June 19, 2023
I thank the member for Macquarie for this really important motion. I want to acknowledge her visit to my electorate this month in her capacity as the Special Envoy for the Arts. She was hosted by my arts and culture roundtable at the Wangaratta Performing Arts & Convention Centre, a venue we hope in time will, with adequate support, become a significant arts precinct in Wangaratta.
The roundtable was an opportunity for the local arts, culture and entertainment sector to discuss the new national cultural policy, Revive. The policy aims to create a place for every story and a story for every place, especially including in rural, remote and regional Australia. Regional Australia needs this focus after so long being just an afterthought. The roundtable was an opportunity for our community to learn how to benefit from this new approach and ask the tough questions of the special envoy about what this actually means in practice. The roundtable was attended by more than 70 people from all across Indi, from Yea Arts Inc. right down south, all the way through to the Flying Fruit Fly Circus on the border. Indi has a highly engaged and talented arts and cultural community, and a cross-section attended that roundtable, including practitioners in the performing arts, visual arts, music and museums; and professional practitioners, community practitioners, aspiring practitioners, teachers and students.
Despite having such a thriving arts and cultural scene, the arts and cultural sector faces significant challenges after years of dwindling funding and the hollowing out of the sector due to the COVID public health measures. High on the list of questions at the roundtable were these barriers and what the policy can do to overcome them. We heard loud and clear that we need strong cultural infrastructure, and this means modern, appropriate precincts and buildings so we can attract the best talent to perform and exhibit in our galleries, libraries and theatres. We need support to upgrade our aging arts infrastructure, like the HotHouse Theatre in Wodonga, so it can keep commissioning local talent, producing, nurturing and presenting new contemporary Australian theatre coming directly from rural and regional Australia. These places enable our people.
To see the Revive policy come to fruition we must upgrade regional galleries like the Benalla Art Gallery. It has a creative vision for a world-class gallery which interfaces with the magnificent Lake Benalla, the CBD and the heritage botanical gardens. It’s the perfect place to deliver the Revive policy’s vision of the very best of our national collection touring the whole country. These artworks are proudly owned by all Australians, and they should be accessed by all Australians, no matter where they live. I thank the Friends of Benalla Art Gallery for attending the roundtable and for their ongoing advocacy with this really important and exciting vision.
At the roundtable we also discussed the jobs, skills and local training that’s required for our arts economy to truly thrive—for our producers, our technicians and the people who make it possible to showcase locally everything that the arts has to offer. David Godkin, a dedicated arts educator, raised the value of specialised arts teachers and how important arts education is for the health and wellbeing of our young people and for the future of the workforce. Jobs and Skills Australia has been established by the government to provide advice on workforce needs, including in the arts, and I urge them to consider a skills package to grow our regional arts and culture workforce. I especially thank all the participants for attending the roundtable and engaging so enthusiastically and thoughtfully: Eric Nash, director of the Benalla Art Gallery; Pamela O’Connor from the Friends of Benalla Art Gallery; Margie Gleeson from the HotHouse Theatre and Arts Yackandandah; and many more. Thank you for all you do to protect and promote the arts.
As the member for Indi, I take special pride in how our community showcases the arts across our towns. I recently attended the Rotary Alexandra Annual Easter Art Show, which has been running for a remarkable 53 years; the Mount Beauty Annual Easter Art Show; and ART in the Autumn, organised by Beechworth Arts Council. I congratulate the organisers and participants of these impressive exhibitions and the volunteers that make them happen, because they tell our stories back to us. That is what is so valuable and deserves our support. I look forward to continuing to work with the member for Macquarie on how we can make the most of the Revive policies in Indi. As David Godkin reflected to me after the roundtable, ‘We must continue this much-needed arts revival, survival and enable a thriving arts culture,’ and I could not agree more.