Arts policy: promotion, employment, funding, appreciation

A comment was left recently by a reader which bounced off the Big Brother TV show debate, but went much wider and deeper into Arts issues. Even though the writer labelled his comments as “just some late night thoughts from a tired school teacher”, I thought he raised enough interesting issues that it was worth putting it up again as a separate posting. You can read it over the fold (that’s fancy internet talk for clicking just here where it says (more…)

Even though I’ve never done a piece on this blog (or my old one as far as I can recall) specifically about Arts, arts funding, arts policy, etc, I’ve done a few on music, film, TV and the like. As with most people, I have an interest in and enjoyment of many things that would fall under this category. I’ve also noticed a few times on different threads that comments have been made by readers which touch on Arts policy or funding in more direct ways, so I thought enough readers would be interested in the topic. (Hopefully the original author doesn’t mind my giving greater prominence to his thoughts, with the greater potential for public criticism that comes with them. Please keep in mind they were put together as off the cuff comments, not as a fully polished article.


I am a Brisbane high school drama teacher and often use Big Brother and its methodology of constructing dramatic elements to keep its viewing audience attached to the program (yes reality TV popularism can be useful when trying to teach how tension can be manipulated in Shakespeare or Ibsen or Williamson or Brecht!!)

What concerns me is the lessening of funding going into Australian content and Australian produced films and dramas. Yes we have the Australia Council and the Australian Film Corporation and commercial networks and the ABC etc etc, but what is alarming is this current government’s reduction in real funding since 1996 into culture and keeping Australian talent in work and giving Australian writers and producers and directors a fair chance. I personally love Big Brother as much as I love Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – it is still art and has a social, political and entertainment purpose. But what I would like to see mentioned in Parliament is the fact that the Arts and culture industry in Australia is the biggest growth area in the economy and provides the most employment opportunities than any other industry – yet when it’s election time, culture and Australian culture and artistry policy is placed into pigeon holes by the press gallery as a token gesture to having to have a policy on it. (and yet the most flourishing times economically in history e.g. the Renaissance, were also the most flourishing times in terms of Arts and culture)

Now we have Honey We’re Killing the Kids (more doom and gloom reality TV) and less “drama” – because it costs more in times of economic rationalism to create fictional Australian drama which deals with these core issues of family health and diets and childhood obesity, yet a mini series for instance about this would attract equal ratings I’d suggest.

And furthermore, within my professional ranks we are outraged (the Qld and Australian Drama Education Association) that the Federal Government in its nationalisation of the curriculum campaign is seriously considering leaving the Arts OUT of essential core learnings in schools (yet the Arts has its own specific literacies for students (particularly emotional and critical literacies – but who needs those when you can be sterile in conservative times and whip up a Powerpoint presentation instead).

I suppose this posting is getting a little all over the place but the comments made on this website about media content about culture and about democratic rights and in effect “learning through the Arts” in any shape or form (yes even in Big Brother there is something to learn about human behaviour), I have grave concerns for where we are heading as a nation in what I see as the KEY and CENTRAL policy issues that lie at the heart of a nation – education and culture. I still read from time to time the most inspiring of all cultural policies I’ve ever read in my life – Paul Keating’s “Creative nation”. It seems that if Howard gets his way, schools will not be creating “creative” minds anymore. Instead we will have amazing scientists who may solve the problems of our society today in health and the environment e.g. cancer and global warming etc but not the creative or problem solving minds to do so or find out and interrogate more.

Just some late night thoughts from a tired school teacher :)

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  1. “…that the Federal Government in its nationalisation of the curriculum campaign is seriously considering leaving the Arts OUT of essential core learnings in schools…”

    Have to declare that I work for the company that produced the report that may lead to an Australian Certificate of Education – however I had nothing to do with that report, havn’t read it, and what I’m about to say is entirely my own personal view.

    The idea is not nationalisation of curriculum, but rather (and I could be wrong here) working out ways to compare students’ achievements on a “common scale” in some subjects, in some areas of those subjects. I would guess that govts would try to do this for subjects that everyone/most people would do first eg English/Maths (at various levels) before doing it for other subjects. My feeling is that this project is highly nontrivial due to vested interests.

    Art may not have been considered as it’s an elective for Yr 12, but I don’t know. Ok, now a picky comment: “Instead we will have amazing scientists who may solve the problems of our society today in health and the environment e.g. cancer and global warming etc but not the creative or problem solving minds to do so or find out and interrogate more.”

    And working on things like global warming doesn’t involve creativity? Scientific/mathematical work involves a lot of creativity, often in a quite constrained way, which means you may have to be more creative. I don’t believe that it would come down to this, but if it had to, I’d prefer lots of scientists working on global warming and potential solutions than lots of people working on art – as global warming is a pressing potential problem and art is much more of a personal thing! (BTW I was trained in mathematics) But it won’t come down to that.

  2. Re-reading the above, is the Federal Government’s campaign for “nationalisation of the curriculum campaign” part of the proposed Australian Certificate of Education or something different? I havn’t heard of anything else which is why I assumed that it was part of the proposed ACE.

  3. I never once said that scientists and biologists and environmentalists do not use creativity in their work or practise. My point was that creativity is at the core of Arts practise in schools and yet as a nation we are fledgling in this area of being a “creative nation”. I was more coming from the perspective that a student with a more well rounded curriculum which places the Arts as an equal to Science, Maths, English, Social Science, technology etc was so immensely important. The Arts has its own specific literacies that noone can take away from it – my concern is the Federal agenda (which my colleagues in Drama Queenland and Drama Australia can attest) is leaving the Arts OUT of “core learnings” and if you assess nationally then love in the spirit of assessing what you teach – the Federal government wants the power over what we plan and how we teach.

    Thank heavens I work in Qld which is progressive and sees school based assessment with panels for moderation as the way to empower individual learners and meet standards from a syllabus agreed upon through democratic processes (in effect it is us teachers who write syllabi through the QSA and through community consultation).

    My point I was making is that it is always the Arts who are broadsided first yet if you read statistics from the Australia Council for The Arts you will find the Arts and Culture industry is the largest employer in this country and making hundreds of billions of dollars for our economy (for those of you who are economic rationalists). Why isn’t the Arts central and core to the lives of us all and indeed to our future generations?

    Why is emotional and aesthetic literacy not as important as the 3 R’s???? Every day i watch students interpret and make meaning out of their own sensory experiences with their art forms eg Drama, Music, Art, Film, Dance and of course mass media that they are bombarded with every day. (yes as soon as we wake up the Arts are with us and then millions of times through the day until we retire)

    Andrew talked about his concern over the content and images on a Saturday morning in video clips that young people are being exposed to and have been for decades (I grew up with Video Hits and rage etc). It is in Arts spaces like a Drama studio where we interrogate sexism, body image, self esteem, how visual texts position us etc and as facilitators guide students in the art making process to manipulate form in making their own statements with their own voice. The number of times I’ve heard and seen students who make their own self devised work saying “isn’t great Sir people can actually see and hear what we have to say about these issues.” Young people are so marginalised in the political process and by society in general it is the Arts that gives them agency and a forum to have their voice heard. And it’s our schools that provides this for them. Well until those who don’t like our futrue generations having a say or a critical mind within an educational context get their way and broadside us again.

    You should read a book by Peter Abbs called “A is for Aesthetic”

    Thanks Andrew for placing my comments here – it was just some late night ramblings but I didnt realise it would spark this discussion which I am enjoying.


    S :)

  4. No we are not fledgling – we have many of the world’s best academics, artists and practitioners in the field of Arts, Youth Arts and Arts Practise. It is just the lack of support from right wing conservative governments like the current one which disturbs me. Culture provides so much to our nation socially, emotionally, economically, mentally, psychologically and a healthy Artists and Arts educators are at the core of keeping our nation harmonius, keeping questions alive and keep us debating our way of life, political systems and national traditions and heritages. The Arts also provides a mechanism for inclusivity – I think of the excellent work Indigenous Performing Arts company in Brisbane Kooemba Jdarra does in privileging Indigenous stories from past present and looking into future contexts and the work it does in healing cultural divides and inspiring reconciliation.

    I have seen first hand in a range of communities I have taught including Ipswich, the Brisbane Valley and Central Brisbane how the power of the Arts transforms young people’s lives, gives them a voice, questions their own culture and those foreign to them.

    I suppose I get disappointed election after election that taxation and Budget Surpluses and inflation and interest rates always makes the top headlines but the heart and soul of our wonderful nation and the support of our incredibly talented and creative people we have within it barely rates a mention. Even when I was last in Canberra before the last federal election attending a conference at ANU I was extremely disappointed with the then Labor Shadow Minister for the Arts Kate Lundy – her political funding speech (which supposed to b a keynote address about the Arts in Australia and creative policy) only seeked to outbid the amount of money the Howard government was throwing at very narrow policy objectives and failed to provide the hundreds of national Arts leaders sitting in that auditorium that day with the policy inspiration we had come to listen to. It was just replications of Liberal Arts policy with bigger dollar signs attached to it.

    I know politicians are busy and have many portfolios and policies to annouce prior to an election but with the number of people that make up the Liberal and Labor parties – noone could come up with a focus and direction about where our nation should head in terms of creativity and culture?

    Governments and oppositions underestimate their electorate. Instead of thinking that only a few thousand Bohemians and idealists really care about arts and cultural policy in Australia and that its not an election winner, they perhaps should think about creativity as a starting point for a whole number of portfolios including health, science and teachnology and research, eduction, defence, the environment, the workplace, transport and roads.

    So the Arts shouldn’t be considered equal to other key Learning Areas in the national curriculum and in testing outcomes and skills and measuring these across all state systems but the skills we teach students feed into any and every industry you can name across our nation. I don’t get it!!!

    This is what gets a bee in my bonnet!!!


  5. The arts are an integral part of our human existence – sometimes lost I feel with our technological age.

    for those people visiting or living near Brisbane the ‘Brisbane Festival’ is combining the arts and big global ideas through their program ‘Earth Dialogues’. Lyndon Terracine in his Artistic Director’s blog said:
    “Fitting a world forum into the Brisbane Festival was one of the most exciting things for me. It is my belief that the format for festivals has been the same since the 1970s which is now rather tired. They haven’t really connected with the general public. I think a festival has to be a celebration and about big ideas and has to communicate to a large number of people. People need to feel they have a stake in it.”

    I lhe love the arts when they present commentaries on our social lives, eg the present ABC “Chasers War on Everything’ and the former Gillies shows in the 80’s. The latter I think did as much to undermine the Bjelke Petersen era than many newspaper commentaries.

  6. A couple of comments

    I believe that art and creativity cannot easily be taught in the rigid constructions of school. Speaking personally as a painter, poet and now in my mid-life crisis I am becoming a musician, My experience of art and music at school really turned me off such things. Not only did it reinforce in me a perception that I can’t do it, even now as I recall the time, music and art are closely associated with classroom discipline and my own internal rebellion to it. Today I get mental blocks when musicians start talking about C and B flat and all that stuff, because I was forced to learn it.
    I have been painting for about 10 years, even sold a few. But it was not until my school art consciousness had subsided before I starte d to ask if perhaps I could do it. I was working with physically and intlectually disabled people telling them that they could do anything they want,, yet I could not paint. I took my clients to the art gallery and, those of us that could speak, all said “I could do better than that” when we looked at the abstract works. From that point on I have painted.

    Creativity is about unlocking the mind and seeing things that nobody has ever seen before, then manifesting it some how.
    School is about instructing in things that have allready been thought up and assessment is based on the student’s capacity to regurgitate what has been instructed.

    I can write and talk pretty good, but to this day I cannot understand the language of shakespeare (yuk) and have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours in my school years feeling inadequate and guilty because I could not anser the basic question, what is going on in the story? I stumbled through some exams with brody’s notes but all those hours were wasted. They cold have been spent developing my language and theatre skills to a more appropriate genre to young Australians, but instead I had to regurgitate what was expected of me.

    Art is political. This is not just the message or story of the artwork. It is also about where the art is shown, to who and why?
    Public arts funding policies are drawn up by people with very identifiable political vested interests, mainly poiticians. Arts funding is designed to make the funding body look good or to conform to some other social policy goals of the funding body.

    Much public art is heavily subsidised by energy and mining companies, especially regional arts. Much government arts funding is tax deductable donations to the government from these companies and sometimes the companies directly support artists. These funders also have agendas and vested interests.

    Even outside of the school, institutional art frameworks do not offer creativity, rather they offer prepackaged art options to artists that conform to pre-existing policy framework based on political and economic agendas well outside of the sphere of the artist and their audience.

    I am not trying to challenge the notion that art should be taught as a priority in schools. I just say that schools as they are now need to change dramatically, not just for how they teach art but how they teach everything.

    However such high ideals are not likely to materialise in the short term so real art and creativity must come from outside of the status-quo, not just for artistic integrity but also for the reasons of innovation and development in all areas as has been mentioned by Sean and Sacha.

  7. Yes to everything.

    It amazes me that our self image as a nation is about sharing, compassion, mateship, community, problem solving.

    We are not like those conformist Asians out there.

    (an utterly bullshit notion, but its in our culture)

    And yet we bash the arts, imagination and achievement.

    Small minded conformism is a powerful undercurrent, and it is easy to activate with a bit of political blaming.

    “Youse are just up yourselves. I bet you watch the ABC. When you gunna play some footy and be a real Australian?”

  8. If the “arts community” wasn’t so relentless in prostituting its creativity to the cause of left-wing propaganda, it might receive more sympathy from middle-of-the-road people.

    As it is, pouring money into the Arts Council or the ABC is siply providing free promotion for left-wing causes. In my opinion, such institutions should be abolished, not preserved.

    As for conformism, the Arts and academia comprise the most stultified, conformist environment in Australia. It’s all one boring sea of uniform left-wing blather.

    If you want real diversity and innovation, the Internet is the place to go. And it’s self-funding!

  9. Oh my goodness!!! So the generalisation here is that never in my classroom once has a new question arose or never have the students guided the lesson anda I have just been the facilitator in the room? I agree to an extent with the “regurgitation” statement about education and teaching – however – the Arts have been waiting for decades for other disciplines to play “catch up” within our ranks of practise in Arts classrooms. To say “Art is just a personal thing?” Oh my goodness. Since when has performativity and narrative ever been exclusively personal???? I couldn’t believe I was hearing such things.

    I don’t think Andrew Bartlett would raise questions about Big Brother on this website or about content in Music Videos if art was just a “personal thing”.

    And this leads me on to the other claims on here I would like to address and refute some of them. Art is not just a painting or a sculpture or a piece of movement or dance or a short film or puppetry of the penis or a circus or video clips or even the design of a town centre – art is life. Yes it is about politics sometimes and society and economics and democracy but first and foremost it is about narrative. Every single person on Earth is a walking narrative – billions of stories of personal experience in us all – some private – some public (and in the case of politicians – probably too many public ones!!!)

    The Arts is not an industry of the past only commissioned by the wealthy and aristocratic classes where consuming these Art Forms (in Western Culture) helped to define the exclusivity of this class’s membership. Interesting someone says that the Arts is problematic because it seems to predominantly wavin a left wing agenda when for most of the part of western civilisation since the Ancient Greeks, it has been right wing conservative elitism that has dominated The Visual and Performing Arts.

    Today the Arts are not about class. the Arts are for everyone, and whether we have a taste for them or not, they permeate our lives millions of times throughout a week. I am thinking now of seeing an ad billboard whilst dirving to work or on the back of a bus, I am thinking film, tv, videoclips, website design, fashion, children’s books, dance classes, amateur theatre companies, elevator and shopping centre music strategically manipulated to make you spend more!!! Thsi is today’s art and our Arts classrooms have reflected this shift in “culture” to enable students to interogate their own existence, to raise questions and to use their art forms to “make meaning” out of it all for themselves personally and aesthetically and to share their experiences publicly (without bias because the Art making is their own not content being pumped down their throats by a teacher with a left right or centre perspective.) There are some of us who are skilful teachers you know!!! Well trained and keep our students guessing about what our position is on things – and why is that? Because it is my job as an arts practitioner to raise questions not make statements – to teach students how they can look for answers using the Arts to make meaning out of their own and other’s lives – oh my goodness “empathy” – how left wing is empathy!!!!!

    The Arts take us outside and beyond the literal meaning of words. It is through this heightened communication that we experience, explore, make and “share” meaning. And without this sense of “heightened communication” I could not imagine humanity creating the cultures, technologies or the relationships that matter so much to us and which most of the time we (and politicians) take for granted.

    This heightened communication is expressed in many languages (including but not exclusively the language of words) and through them we make and share complex judgements, refine our values, develop relationships and make choices for ourselves.

    Every day our lives are touched by visual languages such as Colour, Form, Line and texture expressed through both natural and abstracted forms, musical languages such as sound, pitch, tone, pace and rhythm, emotional languages such as love, care, sympathy, hatred, indifference. Movement languages such as gestures, rhythms, actions and rituals. Architectural language such as spatiality, structure, mass and atmosphere, tactile language such as touch, sensation, body awareness, possession (or ownership), sexuality, intimacy and distance. And narrative language such as status, power, association, imitation, causation, time, place, history character and plot. (Thsi was only for those who needed reminding how the Arts permeate our lives every day until we die. We are “impressed” by art in our lives and we “express” using them. How3 can anyone argue that The Arts is not its own core curriculum area that should be planned, implemented and assessed throughout all Australian schools? Is cultural understanding and questioning not important? Is another generation of aesthetically and emotionally illiterate people what we want?

    I don’t think we can go back to the days where the Arts was just for the “ruling elite” nor am I sure that is healthy for a society that still has less female politicians in parliament, issues in reconciliation with its Indigenous people, and a number of issues within the community about the civil rights of the individual within our vibrant and multi – faceted democracy. We need creativity is my case!!!

    The Arts release our creative energies, give us a sense of excitement, give us a feeling that the world and the individual’s place in the world is more ordered, more meaningful and less arbitrary than it appeared before. The Arts gives us empowerment or agency, a release of personal satisfaction, inner balance and contentment and particular to the dramatic arts, it gives us a sense of deeper more connected relationships.

    Dr Gordon Livingston (an American psychiatrist who visited Australia recently) defined the preconditions to happiness as being: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.

    What is particularly significant about this definition is the understanding that the natural conditions for happiness do not occur automatically, they have to be worked for and they have to be created by community sharings. Happiness as a private emotion is comparatively rare – it is more likely to be found in meaningful relationships and shared goals (scarey at this point in history in Australia where we have record numbers of single people and record numbers of people meeting others through chatrooms and becoming even more disillusioned)

    It is the lack of active community participation in these artforms that traditional societies have become very adept at eg rituals, music making, stories, reenactments, dance etc that may help to explain the sense of alienation and despair experienced by many.

    Instead we live in 2006 where as a member of generation X I feel we have all become grounded in a fairly sterile and depleted vision of the human condition.

    Without the Arts life is not worth living and it has been through the Arts that humans (right back since early humans) have been able to build a sense of happiness, community, adaptability, resilience and meaning that has made it possible for us to survive as a group against the most dangerous and life threatening odds. Even in archaeology we can see in evidence in early humans that tthe world was conquered as much by necklaces as by arrowheads. hehe

    As Arts teachers we are responsible for how people will develop their abilities to know and know to become happy. Our role is to assist in the integration of human intelligence – to link symbol systems, feelings, language, action and sensation together using the investigation of the artistic forms in order to help our students give voice to their inner needs and their inner pain, to discover their commonality and sense of community, not just with each other, but with their personal identities and to make sense of and give order to a world. In other words “to make meaning”.

    We do this as artists and as educators because when you deny a person the right to those other ways of knowing and apprehending and expressing, when you deny them the knowledge that there are, and always have been, others who feel the same way they do, and who have found ways to express what would otherwise be inexpressable, then you imprison that person in a world of alienation and despair that no material comforts can compensate. People can become so tortured by this unnatural and depleted life they turn to anything that can dull the pain or separate them from this maddening but unexpressed awareness.

    So it is with this in mind I enter my classroom every day and hope I continue to do so into the future. Someone’s happiness could be riding on my next drama lesson.

    Feelings and senses are not left wing, they are common to us all.

    And that is why I argue that the Arts and culture and creativity should be central to any policy formed about anything.



  10. I have taught for over a decade in Queensland state schools (not as an arts teacher I might ad) and I agree with many of the comments posted above. More and more it seems that a well-rounded, truly holistic education has gone out the window for many of our students. Being ready for the workforce, being employable, is the only thing that counts.

    As another example, over the years, the amount of meaningful Health and Physical Education offered in schools, especially primary schools, has been eroded. This surely has contributed to the increase in rates of obesity and diabetes in young people and has left us with a generation of students who will no longer see exercise as an integrel part of their daily life.

    It seems to me that economic rationalism is taking over education, as it is every other sphere of our existence. No longer is learning important for its own sake or as a means of contributing to a student’s emotional, physical and spiritual health.

    Whilst I agree that students need the skills to get on in the workforce and contribute to society, there is so much more to education than this, a fact which seems to be largely ignored by those setting current educational policies and agendas.

    Do other teachers feel this way too?

  11. Involvement with the humanities is traditionally the benchmark upon which a societies culture is measured and, having returned to the country after many years, it appears to me that Australia’s cultural capital has decreased substantially.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the original poster and have for some time been trying to raise awareness of this.

    I have also been apalled that – at least here on the Sunshine Coast – both Centrelink and Job Agencies seem positivy to pursue a policy that privileges artisans over artists.

    Drastic cuts to Arts programmes have meant that, apart from those living in Brisbane, Queensland schoolchildren and youth no longer have any exposure to live productions. Brought up to regard sportspersons or media “icons” as role models the creative outlets for those neither sport or academically oriented (as well as those that are)have become extremely limited.

    In order to pre-empt cries of “No funding” for the Arts I have, for a long time, proposed that one way to emeliorate expenditure could be by introducing theatre workshops as part of work-for-the-dole initiatives. Accordingly, opportunities would exist for techies, set designers, costume designers, those who could sew, choreographers, chippies, bookkeepers, advertising people, drivers; as well as singers, dancers, actors, voice-overs and presenters.

    The purpose of the company would be to produce presentations for schools focusing on issues of self-esteem – the lack of which is now endemic amongst youth and which manifest at one end of the spectrum in violence and crime and at the other on depression and including mental health and suicide issues.

    I researched extensively amongst both high school students and the unemployed and gained a lot of support for this project. Unfortunately none of that support came from either Government or job agencies who continue to treat the whole subject of the Arts as entirely irrelevant.

  12. Hi Sean,

    Sorry, I havn’t read all of the comments, but I’ve read quickly over them.

    I was a musician when I was younger and I love artistic and creative pursuits – I appreciate creativity and the arts.

    One thing, is that my guess is that the Arts are seen to be less important than “3 R’s” in secondary school as kids really need to be numerate and literate, and unfortunately they (or most kids) are thought to have not much hope if they aren’t numerate and literate. I agree that these are the most important things – these are the core things for kids and that they are more important than Art. In Primary school, Art is one of the core things, though.

    I grew up in Qld and like the way that assessment in Secondary school is done at the level of each school, and that it’s progressive (over a couple of years). I was shocked when I moved down to NSW and found that NSW schools had something like a 50% exam at the end of Yr 12 – what a horrible amount of stress that must put on kids, and also what an awful way of assessing them – 50% of the assessment coming down to one situation! Dreadful! People down here seem quite happy with the situation, and I couldn’t imagine that they would adopt the (what seems to me) the much better assessment system used in Qld. They see it as “rigorous” – but to me it just seems horrible.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Commonwealth government fixing some or all of the curricula – although if they fix all of it, there can’t be any experimentation with different curricula to see what works. It would be good to experiment and see what works.

  13. Sean,
    you shouldn’t generalise, though I do appreciate the drama of your opening line.

    “Oh my goodness!!! So the generalisation here is that never in my classroom once has a new question arose or never have the students guided the lesson anda I have just been the facilitator in the room?”

    In respect to the teachers who are not just another brick in the wall, I worded my rave so as not to make such generalisations.

    I said

    “I believe that art and creativity cannot easily be taught in the rigid constructions of school.”

    I also say work skills cannot easily be taught at school.

    I say 1/3 of Australian students cannot be taught anything properly at school.

    I am certainly not anti art-in-education, just anto school.

    Sean, you protest that I say art is a personal thing (which is not what I said, but I don’t disagree) yet you then went on (and on) and described the personal importance of art to students.

    I fear, as a teacher, you may have built too close an association between art and schools, to attack one is not necessarily to attack the other. To say that our schools are failing in literacy because of structural reasons including curriculum policy and overcrowded class rooms does not mean I am against reading and writing.

    In both cases, art and literacy, school is not necessarily the right place to teach if structural factors such as mass institutionalisation undermine the system’s capacity to teach meaningful things.

    For educationalists and politicians, perhaps the question is how to reform our dysfunctional, over crowded, assessment driven, school system?.

    For the rest of us I suggest we look outside of the institutions for our creative education and expression, whatever the education bureacrats decide.

    Parents should not rely on schools to teach their children creativity, such learning is more a case of the students home environment, not their classroom obligations.

    Most artists are freaks, they don’t “fit in” in some ideosyncratic way, everyone different. Taking a group of students to the theatre does not teach theatre skills, it teaches audience skills including understanding and analysis. To be a creator of art rather than a consumer of art means, unlike the other disciplines, the artist must be necessarily detatched in someway from the mainstraim to be able to make an image that is more interesting than status-quo perceptions.

    This is where I would say there is a difference between art and “visual languages” as Sean so colofully describes. Billboards do use visual language, but it is for predetermined specifications such as the product and target demographics. This is no more artistic than a mechanic putting a carburettor back together. The real art, the creativity was in the business strategy the brought the enterprise into being.

    Creativity is very much about conceptual independence which is not “easily” fostered in collective institutions.

  14. I should say that I’m not a teacher – these are just my personal views. I have done a lot of tutoring in mathematics at a tertiary level as well as some lecturing, and have taught piano and music theory. At the moment I’m helping to write questions for state-wide numeracy evaluative tests for primary schools in two states.

  15. Sean, from observing politics since the late 80s, the Arts isn’t really seen as a focus for concern because, rightly or wrongly, people are thought to vote on the “core” concerns of security (personal, family, national – economic and less so national security) and (economic) success. Ergo, economic matters such as interest rates and (un)employment are key issues – “warm fuzzies” such as the Arts come after this in the list of concerns.

    This is my perception of what drives electoral behaviour by political parties and possibly many voters too.

  16. Sean Cameron:

    I suggest drama teachers speak directly to the wallets of those who are making these foolish decisions.

    My impression is that one of the reasons Australia keeps getting screwed in its international dealings – whether they be corporate or governmental – is because the people involved may know about Law or, sometimes, a bit about about Commerce and next to nothing about either History or Drama or about the languages their interlocutors use among themselves (another Arts issue!). Given such whopping great gaps in their knowledge, getting well and truly screwed is inevitable.

    (partial comment transferred from other post by blog administrator)

  17. I agree Sacha, these issues have never been a major concern and I thank all of you for your interesting comments. I am enjoying this discussion and am glad I have raised questions and perhaps sparked thought and debate here. Dominant paradigms are often difficult things to erode or break through (look at the history of patriarchy in Australia for one and I could go on but I won’t) hehe

    The Arts aren’t warm and fuzzies, they are aesthetic, visceral, cognitive and emotional and perhaps my point is that all of these mental, psychological and as PJ has put it “physical” core educational goals and aims are not at the forefront. But I have only discussed the literacies specific and unique to The Arts – this does not mean that there isn’t core literacy and numeracy in the Arts either. The 3 R’s are taught in Arts classrooms in addition to the aesthetic and multiliteracies we use specific to the Arts.

    And now with contemporary performance forms technology and the Arts is an ever growing and important partnership in our field. Cinematic live theatre is now being taught and used as a teaching tool and performance tool in many Qld and national Arts classrooms in addition to the internet and other communications technologies that are used by all key learning Areas including the Arts.

    The Howard government recently announced its contingency plans for the mental health crisis we have in this country. Suggestions of placing full time psychologists etc at all medical centres and other such policy initiatives have been discussed in the media. I suppose this brings me back to my initial statements about “happiness” and the role the Arts play in being essentially happy (re: my above comments I won’t go into detail again)

    All I can say is if you neglect happiness at one end then surely you cannot be surprised by having to bandaid heal unhappiness with billions of dollars at the other end. Prevention rather than cure hmmm

    I agree, economics will always be at the centre of thought, debate and publicity at a social and political level, afterall isn’t it materialism that makes a culture stable and happy?

    So happy that even John Howard is suggesting billions more dollars of investment into mental health that is badly needed.

    On yet another late night where I am madly planning some innovative lesson for tomorrow I sit here and ponder other cultures in the world (and right here in sections of this country including our Indigenous community) where people may be less fortunate materialistically but are much more happy than we seem as a society. Maybe they have rituals in their family and community or maybe they sing and dance together or tell each other stories and communicate, maybe work together as a team making things – hmmm I am sure teamwork fits into the Arts somewhere!!!! :)



  18. P.S. I know what passive consumerism of The Arts is and as important as taking students to see live theatre and music and dance is, it is about one hundredth of what an Arts practitioner does for their students in a school year. We teach students how to make, how to present and perform AND how to respond and critique in class. The theatre visits tie everything we have done together. Schools and education systems have very strong relationships with Industry partners and they are all on side with my views and comments I have expressed here and I would like to acknowledge all of them for their commitment to Youth Arts and young people and in their support of Arts teachers in schools. They know how important our young people are not only as future audiences to the sustainability of their companies but also know that our youth are the next generation of creators and are our future cultural capital and innovators.


  19. In the true spirit of reflective practise (something us teachers do all the time reviewing and refining our practise and reflecting on what we are doing well and not so well as teachers with our students, I decided yesterday and today to quickly ask my students to write down on a piece of paper for me in their own personal time what they thought the Arts and specifically drama did for them as a student and also what was unique or special about the Arts as opposed to the other 7 Key Learning Curriculum areas in schools (the 8 KLA’s nationally and in Qld are English, SOSE, Science, Maths, technology, Health, LOTE and the Arts).

    There was no discussion about the question as I didn’t want to influence what they wrote and also we have too much other work to get through to waste the time.

    Here is what some of them had to say from years 8-10 (12-15 year olds):

    – “drama has helped me understand myself better and given me the confidence to speak in front of an audience better and also in front of people I don’t know” (year 10 student)

    – “I now know that symbols are all around us and are an important aspect of our lives to understand and know” (year 10 student)

    – “The Arts help me relieve stress. If I make a mistake I am not criticised for it, I learn from it. Without drama and the Arts school would be boring” (year 10 student)

    – “You learn valuable social lessons that you can use in the outside world” (year 8 student)

    – “Drama is important because it helps you learn about how people feel inside and it teaches you ways of life. I have learnt how it feels to be a victim of bullying and didn’t realise how far bullying can go in terms of someone’s life and how depressed they can become” (year 8 student)

    – “Drama and The Arts has built my confidence as a person, promotes creativity, promotes social well-being and has helped me build trust amongst my peers” (year 8 student)

    – “our Arts teachers have not only taught people who have gone on to become famous in the Arts they also teach all of their students how to become a person” (year 8 student)

    and there were more!! Some of them were just so beautiful!!

    Our young people are marginalised in so many parts of the democratic process in our society and culture and seem to always be blamed for the ills of our society as well. When was the last time teenagers were presented in mass media as highly functional, aesthetically, emotionally and critally literate and aware of themselves and the world around them?

    It is after responses like these that I am even more convinced The Arts should never be broadsided by this country again.


    Sean :)

  20. Sean [post 18]:
    You said “The Arts aren’t warm and fuzzies, they are aesthetic, visceral, cognitive and emotional ….”

    I agree …. and they are downright essential in everyday life too. As I said earlier: they are vital for successful business.

    A major problem is the term “ARTS”. It is a word that, for many people, immediately brings to mind images of precious pansies prancing around at the tax-payers’ expensive, of incomprehensible splashes of bad colour, of stacked rubbish, of unreadable books devoid of characters or plots, of fake poets ….. in other words, the word “ARTS” stinks to high heaven (perhaps even with a little justification). Most of the people who have come to Andrew’s blog probably know what Arts really is – but, alas, we are not the majority of people in Australia.

    If we can’t change peoples’ hostile or scornful attitudes to “ARTS” in less than a couple of generations, perhaps we could try using a neutral or a friendly term to describe it, such as “Humanities” (no?) or “Communications” (a bit too narrow). What’s needed is a concise, easily understood term that would not deter either “real men” or “real women” from being associated with it. Sorry, my imagination and cleverness have both have both gone out for the night without me so I can’t think of an appropriate term just now. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  21. I am somewhere between an alternative schooler and an anti schooler. The main reason for this is because schools (and universities) repress the inate human drive to create and refashion it into the obligation to produce.

    This is not a matter of curriculum but of pedagogy. The pedagogy of mass instruction and assesment is the imposition of a predetermined framework onto the student.

    Teaching something creative in the context of repression does not enlighten the repression, it scars the creation.

    everyone is an artist, the reason some people don’t create art is because their natural urges have either been repressed or not been resourced. (same thing)

    Simply studying art does not make an artist. Encouraging students to go beyond the perceptions and expectations of others and have belief in their own inate creativity, and allow it to manifest is how you make an artist. This is antithetical to the process of school.

    Art is about expression, not asessment.
    However as soon as assessment comes into the picture the act of creation is itself a process of conformity.

    Innovation and creativity require a headspace that schools, as they are cannot provide.

    I know I don’t have the personal vision that a school art teacher might have, I see things as someone who has fathered or fostered 10 school students over the years.

    There are so many things about our education system that is dysfunctional I can get no enthusiasm to fine tune any particular aspect of it.

    However art, creativity and innovation should be, and usually have been, central to any succesfull alternative school or education paradigm. Art is central to Aboriginal education paradigms.

    Mainstream school art is at best an enjoyable break to the monotony of the holistic, uncreative school experience, but ultimately conforming to the same pavlovian psychology as the rest of the school experience through assessment and classroom dynamics.

    I know there are some good teachers who do good things, they are just outweighed by the rest of it, especially in the overcrowded, under-resourced public schools.

  22. Of course we need arts. And with the explosion of the Internet, more people are producing and sharing art now than ever before.

    What we don’t need are “arts teachers” who impose their political agenda on students, or government-funded arts councils that pay talentless hacks to produce meaningless, self-referential garbage.

    The arts don’t need a bureaucracy, either in educational institutions or funding bodies. These things destroy art, leaving only political statements.

  23. Sean, less funding to school Arts (if that happens) wouldn’t by any means necessarily mean a dimunition of creativity. People are creative – and can be regardless of whether they paint, sing, play an instrument, do drama, make films or whatever. School “Arty” subjects are not the same thing as creativity.

    In saying this I’m not saying that there should be less funding for these sorts of subjects/programs.

  24. The 7.30 report tonight – a big shakespeare conference.

    Some of the people were talking about the universalism of shakespeare and it’s relevence to many cultures.

    I beg to differ. The whole cultural perception in Shakespeare is British, not just being based on stories of British history and politics but also in the literary and theatrical traditions.

    The fact that shakespeare has been translated and culturally adapted is not a universal attribute of the narrative, any theatre piece can be adapted and contextualised. There are millions of writers and texts who have covered universal topics such as power struggles, love, jealosy, the supernatural, internal anxt, etc. In most cases when Shakespeare is given a contemporary context such as the court venue on the 7.30 report tonight or Kooemba Jdarra/Cement box theatres collaboration on Romeo and Juliet where the conflicting families were represented as Aboriginal and non Aboriginal, it is the adaption itself that is the creative element, and often focus, of the performance. In these contexts shakespeare is not the art work but simply the tool, like a paint brush. that the artist uses to create a work with it’s own meaning transcendent to the shalespeare narrative.

    So why is shakespeare so widely read and performed around the globe by so many cultures? Because it is an icon of british colonialism like the bible, cricket, soccer and parliamentary democracy.

    Like cane toads and bilge rats, shakespeare is feral culture that has spread to many continents as the British empire has entrenched itself.

    A multi-cultural population on an ancient Aboriginal country should be creating our own narratives and traditions to embrace universal themes and narratives relevent to and based on key issues of Australian society instead of force feeding a restricted canon of british culture through a universal education system

  25. John Tracey:

    Although I do agree with much of what you said, I disagree with you about expression and about assessment.

    Art cannot be about Expression alone, it is has to be about Understanding and Application, both of which require discipline – if it were about expression alone it would not be art but merely self-indulgence.

    Assessment is necessary but it need not stifle creativity.

    Evil Pundit:

    You are talking about bludgers, rorters and ratbags, not about Arts.

    These parasites are terribly interested in arrrts because that’s where the money or the prestige are, if their opportunities to swindle the public through Arts ceased right now and at the same time, similar opportunities to plunder the rich and the gullible came up in, say for example, Confectionary :-), we would find the same layabouts popping up as instant experts on chocolates, bon-bons, gelati, lollipops and chewing-gum …. and, of course, “teachers” and “councils” for these activities would emerge overnight..

    No. We still do need Arts teachers – to instruct, to guide, to demonstrate various techniques, to correct faults that hinder improvement, to provide the structure and the discipline in which the student can learn and become proficient.

    No. We still do need funding bodies to nurture the talented, to encourage the interchange of ideas and experience, to provide access to expensive instruments or travel, to help put on exhibitions or concerts or to publish.

    What we do not need at all is any more “jobs for the boys” (nor “the girls”); nor more handouts to pals, chums or bed-sharers; nor more looting to subsidize political-extremist exploiters of children or a pack of talentless layabouts.

    Anyway, I liked Sean Cameron’s posts earlier.

  26. Agree with Graham Bell. I also agree with some of the comments made re: Shakespeare. Funnily enough, because Shakespeare is taught in English in our school (more as literature than Drama but nevertheless it is taught) I tend to steer clear of it in my drama courses. I don’t dislike Shakespeare, quite the contrary, but when there is so much to teach and only 5 years (grade 8-12) to teach it, I prefer to look at texts and narratives that do speakk directly to our students yet still provide them with a balance of forms and styles and their conventions from a range of cultures and historical periods. Thank heavens Theatre for Young People has developed a very strong form of its own. because my specialistion is Youth Arts I prefer to create drama alongside young people which is for, through and about young people and their aesthetic experiences. WHich privileges their grounded experiences and gives them a voice and agency to express themselves. As I will say again, the Arts give young people a forum and vehicle to tell their own narratives and make their own statements where in public life they have less opportunities because they are “not yet quite” adults. I am not sure that I have said anything that is left right or centre politically by saying these things about my practise. As I have said earlier, to think, question and feel is not coming from any political agenda – well not one specific that I am aware of.Particularly if you are contemporary and progressive in your practise and begin your planning with questions that the students themselves raise and want to interogate. This is known as “negotiated curriculum” and what better place to learn how to negotiate than in an Arts classroom space. Teamwork, trust, negotiation, understanding status and power in relationships, learning about Human COntext and Behaviour, compromise, how to communicate how you feel, making meaning etc etc

    Aren’t these the inherent and quintessential core areas of learning that in our culture is what is required in families, in relationships, in friendships, in the workplace, even in parliament and inside bureaucracy??? We may not like or agree with every aspect of our human existence but don’t we express ourselves everyday through the Arts because of this very thing???

    I never see myself as the Gatekeeper of knowledge and everything my students need to know as being inside my head or heart because none of them are me. I am trained and have the experience to guide them, to help find answers to their questions, to give them confidence to use dramatic form for themselves – in essence I see myself as the training wheels, not the whole bike!!!

    Drama and the Arts are experience!! As an adult who has made lots of mistakes and made lots of good choices in my own life, why would I ever hypocritcally tell students how or what to do or think? That is didactic, and terribly boring and condescending. In life as in art, we all have the answers inside us, I am merely one of many resources my students can access in finding out for themselves what answers they require about life, about themselves, about history, about culture, about relationships etc

    WHilst I am aware not every teacher thinks like this necessarily, I have way too much exciting drama to make together with my students to waste time on my own ego or being precious – oh how I dream about having the time to be precious!!!! haha

    I never fell into teaching drama because I became a poor or disgruntled or out of work actor – I always wanted to teach as I believe this is my art. All of us are artists – we are all narrative and we all have something to contribute and share – and that is why blogs like on here are good because websites are the Arts and communication hehe



  27. P.S. John as someone who is in the school system every day I understand what you are saying about schools being relevant and keeping up with the pace of society, culture, the workforce and change. But schools do the best they can with the funding they get to do this. And secondly, many people like myself find the teaching part of teaching the least stressful in our days!!! I can do that standing on my head. it is the constant fighting to get others to see what YOU are saying about how schools need to change – even down to the way they are spatially set up, how they are furnished, where computers are placed within certain classrooms. And I could go on and on.

    In high school we might have 6 classes, be on thousands of committees (inside and outside the school walls) do lunch duty, run sporting teams, direct school musicals and productions, mentor training teachers, mentor less experienced members of staff, plan innovative, relevant and connected units and lessons, mark, report, keep relationships and communications open with parents, write budgets and Annual Operational Plans with tight budgets, organise excursions, give up our lunch to supervise students rehearsing, manage behaviour, support struggling or disadvantaged students, return phonecalls and emails (which are getting ridiculously higher and higher every year as technology becomes the way to communicate efficiently)and somewhere in there remember to eat, exercise, have our own life and stay creative and energised and keep smiling for our students – oh yes and of course TEACH. ( and i didn’t mention the politics did i – don’t get me started lol)

    All those comments you have made about schools John Tracey I am hearing you loud and clear!!

    I think it would cost the whole amount spent on Centrelink each year to implement what you are saying – but there are definitely merits in what you have to say – but as I have learnt in this vocation, idealism doesn’t hang around with you long haha


  28. Hi Sean,
    I hear what you are saying too. I hope you didn’t feel too upset by my comments, I was of course trying to be dramatically provocative.

    “All the world is a stage”

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