Arts Minister Tara Cheyne has signalled a major new direction for the arts and creative industries in the ACT, positioning them as a key economic driver for the city’s future.
Her arts “ambition statement” was released late last week, coupled with ACT Budget announcements that include an additional $13 million in funding for artists, arts organisations and facilities.
But beyond the money, there is a broader vision as Canberra diversifies beyond its public sector economy. The intention is for the city to become Australia’s arts capital, creating a future where we attract and retain arts-based tourism, events, research and creative industries.
Ms Cheyne says it isn’t an arts policy – the existing one has been in place since 2015 – but rather the vision that will drive the policy.
“The theme from every single person in the sector is that we’re on the verge of something extraordinary in this city, so why don’t we set that common goal? Beyond that comes the policy and the arts funding model. Those are the vehicles or specific implementation plan about how to reach the destination,” she told Region Media.
There are three key planks to the ambition, arranged under ‘create, develop and promote’, with a belief that the city has sometimes failed to promote its local arts sector as effectively as possible.
Ms Cheyne denies that the ambition is more focused on business than practitioners but argues that a common goal is necessary across the sector. She’s also insistent that the lack of major project funding for the Canberra Theatre to date does not indicate that it’s stalled.
The Theatre has received a total of $4.5 million in budget funding, of which just under $3 million is destined for site investigation and planning.
The Theatre project is widely seen as a central plank in the city’s performing arts future and for the tourism, nighttime economy, hospitality and accommodation sectors. The government has promised construction will begin in 2024, proposing a city arts precinct, but at this stage, there’s little other detail available.
“This is a really big investment for the Canberra Theatre Centre … that is, I would hope, a real signal to everyone that we are getting on with this,” the Minister says.
“That work informs the business case and the broader precinct plans; it’s not a number to be sneezed at.”
Among the broader goals is a months-long arts expo, inspired by the World Expo 88 in Brisbane, showcasing the city as a major arts tourism destination. There are also plans to make Canberra a global City of Design, a proposal Craft ACT has campaigned on for some years.
There are smaller plans, too: hawker fees, for example, are being waived to encourage individuals and groups to perform or sell their wares. Permits will still be required, but the hope is that removing costs will also remove a barrier to street engagement.
Other modest changes include an increased emphasis on way-finding, so there’s significantly more awareness of Canberra’s arts facilities and centres. Part of the intention is to show tourists and locals that there’s more to the city’s arts scene than the national institutions.
“I wonder how many people drive to the Canberra Theatre for a production, have some time on their hands and know that the Canberra Museum and Gallery is right there?” Ms Cheyne says.
“I think we can do better at assisting people without costing a lot. We can remove barriers and make it more obvious how people can have the best arts experience possible as a resident or visitor.”
So can the new vision position the arts as a significant economic force in the community? Ms Cheyne says yes.
“The Chief Minister and I firmly believe the arts is a growth centre and growing it is a good thing for our collective wellbeing,” she says.
“From here, it’s about engaging across the sector now that we have a framework and the arts community does know best about what specific things we need to do that will drive us to get there.
“We’ve got it all here. If we have a common ambition, that will grow the sector. It will grow the sector and that will do great things for the economy, but great things for who we are as people too,” she says.