New artistic directions and traditions

It’s been a tradition for my son and I, like so many South Australian families, to wander the Garden of Unearthly Delights during the annual festivities colloquially known as Mad March. Adelaide’s arts and culture scene is abuzz with activity, showcasing the world’s best and brightest in entertainment.

I’m heartbroken this year as my son has outgrown our tradition and opted to go with friends instead. His ‘graduation’ broadens my options to attend different shows I wouldn’t have usually seen, but it does mean I have to establish new traditions. Thankfully, the organisers continue to do such a great job at offering something for every age and varying tastes, whether it’s the Fringe, Adelaide Festival and Writers’ Week, WOMADelaide or Superloop Adelaide 500. It’s no wonder South Australia’s festivals are renowned.

The sector is a significant economic lever, employing more than 16,000 people, and its contribution towards education and the preservation of history should not be underestimated.

For every $1 invested by the state government - live music brings in $3 to the state, festivals bring in $5 and film brings in $10. The gross economic impact is $88.4 million in ticket sales and revenue. Annually, there are 9 million arts attendances state wide – South Australians undoubtedly love and appreciate the arts.

Personally, my appreciation lies in literature, I’m a voracious reader of novels. During my university years in England, I developed a passion for Shakespeare and enjoyed many productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I’m not much of a moviegoer but I do enjoy figurative art and have frequented many galleries amongst my travels. I think arts education is really important, and agree that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) should broaden to include art and become STEAM!

Amongst my responsibilities is Arts South Australia, the state’s subject matter experts on the arts and culture industry. Last year, we refocussed Arts South Australia’s role to its original purpose: to be the keeper of arts policy and the arbiter of grants.

My current focus is the development of a new Arts Plan that will articulate the government’s direction for the next five years. Independent consultants have been appointed and they are carrying out a situational analysis informed by other jurisdictions and are re-assessing our priorities to determine where we need to focus our limited resources.

Naturally, we need to consult and work with industry and audiences, so the consultants are seeking input from all South Australians, in a variety of ways. Online contributions can be made via YourSAy until 31 May 2019, and I would encourage you to share your views.

One of my observations – or rather an area of curiosity – is about the state’s collections. Our institutions have a lot of their collections in storage and I wonder if there are ways we can improve access to these assets, especially given that institutions typically display only about 3 per cent of their collections at any one time. Could there be opportunities to do things differently and display more of this wealth of cultural material in less conventional ways?

I’ve also observed opportunities for better synergy between our institutions in areas such as scheduling, communications and promotional costs. In fiscally restrained times, we have added challenges to address such as the availability of large scale venue infrastructure, declining sponsorship opportunities and the enduring challenge to make access and attendance affordable for audiences. Artists may need to find more revenue streams and leverage emerging technologies to make their art forms more commercially viable.

I expect some of these challenges to be addressed in the Arts Plan, noting that arts and culture encompasses a broad range of activities and industries that may not be top-of-mind.

Demonstrating the diversity of our emerging talents is a burgeoning animation and post-production film industry that has attracted international attention. There’s a nexus between technology and creative industries in growing areas such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence. This is readily apparent at Lot Fourteen, the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site which is emerging as Australia’s first creation and innovation neighbourhood. This site is all about collaboration, nurturing talent and creating jobs in some of the fastest-growing industries.

I’m excited by the prospect of an Australian National Aboriginal Art and Culture Gallery at Lot Fourteen, to showcase the state’s immense collection of Aboriginal art and cultural material. Lot Fourteen is offering a landing pad for businesses to get started, including a concierge service that can help them set-up and network. I hope the scale-ups and start-ups will begin here and as they grow, will branch out across the state.

As government, we play a key role in making the state an attractive place to setup new ventures – creative or otherwise – and Lot Fourteen is the tip of this iceberg. Initiatives such as this also help the state retain its university graduates. We want to create opportunities across all industries and attract more skilled migrants to the state. Another example is our partnership with the Federal Government in trialling a new Entrepreneur Visa to attract business incubators.

Once the Arts Plan is completed in June 2019, we may have some big decisions to make. It’s my opinion that we’ve previously had an adhoc approach and this is our opportunity to make more conscious and strategic choices. I feel that we may need to reconsider the activities we invest in and deliver fewer things better instead of spreading our resources too thinly.

Whatever we decide, it will have considered and included community and expert input to guide the South Australian Government’s investment. Ultimately, we want to create a successful and sustainable ecosystem for the arts and creative industries.

Soon we’ll be able to pinpoint our destination, and I’m looking forward to seeing the route we’ll take to get there. We’re doing well but we can always strive to do better.

Jim McDowell
Chief Executive