Last week I attended an invitation only dinner with Minister Tony Burke, Minister for the Arts. I was there on behalf of ALIA with representatives from 19 other not for profit arts organisations including Australian Society of Authors, Arts Access, Ausfilm, Screen Producers Australia and Interactive Games and Entertainment Association to name just a few. Also in attendance was Special Envoy for the Arts, Susan Templeman MP.
The purpose of the evening was to discuss the Government’s new National Cultural Policy to be released later this year. ALIA had already made a submission and contributed to the submission from Books Create. It was significant that ALIA was invited to the dinner on a number of fronts. Firstly because it is rare to have the opportunity to present our perspective to the Minister in person. Secondly because it shows that the Minister sees libraries as having an important role to play in the cultural life of the nation. Thirdly because it provided an opportunity for those other representatives from the arts sector to be reminded about libraries and their central role.
The Minister welcomed everyone and made some opening remarks about the importance of a cultural policy for the wellbeing of the nation. The cultural policy is building on the creative industries framework with the following 5 pillars:
- First Nations first
- A place for every story
- The centrality of the artist
- Strong institutions
- Reaching the audience
The Minister then opened it up for those around the table to have their say on the condition that there was only ever one conversation or one person speaking at a time. If you do the math – 20 people and 90 minutes, there was less than 5 minutes per person.
In my < 5 minutes I described ALIA and the range of libraries we represent as well as the range of skilled people who work in those libraries. In summary (and to the best of my recollection!) I made the following points about the importance of libraries being part of the national cultural policy:
Libraries are a place where culture is accessible to everyone. They provide free access to stories in various forms – literature, history, art, drama and music. They also provide safe spaces and access to resources for people to support learning and creativity.
Library and information professionals can work with people to ensure First Nations stories are preserved, shared and showcased. Australian stories and Australian storytellers are supported by libraries and their visitors whether it be through books, newspapers, movies or music, attending a writer’s talk or participating in storytime.
Library staff already provide enormous support to communities in ways which go far beyond processing loans from books on the shelves. Library staff make information accessible to everyone no matter their circumstances through the development of collections which respond to the needs of the community. Libraries are places of learning and social engagement with programs promoting multiple literacies and opportunities to experience cultural diversity.
With appropriate recognition and funding for the critical function libraries play in the community, the impact libraries can have on the cultural wellbeing of the nation is limitless.
The conversation around the table was one of hope and collegiality. People talked about the challenges faced through COVID and ever reducing funding but there was a sense that the future was brighter. The Minister made the important point that he can’t change things on his own. He needs us all to continue to make our voices heard and work together to amplify the benefits of what we do. The Minister appreciates the positive impact the arts can have across society and he wants to see the National Cultural Policy as a whole of government process that speaks to every portfolio from employment, education, health, trade and foreign affairs.