REMIX Sydney - Closing Keynote - Dr Wendy Were

    13 August 2019

    REMIX Sydney

    Date: 12 April 2019

    Dr Wendy Were

    As the final keynote for REMIX, my role is to gently send you on your way after a pretty intense two days. I suspect, like me, many things are now whirling in your brains. This is not a formal summing up, but I hope you will hear echoes of the last two days in what I’ll briefly share with you now.

    As we gather for the final session of REMIX 2019, we are privileged to meet on land where people have gathered to share art, culture and knowledge for more than 65,000 years.

    I also pay my respect to the Traditional Owners of this land,

    the Gadigal people of the Eora nation

    to Elders past, present and emerging; 

    and I pay my respect to the central place of First Nations arts and cultures in the cultural life and identity of this country.

    I’m Wendy Were from the Australia Council for the Arts. I’ve spent my entire professional life - over two decades - immersed in creativity: as a writer, a researcher and lecturer, a curator, a producer, a festival director, working in books and publishing, in contemporary music, as a management consultant to the creative industries, a CEO, and these days as part of the Executive team at the Australia Council where we champion and invest in Australian Arts and I oversee strategic development and advocacy.

    I’m the daughter of an artist and an engineer.

    I’m also a mother to two young girls.

    Maybe you, like me, have noticed how often young people have come up in the discussions of the past two days.

    This was recently gifted to me by my eight year old, Willow. She crept into the bathroom and secretly left it on the bench for me to find when I came out of the shower. She often gifts family and friends with her artwork.

    Now, read into it what you will – the complex and significant transaction that is gifting and receiving art, the self deprecating artist, the tortured artist, the disposability of art, the brutal subjectivity of art criticism.  It’s also about spontaneity and surprise.

    I am sharing this with you, a story, a gift, a story of a gift of art. I’ll come back to that.

    As Vince said this morning, for kids the world is there to explore, discover, investigate. And like many kids their age, Willow and her sister are avid makers and experimenters. Weekends are painting, drawing, sculpting, crafting, sewing, potting, writing, dancing, creating shows that require often reluctant parental audiences. They are also always making digital work and are constantly discovering and exploring online. Many of the techniques she’s used in this picture are self-taught from searching out YouTube tutorials. She was experimenting with technique and she was prepared for it to succeed or fail.

    My daughters are the future. And when it comes to engagement, the future for arts and creativity looks pretty good. Younger Australians create and experience the arts at the highest rates of all of us.

    97% of young Australians engage with the arts online, they are big festival goers, strong attendees of First Nations arts, and over half of them engage with the arts as part of their cultural background.

    As Dan said after lunch, the ideas that kids come up with are often better than our architects and designers.

    They are our future makers.

    But we are making their future right now. And that is a great responsibility.

    Many of you will know of Toby Walsh, a Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales. The Australian newspaper dubbed him the rock star of AI -- he’s a brilliant researcher and communicator.

    Last year we invited Toby for some strategic discussions at Council around the future of art.  And one of the first things he said was:

    The future is not fixed. The future is not something that we have to adapt to. The future isn’t something that is going to happen to us. The future is the product of the decisions we as a society make today.

    Consciously or unconsciously, we are all future makers.

    The decisions we are making today can influence the future of creativity, the future of culture, the future of our communities and our humanity.

    This morning Vince talked about the journey from industrial to technology to creativity. As the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution - including artificial intelligence and machine learning - transform and disrupt jobs, industries and economies, some say the uniquely human capacity for creativity is more important now than it has ever been. 

    Perhaps. Perhaps not.

    Perhaps it has always been this important but some of us just forgot.

    Not all of us though. 

    This is Anne Dixon, an Ikuntji artist.

    An artist of the world’s oldest living culture.

    This is art. It is also is artefact, it is customary law and the songlines of First Nations people.

    This afternoon, Angie talked about old ways informing new technologies.

    Australia’s First Peoples have been creating and innovating for more than 65,000 years. They are our first artists, scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

    This is industry, technology, creativity, culture, art.

    And this is also knowledge.

    The separation, the abstraction of creativity and culture as separate to knowledge, simply doesn’t hold here. Art, culture, creativity, technology, knowledge are one and the same.

    Somewhere along the line, western culture separated out art, creativity and and culture. And now, creativity, culture, the arts, are often seen as peripheral, on the edges, “soft”, not hard. Nice to have, not essential. Something that can be stripped out, set aside in times of austerity. 

    This abstraction, this separation, is consistently upheld through so many of our social and political structures. This thinking has permeated our policies, our institutions, our mindset.  As such art, culture and creativity are often relegated as relatively insignificant policy priorities when they are actually central and embedded.  That human desire, that desperate human craving for creativity that Vince talked about this morning, reflects that embeddedness.

    Now many creativity advocates are arguing for a pivot to creativity in order to tackle the big challenges we face from climate change, to loneliness, to failing democracies and economies.


    They are right, of course, but it’s more than a pivot that is needed, at least in my view. It’s a reclaiming of the centre, with arts, creativity, culture recognised as central in our lives. 

    Creativity is innovative storytelling

    it is the creative economy

    it can be a newly imagined sense of place and public value

    our cultural institutions reimagined,

    Abandoned spaces reimagined

    Public space reimagined.

    Multiverses and impossiblities.

    Social acts and social impact.

    Sunlight in the underworld.

    The last couple of days have reinforced that the public value of creativity and culture is enormous.  Our economic success rests on it.

    Interdisciplinary thinking is one of the skills considered essential for innovation and future workforce needs. Arts and creativity drive innovation and growth and are becoming ever more economically valuable as creativity underpins the jobs of the future.

    Cultural and creative occupations and industries already contribute around $112 billion to our GDP, which is a 30% increase since 2009.[1] Predictive data released by NESTA tells us that creative jobs are likely to see a growth rate of 87% by 2030, in contrast with a sharp decline across more traditional industries.

    But this is about more than economic value.

    Some of you might know the work of Oli Mould. He argues it is vital to make sure creativity isn’t overtaken by neoliberalism and a language of economics, but rather is about collective flourishing.

    Because our social success and our cultural success also rest on creativity and culture.

    Humans crave creativity. In a world where technology and AI can fake anything, there will be a profound impact on the value of truth and the human.

    Authenticity will be an increasingly rare commodity, and we will be increasingly drawn to artists as truth tellers.

    Creativity and culture are at the heart of what it means to be human.

    Over the last two days, the speakers and sessions have touched on these ideas and so many more.  By now you will be brimming with thoughts and new ideas – possibly fatigued - but I have one last provocation for you.

    What decisions are you making that will impact on our collective flourishing?

    Culture is powerful. Creativity is powerful. Art is powerful. 

    But this power is often unacknowledged, underestimated, unnoticed.

    You are all part of the 98% of Australians who engage with arts and culture on a daily basis. 98%.

    We all engage with the arts all the time, but many of us don’t even realise we are doing so. It’s the music on our headphones, the book on our bedside table, the design of our coffee cup. It is so much a part of our daily lives that we forget it’s even there.  It’s embedded and yet we’ve abstracted it.

    The future we want to make at the Australia Council is one where arts, culture, creativity, are recognised as central and embedded to who we are as humans. As knowledge, as communication and connection. As public good that is valuable, one in which we invest because creativity and culture make our individual lives better and our communities better.

    We are thinking a lot about the future of arts and culture. How art will be made, distributed, experienced and what decisions need to be made now, to ensure that collective flourishing happens. 

    We will be launching a new body of work in the coming weeks - Arts Futures.

    Arts Futures aims to ensure that the challenges and opportunities of disruption can be identified, understood and harnessed.

    It aims to activate and grow the capacity that already exists in the cultural and creative industries through sharing knowledge, experience and networks.

    The Arts Futures work is broad. It includes research projects, workshops, roundtables, targeted discussions and public events addressing new business models, the impact of new and emerging technologies, including their ethical and human rights implications and the changing role of the artist and of creativity in society to spark conversations about possibilities and opportunities for the makers of tomorrow.

    I’m going to finish with an example that I think exemplifies where creativity, entrepreneurship, culture, collective flourishing all meet. It is also about gifting and receiving art, sharing stories and passing them on.

    Lynette Wallworth is a visual artist and filmmaker. She uses emerging technologies to bring audiences into her art works, working with interactive video, virtual reality, augmented reality and what she calls “real Reality”.

    Her work Collisions is a virtual reality experience in which Nyarri Morgan, an Elder of the Martu tribe from the remote deserts of the West Australian Pilbara, reflects on his first encounter with Western civilisation.

    The Martu lived largely untouched by Western culture until the 1960’s. But Nyarri’s first contact with Western culture came in the 1950’s, when as a young man he witnessed firsthand, and with no context beyond his own traditional knowledge, an atomic test.

    Lynette had previously worked with the Martu people on another art project. Nyarri saw it and decided he wanted her to tell his story. She originally declined but eventually met with Nyarri in person and realised it was something she had to do.

    Lynette realised she was receiving a gift of a story and an invitation to knowledge, which she in turn needed to share. It was at this meeting that she realised that she had been invited into this world, so that she could pass this invitation forward (ACMI 2017).

    When you experience Collisions, you are invited on country. You meet Nyarri and he shares his story. How he saw the nuclear flashes. How he and his people thought it were the spirits embodied. How, when the kangaroos fell down afterwards, they thought the spirits had gifted this food, and they ate them. How all the people, the trees, animals, the water, his family all got poisoned. And how his country turned to ashes. 

    The empathy generated in this work is unbelievable. The technology of AR enables this story to be shared in an intimate and profound way reaching people all over the world, inviting people everywhere to go onto country, to meet Ngarri and hear Ngarri’s story. And this story has to be shared because Ngarri is stewarding his country for future generations.

    Collective flourishing. Future making.

    In terms of passing forward the invitation and the story:

    The film premiered in January 2016 at the World Economic Forum, Davos where Lynnette hoped to engage World Leaders and heads of Industry in dialogue around the nuclear testing issue and climate change.

    Immediately after, it was presented at Sundance.

    It has since gone on to provoke meaningful change on a global level forcing leaders to reconsider the effect of policies on the environment and health of the earth.

    Screenings have been held for decision makers at the Trimble Forum for Disarmament in Washington, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty meetings in Vienna, the Climate Action Summit Washington and the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. It won an Emmy. It’s been presented in public institutions all over the world and subtitled in many languages.

    Viewers of Collisions include some of the world’s major nuclear powers, industry leaders, celebrities and heads of state such as the President of Argentina and the King of Belgium. Hans Blix, who viewed the work in Vienna, said that the world needed immersive works like Collisions to illustrate the truly corrosive power of nuclear weapons as they remain for most people, “... an abstract concept.”

    New ways of working, of making, of translating and communicating knowledge in the aim of collective flourishing.

    This is creativity.

    This is knowledge.

    This is future making.

    I chose this example because it so beautifully illustrates the important role creativity, arts and culture has to play in helping us to understand our past and present, and to imagine and navigate our possible futures.

    Earlier I asked you to consider what decisions that you are making that will impact on collective flourishing.

    Because we are all future makers.

    Thank you.

    ACMI (2017)  accessed for Collisions accessed April 2019

    Wallworth, L. (2016) Collisions

    Accessed April 2019


    Related content

    Content Image

    Arts Futures
    The WHY of Arts Futures emerges from a complex web of questions and exploration. It is an evolving space. 

    It is entangled with, and responds to the broader concerns, challenges and opportunities for arts and culture globally.  
    Learn More

    Download Document

    Download Accessible Version

    Exit off canvas