The art of relevance

9 Nov 2011

Telling our own stories through the arts is obviously a good thing, writes Andrew Ford in Inside Story, but what does it mean in practice?


IT was refreshing, earlier this year, to read a discussion paper from the office of the Minister for the Arts ahead of next year’s National Cultural Policy. It is always refreshing when a government takes the arts seriously. Slightly unnerving, too. One wonders what’s for the chop, and the fear and suspicion thus engendered puts everyone on the defensive. Since, as we all know, the best form of defence is attack, it is seldom long before we hear artists decrying other artists.

Two of the sticks we use to beat each other at times like these are “Australianness” and “relevance.” Simon Crean’s discussion paper refers to the government’s desire to “strengthen the role the arts and creativity play in telling Australian stories.” In his recent Peggy Glanville-Hicks address, Lyndon Terracini, the artistic director of Opera Australia, spoke of his belief that the company should “create new work which ideally should tell our stories within the context of the operatic form” (my stress), and he used the word “relevant” in a number of contexts…


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