Position paper

Twenty-first century priorities for Australian arts and culture policy

What’s new, what’s endured, what’s next?
Creative workforce Arts Cultural policy Australia

The COVID–19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted industries that are predicated on the free movement and gathering of people, including cultural and creative industries. This has prompted both significant disruption and necessitated the beginning of significant reform. Australians have a clearer picture than ever before of what a rich cultural life means.

To the dismay of so many Australians, extended lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 have called a halt to much live arts and cultural activity. In response, we’ve seen people flocking towards creative content and activities in their own homes. With a renewed appreciation for the value of arts and culture in their lives, Australians are eager for leadership in this area and would, we believe, welcome increased celebration of these parts of their lives that they value so highly.

This paper explores what Australians believe about arts and culture now and what they expect from their national leaders in this space. We summarise the emerging trends as well as foundational principles that should inform the ambitious and bold national settings that Australia needs for a truly 21st century approach. Informed by these foundations and trends, this paper also outlines the priorities for change to ensure all Australians have opportunities to participate in and benefit from a vibrant cultural life.

The COVID–19 pandemic is driving change. There is an opportunity to shape this change, using strategic investment to transform and embolden our cultural landscape to serve and reflect our contemporary public. Our leaders can leverage the trends and foundations identified in this paper to ensure arts and culture can play its role in accelerating Australia’s social and economic recovery as we rebuild from the impacts of the COVID–19 pandemic and recent natural disasters, as well as future global, geopolitical, environmental and economic disruptions.

The rapid changes across the sector necessitate refreshed national cultural policy settings. As a guide, this paper explores:

  • emerging trends that must be accounted for in a 21st century understanding of Australian arts and culture.
  • foundations that have persisted through time, and that reflect the fundamentals of Australia’s public policy in arts and culture.
  • priorities for change, highlighting ways we can sustain and strengthen opportunities as well as address issues.

As a key action relevant to both the foundations and the emerging trends, ANA is calling for a National Arts, Culture and Creativity Plan. Clearer policy direction will ensure the expected public value outcomes of cultural expenditure are better measured and communicated. This will provide a contemporary framework for Australia to design and implement mechanisms to boost cultural expenditure as a percentage of GDP to exceed the OECD average within the next decade. In this way, we have an opportunity to attract the best minds, and the most desirable investments, into Australia.

Australia’s culture is at a crossroads. In this moment of intense disruption we have the opportunity to ‘build back better’, as the OECD has described it. If we act now, we can lay the foundations of a cultural inheritance that will benefit future generations for the decades to come.



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