Virginia

The arts and creative industries play a vital role in developing our culture, communities and economy. Despite this, the arts are still fraught with challenges that can cause decision-making to be difficult. This week’s arts interview, former Arts Minister of NSW, Virginia Judge, gives us an insight into her passion for the arts, the value of the arts sector in NSW and how she handles decision-making in a government environment.

Interview by Georgina Sandercock

How important do you think the arts are to NSW?

I think a vibrant Arts sector is really the surest sign of a healthy democracy. It is very much the mural that we can hold up to our society and its legacy by which we will be judged. It is absolutely vital that the arts are open to everyone to enable individual creativity and joy. Our culture is very much strengthened by our diverse voices. Filmmakers, musicians, artists, dancers and storytellers all have the power to inspire empathy and command understanding. They challenge the status quo to hint very much at what lies beyond the edges of the unknown and help to illuminate visions of our better selves.

I very much believe that culture in essence belongs to all of us. It does not matter where you come from; we have all got our own particular stories. Sometimes we use these as metaphors to weave a beautiful fabric, with each fiber representing a particular story and the relationship we have with each other and the environments that have inspired that creativity. The arts are a great unifier, which can strengthen our diversity and emphasises that culture belongs to all of us. We have a wonderfully innovative, imaginative, talented and sharing group of people in our creative industries and this is one of our greatest assets.

Tell us about some key projects you initiated when you were NSW Arts Minister?

I wanted to develop an arts policy and cultural strategy, and decided to run a series of forums. Sadly, a program was never launched, but the initial forums held were a success and provided great information and insight into the arts and creative industries. The series of forums I ran ended up involving over 600 practitioners, peak organisations and a number of government departments, cultural institutions and a number of businesses from the corporate industry. The aim of these forums was to find out how we could really benefit from the needs of creative works. They were very much a valuable way, a tool for me to find out about their ideas, issues, problems, strengths, hopes and aspirations.

The forums were very innovative and had never been attempted before.
I brought all the different industries, government and businesses into parliament. People were very shocked and were amazed that bureaucrats and practitioners from creative industries were all in one room and talking. I based the arts policy and strategy and my funding guidelines on the key outcomes from the forums. It was amazing that in every sector the same things kept coming through. One key outcome was that everyone needed the affordable space to create. Affordable space can be hard to find in NSW, in particular the metro areas of Sydney. This outcome highlighted the huge area for all governments to look at and consider how we can improve this.

How did your personal passion and arts practice inform your decision-making?

I only have limited experience in life and the sector. Whenever attempting any sort of decision-making, I would go to the people in the respective fields and talk to them. It is important to hear what they have to say and then act accordingly. I believe an organic process is hugely important to decision-making. You do not have many other opportunities to do this, so you do not want to waste time.

It is important to ask yourself ‘What decisions am I going to make’? These decisions should then be informed by other practitioners – it is important to use people’s real life experiences, talent and wisdom. Once I had gone through this process, I had to put it in a way that I could present to the Government. Obviously, there is always a huge demand on the budget – our education, health and transport etc. are important and sometimes the arts and creative industries are not always up there. You need to position your debate as a member of parliament and convince them of the wonderful things these industries have to offer and how it contributes to the economy.

What advice would you give to any future practitioners with regard to decision-making?

When I talk about decision-making, I always try to emphasise the positive impact of culture and broaden their thinking about the sector. You must be hugely persistent and not give up. You have to make people feel as if they are doing a disservice to society if they do not support this vibrant sector. Effective decision-making is networking through people, using the resources that are there, and working as a collective – it is much easier to get results if you work together. I think it is very important to be active, push hard and be extremely vocal.

Further reading on decision-making and politics in the arts:

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