Why the “coolest little capital” needs greater participation in the arts

Kim Fischer 19 April 2016 11


Canberra has some of the best seasonal vistas and panoramic landscapes of any city in Australia, as well as a highly educated community, a progressive culture and an enjoyable, accessible lifestyle.

We are fortunate to have some of the best cultural institutions in the country with places like the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, with incredible exhibitions.

However, I think that many Australians are often reluctant to dabble in artistic pursuits.

When I went on a holiday to London many years ago, I was struck by the number of people who had set up an easel to paint what they saw. The act of painting was simply and purely done for joy on a beautiful summer’s day. I can’t understand why it doesn’t happen more here in Canberra.

My best guess is that we are afraid of showing our lack of skill. But “art” isn’t something only professional artists and talented amateurs should produce. Creative expression, no matter what your skill level, is a great way to unwind and relax. Recently we have seen an explosion in the popularity of adult colouring books, another great example of art done for pure enjoyment.

The new ACT government arts policy emphasises the importance of both participation in art as a fun and enriching activity, and providing pathways and support for those who want to do art activities professionally.

A cornerstone of the policy is the ACT artist residencies program which sponsors interstate and international artists to come and live in Canberra. While here resident artists collaborate with local artists and engage with the local community through exhibitions, courses and workshops.

While this has been a worthwhile program with some great results, I am more interested in how we can introduce artistic pursuits to people who have been reluctant to try them.

There’s certainly no shortage of traditional opportunities. The ACT boasts 16 artsACT facilities containing a variety of general-purpose and specialist facilities where people can join in arts workshops and view exhibitions. Whether you are learning how to operate a wood-fired kiln at Strathnairn, taking your kids to the youth drama programs at Gorman Arts Centre, or learning photography at PhotoAccess in Manuka, there is lots to choose from.

Town centre facilities such as the Belconnen Arts Centre and Tuggeranong Arts Centre are a crucial part of building a community arts focus as well. They also try hard to get the broader community involved in the arts. For example, the upcoming Hidden Treasures exhibition at the Belconnen Arts Centre is being billed as a “community exhibition” with artworks being sought from people “at any stage of their creative practice”.

However, nearly all of these workshops and activities are happening within the space of the arts centres. This is a missed opportunity for engaging the broader community. These dedicated arts spaces can be a headquarters for art, but they should also be making it easy for people to take art projects home, and to do art anywhere.

Resources like directories of local artists who teach others, bands seeking members, instructions to learn artforms, and “how to” YouTube videos, could all be made available by the Arts Centres. Staff at the centres should see their role as both educational and inspirational.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has made no secret of his ambition to see Canberra recognised as the “coolest little capital”. Part of that is that Canberra could become kind of an “artists’ colony”, where you walk around and everyone is engaged in some sort of creative pursuit.

What can Canberra do to introduce artistic pursuits to those who don’t consider themselves artists? And does it matter?

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11 Responses to Why the “coolest little capital” needs greater participation in the arts
watto23 watto23 11:59 am 04 Aug 15

“Coolest Little Capital” makes more sense as a number plate slogan than some of the other tripe they’ve come up with.

Kim Fischer Kim Fischer 11:57 pm 03 Aug 15

All kinds of artistic pursuits are great and should be encouraged whether we are talking about street art, digital media, or designing iPhone games.

The arts centres are effective at serving the arts community subculture. However, I think they should be more outward looking and better support artistic pursuits by individuals outside the traditional arts community.

vintage123 vintage123 11:48 pm 03 Aug 15

Masquara said :

vintage123 said :

I did one of those modern interperative dance things in my longe room the other day. Does that count?

Yes, so long as it was in postcode 2601 …


Masquara Masquara 8:09 pm 03 Aug 15

vintage123 said :

I did one of those modern interperative dance things in my longe room the other day. Does that count?

Yes, so long as it was in postcode 2601 …

vintage123 vintage123 6:39 pm 03 Aug 15

I did one of those modern interperative dance things in my longe room the other day. Does that count?

astrojax astrojax 6:32 pm 03 Aug 15

yeah, so not everyone paints landscapes. my experience is that a great deal of the canberra folk i know do something artistic, and with great sincerity. it might not be public, but it is pursued. writing, photography, drawing, cooking, knitting, music, all sorts of creative endeavours…

Barrry Barrry 5:41 pm 03 Aug 15

Expecting the government to do it for you is the opposite of the mentality needed to create a community like the one you are talking about.

Evilomlap Evilomlap 2:14 pm 03 Aug 15

We could start by embracing street art more. We have a few designated legal spots but even those are shunned once developers move in. Take the Woden aqueducts for example. As soon as the new apartments moved in across from the town centre they painted over most of it with a bland, generic green tree design. A street artist I knew, born and raised in Canberra, ended up moving to Melbourne to avoid his stuff being painted over two hours after he’d put it up. He is now an internationally-recognised artist whose work has been shown in galleries in Sydney, London, and New York, yet in every bio I read of him now he’s referred to as being “from Melbourne”. If we do not embrace artists, we lose them. It’s that simple.

Paul Costigan Paul Costigan 2:10 pm 03 Aug 15

Dear Kim

I agree with your thoughts on people participating in the arts – creating their own.

There is a link between what you talk about in your post and what locals in and around Dickson are trying to achieve, against the wishes of the LDA, for the site known as The Dickson Parklands (section 72).

At the moment there are few in this government (all sides of politics) that seem to appreciate or actively promote the value of local community cultural development and participation in local arts.

Good to see your thoughts on this.

Matt Watts Matt Watts 10:18 am 03 Aug 15

If you want there to be greater community participation, why not do something about it? An article on The RiotACT will only get you so far.

The other thing to consider is that many people do participate in artistic pursuits outside the Tuggers and Belco arts centres; there is more to art than the traditional easel. We don’t need to see it for it to exist.

Dame Canberra Dame Canberra 10:12 am 03 Aug 15

One of my favourite things about Floriade is the painters who always set up down near the lake. That’s local creative expression I can absolutely get behind.

Like many, I’m a bit wary of doing art in public because of a serious lack of skill. I’m happy sticking to my meditation colouring in books at home (people laugh, but it’s very therapeutic).

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