Art and culture matter in our State election

3 March 2021

In the lead up to the State election on 13 March, it is critical that our political leaders recognise that Western Australian arts and creative jobs are increasingly at risk as pandemic restrictions continue. We are currently enjoying a summer festival season that is being strongly supported by the public, yet these experiences are under threat without strategic thinking and investment.

Arts advocacy body the Chamber of Arts and Culture has launched an #ArtsMatters campaign which outlines the policy and investment needed over the next four years to help realise the economic and social potential of Western Australia’s arts and culture sector. Chamber Executive Director Shelagh Magadza believes a thriving creative economy will help the State diversify its economy, bring the jobs of the future, grow tourism and support social cohesion. She shares her thoughts with Seesaw Magazine.

Despite the disruption of a lockdown, FringeWorld and Perth Festival have delivered a summer season that has allowed us to gather, connect and explore a huge range of local talents. Whilst the atmosphere is more subdued than usual, audiences have been strongly supportive of what is on offer. Watching people haul picnic hampers and blankets through King’s Park to the Tim Minchin/WASO performance, I smiled to see these iconic rituals of summer in Perth were still happening.  

Shelagh Magadza is the Executive Director of the Chamber of Arts and Culture. Photo supplied

With the WA Museum Boola Bardip recording 250,000 visitors in just two months, there is clearly a strong pride in our stories, our cultures and our people.  The Great Pause has given us a moment to uncover some new ideas and voices and to celebrate the homegrown stars who have carried our stories to stages, galleries and bookshelves around the world.

As we reach the last phase of an election campaign that has turned into a one-horse race, we need to recognise the value we have gained from the arts and culture sector in this time and how we could sustain that in a post-COVID world. The Chamber of Arts and Culture WA has proposed a framework for the next term of Government that has three key themes:

  1. Grow jobs in the creative industries. 

Both as an immediate and long-term issue, our artists need greater opportunity to live and work in this State. Whilst other parts of Australia enjoyed above average growth in creative industry jobs in the last decade, we had only small gains. Like any other sector of the economy, human capital is essential for success. In our case these are the creators, innovators and explorers whose professional practice combines the expertise of their artform with the cultural leadership that is needed to delve into our own stories. Associated with this are all of the other jobs that realise these visions, engage the community and grow businesses. For too long now, strategic investment in our sector has been insufficient, inconsistent and given little space to research and risk-taking that are key creative skills.

2. Better understand and invest in programmes that will benefit all Western Australians.

Inherently across our community we know the wider benefits of arts and culture, but we haven’t worked out how to leverage these fully. From access for regional and outer metro communities, building community cohesion, education outcomes, proven health benefits, the growing demand for cultural tourism – need I go on. We know that more people would benefit if they had better access to cultural programmes and we know that culture can amplify the economic impact of associated sectors. But policies still focus on a narrow lane of how work is produced and delivered that doesn’t allow us to stitch a bigger picture together.

3. Place the creative industries in a wider conversation about economic diversification and future sustainability.

Western Australia’s fortunes will change over time as the global markets shift and we’ve long known we need to prepare for this and cushion ourselves from shocks. Attending a recent graduation at ECU School of Arts and Humanities, I was struck by how successful graduates have been in professional careers and business entrepreneurship across Australia and internationally. WA can grow the local creative economy and position itself as part of the bigger global network that attracts major investment and jobs across the world.

To date, WA Labor has announced commitments to regional arts and cultural infrastructure that will, no doubt, benefit our sector.  These include a revamped cultural centre, supporting the re-location of WAAPA to the city, a film studio and an aboriginal cultural centre. We love new buildings and understand the literally concrete outcomes that reassure the Government purse. However, as many other smart societies around the world have shown, investment in humans is the other necessary part of the equation. We need the skills and smarts to bring this to another level and the incoming government needs to show it values and trusts these attributes in our sector.

In terms of other party commitments, the Greens WA have a comprehensive arts policy that you can see here, the National WA support regional arts programmes as part of continuing royalties for regions policies while the Liberals WA have not released any arts and culture commitments or policies.

Please consider showing your support for our #ArtsMatters campaign and write to your candidates expressing your support for our sector as part of the future of WA.

For more information on the policy and investment needed over the next four years to help realise the economic and social potential of Western Australia’s arts and culture sector head to ArtsMatters.org.au.

Pictured top: The arts at risk: dancers gather to catch an aerial leap in Raewyn Hills’s ‘Archives of Humanity’ performed by Co3 Contemporary Dance. Photo Stefan Gosatti.

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