Many years ago, I was deep in conversation with a remarkable man from a discrete Aboriginal community in Queensland’s central west. He had been heavily involved in the establishment of radio stations across remote Indigenous communities and was a champion of social, cultural and economic progress for his own people for many decades. Deep conversations about the challenges ahead and the lessons of the past were his speciality. These conversations usually took place under the shade of a tree or a veranda hording against a backdrop of cultural practices, including the sounds of music, song, dance or the visual reminders across the community of the ancient and more modern stories of that special place – all of which served as a constant reminder that art and culture was and is central to the human existence.
He said something that I knew instinctively to be true. It stopped me in my tracks and has consequently stayed with me ever since: Culture heals everything.
Those words could not be more appropriate in the extraordinary year that has been 2020 and could not be more appropriate for the challenge of recovery that is before us all.
SUPPORTING A COVID-HIT SECTOR
The arts and cultural sector was hit hard by COVID-19 with many individual artists and the ecosystem they are part of closing overnight as a result of the necessary restrictions put in place to protect us all and save lives.
I recently had the great honour of launching Creative Together: A 10-year Roadmap for the Arts Culture and Creativity in Queensland. Standing amongst a (COVID-Safe) gathering of artists and arts workers in the foyer of Queensland Theatre’s Bille Brown Theatre, I was struck by the fact that we were able to do this – to stand physically together, in a building. There are other states in Australia and other places in the world, where gathering like that could not happen.
The Palaszczuk Government moved very quickly in Queensland to implement more than $10 million worth of measures to stabilise and provide certainty to the sector. We were the first in the nation to do this. This was followed by another nearly $10 million worth of relief measures. And we are now seeing crucial support reach the sector under the Palaszczuk Labor Government’s $22.5 million Arts and Cultural Package, announced as part of our plan for economic recovery.
The Recovery Package was also a down-payment on Creative Together. It focusses on stabilising Queensland’s arts companies, securing jobs for artists and arts workers, and delivering COVID-safe cultural experiences to Queensland audiences.
A re-elected Palaszczuk Labor Government will continue to implement our $22.5 million Arts and Cultural Recovery Package, which also forms the basis for the Creative Together’s first two-year action plan, Sustain 2020-2022.
Creative Together is Queensland’s roadmap to becoming a state that is renewed and transformed by arts, culture and creativity. It is driven by five key priority areas:
- Elevate First Nations arts
- Activate Queensland’s local places and global digital spaces
- Drive social change across the state
- Strengthen Queensland communities
- Share our stories and celebrate story tellers
The roadmap will be implemented through a series of 3 action plans:
- Sustain (2020-2022)
- Grow (2022-2026)
- Thrive (2026-2030)
The Palaszczuk Labor Government is already implementing a range of actions detailed in the Sustain 2020-2022 action plan, through our $22.5 million Arts and Cultural Recovery Package.
Expressions of interest have opened for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland to join a First Nations Arts and Cultures Panel, which will strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ voices in shaping cultural strategy, policy and investment decisions.
Funding of more than $9 million has already been committed under the $22.5 million Arts and Cultural Recovery Package and we are seeing it hit the ground right now. This funding is being delivered across the sector, from a live music venue in Burleigh Heads, to Indigenous Art Centres in the Torres Strait, supporting artists, artworkers, independent and funded small to medium-sized arts organisations the length and breadth of our large state.
The Palaszczuk Labor Government has also committed additional funding to support our major companies and statutory arts organisations. This includes $350,000 to support QPAC to reopen and deliver a series of performance seasons from Queensland Theatre, Circa, Queensland Ballet, Queensland Symphony Orchestra and Opera Queensland.
SUPPORTING ECONOMIC & CULTURAL RECOVERY
The Recovery package was announced by the Premier as part of our plan for economic recovery, because our Government knows that the arts and cultural expression are essential to both the social and economic wellbeing of our state. Unlike the LNP, we understand the impact in so many communities, of an arts, cultural and creative sector that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic directly and indirectly contributed $12.3 billion to Queensland’s economy annually, supporting employment for around 92,000 Queenslanders.
Within days of the LNP Government coming to office under Campbell Newman, they cut funding to support the Premier’s Literary Awards. When the LNP’s Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington was Campbell Newman’s Assistant Finance Minister, cuts to the Arts Queensland budget resulted in the defunding of many organisations.
Under the LNP federally, we have seen successive years of cuts to the budget of the Australia Council and the ABC. At the time when our sector has needed the LNP federally to step up, they have excluded huge numbers of artists and arts workers from their JobKeeper wage subsidy, and many parts of the sector are still yet to see any benefit from their COVID-19 response package.
To disregard and cut support for arts and culture, it seems, is in the LNP’s DNA.
To disregard and cut support for arts and culture, it seems, is in the LNP’s DNA.
A re-elected Palaszczuk Labor Government will also build on our record of delivering and supporting the infrastructure our communities will need to support our state’s arts and cultural ambitions in the years to come. Our government has provided $15 million to the spectacular new Cairns Performing Arts Centre, $15 million to the new Rockhampton Art Museum, $2 million to the redeveloped Bille Brown Theatre, and we invested more than $5.9 million to redevelop the former Cairns Centre of Performing Arts which reopened in February this year as Bulmba-ja art centre.
Works have commenced on a state of the art new 1,500 seat performing arts venue at QPAC, we have embarked on an options assessment for a First Nations Cultural Centre of state significance in Brisbane, and work has finished on the redeveloped Judith Wright Arts Centre, which will now be home to an expanded number of arts and cultural tenants.
While our venues are not yet able to open safely at full capacity, the time will come when they can, and these investments will help ensure our communities are able to come together to be challenged, inspired and moved by art and cultural expression once again.
Our generation faces some incredibly hard questions and challenges, many that past generations have never had to face. These are complex questions. Questions about a changing climate, about living in a globalised world during a time of a global pandemic, about comprehending the world in an age of information and misinformation on a scale the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
The arts and the cultures they reflect are crucial to how we respond to those questions and a crucial part of how we embark on the journey of healing.
That’s why launching a 10-Year roadmap is not just about how we sustain and grow our arts and cultural sector, it is also about understanding the hard questions facing humanity at this point in our history and helping to make sense of the world we live in.
Importantly, Creative Together will foster an environment where Queensland will be the best place in the world to create, view and participate in the arts.
That is why the Palaszczuk Labor Government is backing the arts.
The Queensland election takes place this Saturday 31 October 2020. Read about the Queensland Greens’ vision for the arts in this companion piece. ArtsHub has also approached the LNP for an opinion piece outlining their vision for the arts, which will be published once received.