Arts = Change – But How Do We Change ?





Both of these Pop Culture references could be part of a theme song for how the face of our business of performing arts needs to change.

Why do we need to change? There are three key issue I’ll address in this opinion piece, and please forgive me if I take some poetic license in some of these

  • Arts needs to be seen for the amount of value it really provides over the face value it is often given because for many people it has no value and, for those for whom it has value, this is rarely expressed as an imperative to policy makers
  • If we want to improve our lot, change is needed across the industry, which mean his means changing the language we speak and the people we speak to
  • This is not about changing art it is about taking the boldness of creativity using it rethink who we reach, influence and change


A number of stats for Western Australia Arts and Culture were pointed out to me yesterday and they provide an insight in to how we make ground with audiences, politicians and the value of the arts.

The stats that throw a spotlight on this need for change are as follows:

Value of Arts and Culture:

In Western Australia it is 50/50, about 50% of the people value arts and culture and 50% do not see a value in it.

Areas that have access to the arts vs those that see value in the arts (most to least):

  • Western Suburbs inc Perth City                    Western Suburbs inc Perth City
  • Inner Metropolitan                                              Inner Metropolitan
  • Outer Metropolitan                                              Outer Metropolitan
  • Regional Areas                                                       Regional Areas

In terms of seats in Parliament the top areas with access and who value the arts provide 3 seats.

Politicians care about what people in their electorate care about. Their constituents are the voices that they hear and create the groundswell,  as does keeping the state running.  Arts seems to be quite low on the list of things people talk to their local member about. It takes a groundswell to make things happen. Enough members of the party in power have to believe that an issue is important to make a party position on the issue. The Minister/Department has to provide a business case, with evidence to Treasury and then, much like your Local Government, a majority of Cabinet or the decision body have to agree to moving forward. All of this relies on evidence and passion from the people in our audiences and communities to tell their local members arts matters, for them, their families, and their communities.

If a majority of the people in a community don’t care or see value in the arts, we need to understand why. Do they lack access? maybe because they have barriers or maybe we haven’t invited them or maybe they just don’t want to show up. Whatever the reason, if there is not enough value in our communities then there is no outcry about people not getting what they want and so no outrage reaches the ears of the politicians the year a community was left bereft of arts experiences.

Most politicians get the arts. They see it, they’ve done it or the know of an organisation who makes big changes. However, in areas of policy, Governments work towards what the people want and need. If they or the people who influence their decisions haven’t experienced what we offer or haven’t expressed that arts is important, why would they prioritise arts?

Dare To Change

As humans we have the tendency to follow the path of least resistance, and go where the love is, but how can someone love us if they have never experienced us?

How do we engage with someone if we never speak to them or when we reach out to them, we do the equivalent of shouting at them in German, whilst they only speak English?

Sometimes we seem to be throwing a BBQ and sending the invite to the vegetarian society.

In arts we also sometimes have a tendency to listen only to people who love us or from people who think like we do. When was the last we asked a group of people who didn’t like what we produce why they don’t like it, what the barriers to arts are or why they don’t come? We often only use one side of the statistics, the measures of our lovers not our detractors. When was the last time you asked, who am I not seeing in my audiences or what communities am I not reaching?

There is also a disconnect between the oft used phrase, “arts for all” and talk about the power of the arts and the impact it has. In the real world for many the access is limited in what people can see on the ground at a grassroots level.

Go Boldly

Beware more pop culture ahead!

Star Trek has had more cultural impact than any other tv show – and I believe we can learn many lessons from this fictional universe (excuse me whilst I nerd out!). Every episode of the Star Trek from the original series to Voyager has opened with:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!

As a sector, in an authentically collaborative and collective voice, we need adopt the philosophy of these opening lines from Star Trek. We need to seek out new communities, new audiences, new places that we have never been before and boldly go there. We need to work with these communities not on them. We need to look at the entire spectrum and include those that don’t have a seat yet –rather than target only the few low hanging fruit who offer least resistance. And we need to be dedicated to it!

We also need to make sure we act like “Universal Translators” (a Star Trek gadget) this device allows members of different species to understand each other by translating each language. We need to be ready to speak a number of languages and also listen and hear in a number of languages. We have to be open to communication.

Only in this way will we see growth in the people who value the arts and grow a groundswell of support. Eventually, this will than make the value of arts and culture as important as the value of a pool or library or oval. It will show that investing in arts and culture is as important as health, education and other sectors.

Sometimes we don’t have to change what we do, we have to change how we talk about it. Sometimes we need to see how our missions and purposes align with the Government of the day’s mission and purpose, not to change but to see how they work together.

When I was managing Koorliny Arts Centre a Board member used to ask me these questions – “Will there be outrage if you close down? Where will it come from? How much will there be?”

So, I ask you – Will there be? Where from? How much? And I ask one final question what tools have we given to those who are outraged to speak on our behalf?

We need to make a change because we can turn quicker than a starship and we have the passion, the creativity and the knowledge. We are stronger together.