Evolving - the root system is large, diverse and like the tree is growing all the time.
- Interconnected - that all parts of the arts sector (and associated rights agreements) are connected and part of a larger framework and shared vision - damaging any part of the tree effects - part of the ecology of healthy arts sector and broader community.
Status and Role of the Arts
The Symposium continued Arts Front’s investigation into the status and role of arts in the wider community. Despite positive signs in terms of arts participation data one of the very strong and consistent themes emerging from the first year of the Arts Front project has been a belief amongst artists across the country that, on the whole, the arts sector has a marginal status in the broader community. We all have examples in our own practice of the arts being left out of conversations that we should automatically be included in. The current Federal government leaving arts and culture out its innovation agenda in 2016 is an example. The arts is still not being ‘invited to the table’ and there are a lot of artists across the country who want this changed. How can the framework being developed through the Symposium help address this challenge?
Status of the arts is not just a problem in Australia. Many of you will be aware of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda - the 17 goals identified by the UN to achieve a sustainable global development – coincidentally (and conveniently) also by the year 2030. Arts and culture is a glaring omission from the sustainability goals and we will take a little time to explore the backstory to this situation. Can Arts Front and the Australian arts sector lead/contribute to advocacy to add an 18th goal to the UN’s SDG’s?
The Symposium will also begin to work on how to connect and embed the emerging shared framework for the future of arts and culture into the political culture of our major parties and arts institutions. We will do some work together on strategies to bring other key people into the conversation.
For example, we can take some consider whether this Parliamentary Committee could provide a non-partisan mechanism for introducing the work to the political parties and the parliament.