Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Next Generation of Cultural Institution by Lisa Havilah

The Next Generation of Cultural Institution by Lisa Havilah.  Currency House Creativity and Business Breakfast Series, at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Wednesday May 18, 7.30am.
Media Contact: Martin Portus, Mobile 0401 360 806

Commentary by Frank McKone
May 18

A 300 kilometre drive from Canberra to Sydney before breakfast, to hear Lisa Havilah was a bit too daunting, so I thank Currency House’s Arts and Media Consultant, Martin Portus, for making available the text of Lisa’s early morning address.

To provide some kind of context for Lisa Havilah, Director of Carriageworks, I have found two interesting and at least superficially contrasting ‘frames’ for her personality. 

She appears in an august listing of speakers, put together by BoardConnect, “a service designed to support the boards of arts and nonprofit organisations.”  The keynote speaker for their Creative Leadership Symposium, Sydney 21-22 March 2013, was the trusted economist we often see on ABC TV, Saul Eslake.

On the other hand (or should I say on the other foot?), Lisa appears in the fashion pages of the Sydney Morning Herald: where “Your most recent purchase?” is “A pair of Celine gold-plated brogues.”

However, that report characterises Lisa Havilah as “Havilah prefers to blend into the background and let the art do the talking.”  Here, on the Canberra Critics’ Circle site, I’ll focus on key points she made in this morning’s speech. 

On my own blog, at, where my reviews and commentaries are collected together, I have copied the complete text.

Havilah’s story begins:

We have through our practice re-thought what a cultural institution is and can be and worked consistently in modelling and implementing an ambitious multi-year strategy that has clarity of purpose. Our strategy not only asks a lot of us but asks a lot of our artists, collaborators, our partners and our communities.  We haven’t let anyone labour under low expectations. 

As a result over the last 4 years;

-    Audiences have doubled each year and over 1 million people will engage with Carriageworks programs in 2016.

-    Our investment into our Artistic Program has grown by 400% and this year we will commission and present over 54 projects supporting more than 850 artists.

-    Our earned income has more than doubled and in 2016, Carriageworks is forecast to generate more than $7m in revenue.

So how have we done this? We have

- Developed and presented a contemporary multi arts program that commissions and presents work across music, dance, performance and visual arts.

- We have implemented an innovative business model in which we entrepreneur 75% of our turnover through the application of a curatorial framework that brings together the Artistic Program, Major Events and Commercial Programs. This is a circular model, which is complex in application but simple in form. We invest into our Artistic Program, which grows our profile, which in turn grows our commercial and major events programs.  These commercial returns are then invested back into the Artistic Program.

- We present an Artistic Program that directly reflects the social and cultural diversity of NSW, that holds Aboriginal practice at its core and engages new communities. Cultural diversity is a key strategy within our Artistic Program and 70% of our artists are from culturally diverse backgrounds.

We have implemented major multi-year cultural strategies including

A new $2m strategy, Solid Ground, in partnership with Blacktown Arts Centre that provides pathways for young Aboriginal people in Sydney and Western Sydney into arts and cultural employment; and

New Normal, a National Arts and Disability Strategy that will commission 10 major new works by artists with disability over the next 3 years.

Speaking in the presence of New South Wales State Deputy Premier and Arts Minister, Troy Grant,  Havilah made a strong point of the importance of clear government policy and practical application, saying:

We collaborate with the NSW government who support us to take significant risks in the scale and ambition of our projects.  This support has enabled us to constantly rethink our capacity as an institution. We have built long-term relationships with Destination NSW, Biennale of Sydney, Sydney Festival and the City of Sydney.  This year we will work with over 150 partners across our Artistic Program.  We have re-thought and constantly rethink our management and operating systems to develop new hybrid models of activity and outcomes. Our curators and producers have been integrated into one team working across artistic, commercial and community outcomes.

So what is there not to be happy about?  Everything sounds as if it going our way, as Havilah describes:

Cultural institutions should be radical and participatory.  They should lie in the heart of their communities, providing moments of great joy and wonder, they should provide pathways, lead social change and create and deliver on our individual and collective ambition.  We as a community and as individuals should demand a lot of our institutions. They must reflect our everyday lives and allow us to step outside of ourselves - if just for a moment.

But look at the contrast between the NSW Government and the Australian Federal Government, and we see the cause of the establishment of The Arts Party which I have just joined in the hope that change may begin at the next election on July 2.  Here’s how Havilah lays out the situation:

Last year NSW adopted its first ever Arts and Cultural Policy: Create in NSW.  This Policy is being consistently applied by the NSW Government with great clarity of purpose. Within this Policy framework the Government has clearly articulated its vision and provided opportunities for the sector to deliver outcomes. Not everyone agrees with the priorities but everyone is clear on the direction and how they fit or not within a broader policy framework.  Policies are critical rules and directions that everyone understands. This is good government and policy directed investment results in strong returns.

Where things fall apart for the arts is when decisions are made by Government outside of a consistent policy framework. Within a reduced Federal resource base for the arts, inconsistently applied policy and government protectionism for parts of the sector result in inequity for some organisations and complacency by those protected.

Michael Lynch set up the Australia Council’s Major Performing Arts fund over 20 years ago as a bold initiative that that led to extraordinary growth and stability across the performing arts sector in Australia.  20 years later those companies are still our major performing arts companies – but is that it?

Will we have the same group of major performing arts companies for another 20 years? How do we ensure that we provide pathways and opportunities for new companies from the small to medium sector such as Sydney Chamber Opera, Force Majeure and Performance 4A to become the national Major Performing Arts Companies of the future?

Like any innovation in science, research medicine, sustained protected performance-managed government investment is required. Shouldn’t ambitious, new work, new companies and new institutions have an equal opportunity to deliver on any level of ambition that they may have?  We as a community should expect this.

Culture in Australia will continue to suffer unless we have a national arts policy.  This policy needs to be ambitious and enable a new way of thinking about how we support the arts and to what level. We need a policy that centralises Federal government investment to ensure that it is consistent, delivers sustainability across the sector and supports the new.  The ongoing lack of a national policy has resulted in unprecedented damage to the sector. It is not acceptable for the Australia Council, after authoring their strategy, a Culturally Ambitious Nation, to now be put into a position where they can no longer deliver that strategy to any great degree. Is it possible for the Australia Council to remain relevant when their decisions aren’t supported through a broader national policy?

Up with the economists or down to her shoes, Lisa Havilah is a formidable Director of Carriageworks.  “Biggest fashion indulgence?  Shoes. When you have good shoes, you really feel dressed, no matter what else you are wearing.”

The announcement this week of the details of that “unprecedented damage” must be seen as the indictment that it is for federal ex-Arts Minister – who still remains Attorney-General – George Brandis.  His murdering political knives remain as bloodied as Macbeth’s.  “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from [his] hand?  No, this [his] hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnidine, / Making the green one red.”

ALP Red maybe, or The Australian Greens, but surely not Liberal/National Coalition blue?  Yet, to be honest, where is the ALP’s or the Greens’ “Policy [which] is being consistently applied ... with great clarity of purpose [and] within this Policy framework [a potential] Government [which] has clearly articulated its vision and provided opportunities for the sector to deliver outcomes?”  Where indeed?  Whose shoes will we be in, come July?

Recent purchase: Celine gold-plated brogues. Photo: Peter Rae