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There’s a computer game that many of my friends play called “Civilisation” (I know, this may seem to be an odd start to this post but I thought an interesting one) which is a game in which the player spends hours empire building. It’s an interesting game because it asks the player to imagine building a society that is victorious – and sometimes this means re-inventing history or re-thinking a strategic political position.

(Please note: I’ve not played the game myself – well not really – I’ve baby sat the screen whilst the mastermind was on a phone call… and recently on one of my many cultural adventures I was immersed in a bizarre place called “City Hunter” where I pretended to be the mastermind of an Orcs civilisation for a few hours in World of Warcraft – all I’m going to say about that is, it was weird.)

Interestingly, with computer games (a rising form of entertainment- some say which is subsuming the film industry) they deal with fantasy and place the gamer in position of skilled hero or strategic mastermind. It is a powerful and terrifying position to be put in. Even more interestingly with Civilisation IV there are several ways in which you can won the game and they are listed via Wikipedia –

* Conquest Victory – achieved by the player who successfully eliminates all of their rivals.
* Domination Victory – awarded when a player uses military might and cunning negotiation tactics to conquer a certain (often large) percent of the world’s population and a certain (large, but not quite as large) percent of the global land mass.
* Cultural Victory – awarded when a player has developed a culture so powerful that three of their cities have achieved legendary culture status. Legendary culture status is achieved by culture points, with the exact amount depending on game speed (25,000 for quick, 50,000 for normal, 75,000 for epic and 150,000 for marathon).
* Space Race Victory – achieved when a player completes all of the components necessary to send colonists off into space to found a new colony on Alpha Centauri and is the first to have their ship arrive there.
* Diplomatic Victory – awarded to the diplomatically gifted player who manages to garner 75% of the “Yes” votes (abstentions don’t count) in the United Nations or Apostolic Palace elections.
* Time Victory – achieved by the player who can do whatever it takes throughout all of human history to defeat enemies, expand their civilization, win the hearts and minds of the people, and boasts the highest score at the end of the game, in 2050 AD.

Yes! You can win a computer game via a cultural victory! Interesting, yes? And clearly Simon Crean is a Civilisation IV fan – because he’s asking some questions about Australia’s National Cultural policy.

And there is a paper you can download to learn more: http://culture.arts.gov.au/discussion-paper

Three weeks ago, I sat in the audience of Artscape’s National Cultural Policy discussion. If you look closely you’ll see a figure in black in the front row – with too much hair. That’s me. Sitting in front of my previous boss (Dr Ruth Harley – CEO of Screen Australia who three years ago DESTROYED my department during the film industry’s tragic merger. My department was “Industry and Cultural Development” – It gave funding to and created programmes for audience and skills development. It doesn’t exist anymore.) and Simon Crean and a mass of public servants and arts administrators. The blurb was:

“The panel discussion features Clare Bowditch, Wesley Enoch, Sue Cato, David Throsby and Marcus Westbury. In the audience and contributing to discussion is Simon Crean (Federal Arts Minister), Senator Kate Lundy (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister; Immigration and Multicultural Affairs), Kathy Keele (Australia Council), Adrian Collette (Opera Australia), Mark Scott (ABC) and Sue Donnelly (AMPAG).”

I was invited along as an artist, I guess. I sat and listened. It made me furious. A couple of things…


I’m not a funding body.
I am not a major company.
Any stats you have about showing me how much you’re doing for the arts – is really only lip service.
Being an artist is extraordinarily difficult in Australia. Funding and resources are limited, complicated and weighed heavily towards administrators – the processing, assessment of funding applications. And often administrators who need to protect their own jobs which take up a huge chunk of that government allocation. Most artists I know supplement their art with a variety of money-making jobs. In the independent theatre sector MOST artists are exhausted, part time employees trying to squeeze rehearsal around their day-job demands.
Any stats claiming how many artists are supported by the government are very superficial. I’m sure if there was a tick box on the centrelink form or a tax concession given to artists the figure would be very different.

Studying (the arts) is a luxury in this country.
Study is very expensive.
It’s also expensive to live in the cities where the training institutions are.
Often funding goes to those who have the time and energy to write funding applications which can take up to 40 hours – depending on what you are applying for.
There is also no guaranteed jobs in the arts – and so often artists graduate saddled with huge debt their professions may never pay off. This wasn’t always so. I look to the Whitlam era.

There is always talk about international touring.
Errgh. Who cares?
Why can’t Australian artists make work here and let the world come to us?

Has anyone asked the young people what they want? None were invited to the Artscape conversation. At the Australian Theatre Forum only a few of participants were under 25. I am proud to say that Shopfront Contemporary Art and Performance (which I am on the board of) sent a young person to represent the company. I can’t say the same for the other Youth Theatre Companies – they seemed to send their big wigs. It’s going to be the young people who inherit the cultural policy – I think it is only fair they are involved in this discussion.

So I ask you to imagine this:
Imagine if the National Cultural Policy decreed that –
1. All registered artists received 10% off all goods and services.
2. Artists tax-free threshold was $40,000 per year.
3. Artists were given $5,000 Rent allowance if they live in a major city.
4. Artists were offered subsidized parking in areas of cultural activity (galleries, theatres, studios etc)
5. All registered artists were given free accounting & business courses
6. Artist or “creative industry” is included as a profession on Centrelink’s forms.
7. There was a stipend for artists – ie artists can be given the dole.
8. Artists that generate work for other artists/ hire artists receive tax incentives.
9. “Art, culture and creative industries” is made a mandatory topic for inclusion in News bulletins and TV current affairs programs and newspapers.
10. Companies are given incentives to include artists on boards of corporate companies and businesses.

OK, there’s some of my thoughts… So this is what brings me to the question –

How would you envisage Australia’s cultural victory?
If you could shape Australia’s cultural imprint/impact/impression – if you were playing Civilisation IV, what would you do? How would you do it?

The short version of the discussion aired this evening on the ABC. Check it out:

I urge you to have your say in the National Cultural Policy.
Complete your on-line survey or submission for the National Cultural Policy by Friday 21 October at midnight.
Go to: http://culture.arts.gov.au/have-your-say.