COMMITTEE FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OF
SOUTH AUSTRALIA/NT BRANCH
AND THE ARTS
Arts: Genesis and Frontier of Innovation)
29 APRIL 2016
Hamilton Calder, fellow panellists,
colleagues from the Australia Council, artists and arts leaders, ladies and
acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Kaurna
people, and pay respect to elders past, present and emerging.
Thank you for inviting me. This
is the fourth time and the third city in which I have spoken as Chair of the
Australia Council at a CEDA event and I appreciate the privilege of doing so.
I have been imagining how Steve
Jobs might have addressed this topic, Innovation and the Arts. He might have shared with you how he studied
calligraphy at university in Portland, Oregon, after having noticed how
beautifully handwritten every poster was throughout the campus.
He acknowledged later in his
life that calligraphy taught him about typefaces, varying amounts of space
between different letter combinations and great typography. In a recent obituary[i]
of his calligraphy teacher, Jobs is quoted as recalling about the art form:
It was beautiful, historical,
artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it
fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my
life, but ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer,
it all came back to me. It was the first
computer with beautiful typography. If I
had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never
had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.
He might also have referenced
other key artistic influences in his life that contributed to products brimming
with imagination, beautifully designed, elegantly packaged and creatively
marketed, and made with materials, colours and operating systems all requiring
It is the intersection of the
arts and innovation that is at the heart of the products that Jobs produced and
a key to his and to Apple’s success.
That intersection is the focus of these remarks. The topic gives license to speak about the
role of the arts as both the genesis and frontier of innovation.
The arts embrace broad expressions of human creative skill
and imagination, practices, traditions and disciplines typically producing works such as
painting, music, literature and dance, amongst much else, to be appreciated
primarily for their emotional power.
While innovation is commonly
perceived as a technology-driven phenomenon, it is in fact present in all forms
of human endeavour, be that in science, medicine, social development, the
environment, or the arts. It is important to every sector of the economy and
every part of our social fabric.
Innovation certainly leads to
the creation of new products, processes and business models. Equally,
innovation expands our understanding of the human condition, furthering our
insights into cultural systems and values, and understanding who we are as a
people and a nation. It is a concept that, in one form or another, has endured
Australia was a land of innovation long before
the arrival of the first Europeans. The way in which the First Australians
adapted and re-adapted to the challenges and conditions of this continent is
testament to their inventiveness. Innovation is not commonly part of the
historical narrative about our Indigenous peoples, yet the evidence of their
initiatives is clear.
The inventiveness of the boomerang, the woomera
and the yidaki (also known as the didgeridoo) are but a few of the more obvious
examples. However, it goes much further.
In his 2014 book, Dark Emu[ii],
Bruce Pascoe, one of our many great Indigenous writers, uses direct quotes and
drawings from the diaries of early English and Scottish arrivals as evidence
that Aboriginal people had a sophisticated understanding of agriculture, aquaculture,
engineering and physics as demonstrated through innovative land and water
farming techniques, housing constructions and the materials used to create
effective tools and weapons. Many of these were inextricably linked to the centrality
in their communities of cultural and artistic traditions.
An embodiment of this linkage between science
and art is your very own son of South Australia, David Unaipon, commemorated on our fifty-dollar note. A Ngarrindjeri
man, Unaipon worked in a seamless manner across the fields of philosophy,
science, literature and music. His scientific works and inventions included in
1909 an improved and patented hand-piece for sheep shearing and, in 1914, he anticipated
the idea of the helicopter, applying the principles of the boomerang.
In his 2014
Quarterly essay, A Rightful Place, Noel Pearson wrote that to grow socially and
economically, people should hold hard to four things: Identity, territorial
lands, language and culture. He wrote of
the importance of respecting memory, tradition, rituals and values as preconditions
for change and innovation and that we risk being a‘smaller nation, with a smaller sense of our
own possibilities’, if we don’t place
our culture at the centre of what we do.[iii]
This is a great time to be
having a conversation about innovation. In December last year the Prime
Minister launched the National Science and Innovation Agenda – or, as he put it
at the time, he ushered in the ideas boom, arguing that, with the mining boom
receding, the purpose of the innovation agenda is to “help create the modern,
dynamic, 21st-century economy Australia needs” by providing
incentives for and rewarding innovation, entrepreneurship and risk-taking.
There is a rich conversation still to be had
about the connections between the arts and community, technology and
innovation. These are the connections that are shaping the way we’re now
thinking about national prosperity, gross domestic product, national income and
There is a growing
momentum around the world to give the arts a stronger role in addressing the
major global issues of our times, issues like sustainability, social justice, development,
citizen engagement, identity, global recessions, digitisation, and large-waves
While the spotlight on
innovation is welcomed by the arts sector, we are keen to see the policy unfold
to recognise the critical interface between science and the arts, linked as
they are by the common threads of creativity and invention. We in the arts are
conscious of the public perception that science equals investment and arts
equals subsidy. This is a stereotyping that we are working with significant
focus to disperse, both in rhetoric and in reality.
At the time of the Innovation
Agenda launch, some members of the arts community expressed some dismay at such
a detailed agenda for innovation being promoted without reference to the arts.
There was some relief when, in February the Federal Arts Minister, the Hon
Mitch Fifield responded by assuring the sector that he sees the arts as very
much part of the innovation agenda and that the Agenda in its current form is
“the first word, not the last word, on innovation”.
has a theme that reverberates in other parts of the world. Recently, Canada’s
Liberal government announced that it would invest nearly $1.9 billion ($1.4B
USD) over a five-year period in various cultural industries. The 2016 Budget reads:
Our cultural industries represent a key sector
of our economy and the intersection of art, science and technology offers
infinite opportunities to innovate and problem solve. Investing in the Canadian cultural sector
helps to create jobs, strengthens the economy and ensures that the unique
Canadian perspective is shared with the world."
The Australian Government’s Innovation
Agenda aims to “drive smart ideas that create business growth, local jobs and
global success” with increasing
value being placed on the “development of ideas, collaborative thinking, and
innovative solutions to complex problems”.
These are core skills honed and refined in pursuing arts subjects, as
well as science subjects. Here we find the intersection of science
and the arts, with innovation.
The Agenda is framed around
four key pillars: capital and culture, collaboration,
Government as an exemplar and talent and skills. More simply put, that is backing our
entrepreneurs, working together, leading by example, and developing talent.
The arts happen to be very good
at the development and expansion of those skills for a broader application.
The Australia Council has a history and tradition of investing in social entrepreneurs
through a range of funding arrangements over many decades. One of the most
important and sustained of those in which we invest is the Synapse program, undertaken
as a partnership with the Australian Network of Arts and Technology based here
in Adelaide. Synapse includes a residency program in which artists are placed
in science organisations and collaborate with scientists for a period of time. For
the past 14 years, the partnership has been a catalyst for experimentation
across art, science and technology. The program is unique in offering intense
periods of research and creative exchange between professionals that can lead
to the transformation of practice within both the arts and science.
Arts practitioners are also
great collaborators. As many
art forms, particularly the performing arts, are primarily group experiences,
the arts become a prime tool for understanding and building skills in
collaboration as a generic skill applicable across any number of disciplines. Some of the most groundbreaking artistic work
has resulted when artists with knowledge and experience from distant genres and
unrelated forms collide and spark new ideas.
Looking at the third pillar of the Agenda, namely
Governments leading by example, the value
of immersion of the arts across diverse portfolios of government has been
proven many times over in areas of Health, Education, Communications, Defence
and the Environment. The arts and culture have a powerful halo effect on
political exchange projecting a country’s values and beliefs. It is hardly surprising that emphasis is
being placed more often on culture first, business second.
The last pillar, developing talent, places significant
emphasis on expanding opportunities within science, technology, engineering and
mathematics education, commonly referred to as the STEM subjects
There is justified concern in
the secondary and tertiary education sectors that, without strong STEM skills, young
Australians will not be well equipped to create and utilise digital
technologies, or to work across industries throughout what will inevitably be
diverse careers. Women are significantly under-represented in STEM courses in
schools and universities, and in the careers for which these skills are
Broad advocacy has now
developed to transform the STEM subjects with the inclusion of an A for arts. This
advocacy is based on the view that, on their own, the isolation of STEM
subjects from the arts leaves them incomplete rendering the society in which this
occurs vulnerable to unbalanced and unsustainable progress. The focus of that
transformation ought to be from STEM, not to STEAM, which is so 19th
Century, but to TEAMS, with the arts at the centre of the conversation between
technology and engineering, maths and science and the acronym a constant
reminder of the benefits of cross-discipline collaboration and cooperation.
As both an evolving and ancient
concept, TEAMS has a range of interpretations, though its key aim is to
highlight the closeness of the disciplines through the common element of
creativity. In the educational context
at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, TEAMS would involve the development
of inter-disciplinary curricula that foster cognitive, social and emotional
abilities in young people.
philosopher Martin Buber wrote in his “Paths in Utopia,” that a good and great idea will rise again when idea and fate
meet in a creative hour. The spirit of
the age demands that it does. However,
beyond core beliefs, policy makers demand an evidence base that confirms the value of
public investment in the arts. The measurement of cultural value requires a
sophisticated language and a framework that sits both alongside and apart from
its instrumentalist benefits and economic contribution alone. Some of that important work is being
undertaken in an ARC funded project, Laboratory Adelaide: The Value of Culture,
led by Julian Meyrick.
The role of the Australia
Council is to foster and pursue cultural ambition across the nation. Our vision
for the arts has been developed through sustained dialogue with artists and all
those who present, produce and support the arts. In that context, we have
framed our Strategic Plan and shaped our priorities around pursuing our vision
for Australia as a culturally ambitious nation.
The Australia Council is a
funding body. Yet distributing Commonwealth funding is by no means the only
thing we do. We approach our role more
broadly as a key advocate for, and investor in, our country’s artistic and
cultural future. Part of our own innovation agenda includes supporting arts
organisations to respond to the dynamic economic and cultural environment by
creating new business models. We are just one of many partners involved in the
development of the arts sector and in that context we actively work with other
parts and levels of government, as well as seeking to attract new investors and
Every moment has a context and,
right now, that context is the sum of an imminent Commonwealth Government
Budget with whatever policy and spending implications it carries for the arts;
an election campaign in which the arts might have a higher profile than
previously, especially in South Australia where there have recently been
significant public meetings; and the announcements of the Catalyst Program
funding outcomes and the Australia Council’s four year funding outcomes for the
small to medium arts sector.
South Australia has a long
history as a State that has embraced and embodied arts innovation and cultural
leadership. It was well ahead of its
time in projecting the arts as a central element of its wealth as a community
and to its long-term prospects. Since
the publication of Richard Florida’s best-selling book “The Rise of the Creative Class” more than ten years ago, and much
subsequent literature, we’ve become more and more aware of the value of a
creatively vibrant city as a desirable place to live and to which to attract a
high quality workforce. The industrial transformations facing this city and
State will be impacted by the quality of the creative life on offer. Central to success is the ability to attract
and retain the human capital necessary to seize the opportunities created by an
innovative economy and society. Having a
strong arts sector, well-resourced arts organisations, artists across and
between disciplines experimenting and testing boundaries, are now global
prerequisites to secure that talent.
Innovation arises from critical
thinking. It advances and facilitates
change. It is transformative, transcends disciplinary boundaries, changes
established patterns and can stimulate human behaviour and response in unanticipated
and unpredictable ways.
Innovation is not the domain of
any one discipline but is driven from the successful interaction of many
disciplines and diverse ways of thinking. If we are to really capitalise as a
nation on the “ideas boom”, we need to deepen and widen our concept of
innovation to seek convergence between scientific, technological, artistic and
societal imperatives in pursuit of an innovation ecology that will continue to
shape both our future prosperity and our identity in a challenging and dynamic
Whatever our endeavours, be
they technological, engineering, maths or the sciences, placing arts at the
centre of our innovative hubs, will garner greater innovation and lead to
wealth beyond simple monetary wealth but cultural, societal and spiritual. If
you want to lead the world in innovation, hire an artist and let them inspire
your TEAMS. If that happens to be a
calligrapher, I am sure Steve Jobs would agree.
[i] Obituary of Robert Palladino, The Art Newspaper,
Number 278, April 2016
[ii] Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu, Magabala Books, 2014
[iii] Noel Pearson, A Rightful Place – Race Recognition and
A More Complete Commonwealth, Quarterly Essay 55, 2014