Archives for posts with tag: NSW government

Bridget

Bridget Smyth is the Director of the Design Team at the City of Sydney, charged with the responsibility of making Sydney look great! This team sets a strategic framework for shaping Sydney’s future in response to a number of factors such as climate change, congestion, mobility, cultural programs and public art. A major goal of the Design Team is to integrate public art into the fabric of the city, as encapsulated by their Laneway Art projects. This program has contributed immensely to the reinvigoration of Sydney’s forgotten laneways over the past five years. Bridget Smyth tells arts interview how diversity shapes the City of Sydney’s policies and programs.

Interview by Vi Girgis

For a city like Sydney, why is it important to have diverse cultural programs?

What is so interesting about Sydney is that it truly is a multicultural city. The amount of different language groups in Sydney is just one indication of this. For instance, Chinatown and the way it is growing is a great example, it is not just Chinatown anymore, and I think that is really exciting. The City of Sydney is at the heart of the metropolitan area and it therefore must feel truly open to everyone in that way. The work we do, in terms of how we shape city spaces and the heart of the city, needs to really underpin diversity so it feels engaging, vibrant, and is an open place for all members of our community.

When programming new projects what do you look for and hope to achieve in terms of diversity?

One of the really interesting ways in which we work here at the City is that I do not always feel like I have a predetermined ‘thing’ where “This project is going to do this, this and this.” We certainly have strategic outcomes, and the Sustainable Sydney 2030 program has a whole lot of targets that we are trying to meet, so that ‘big picture’ is predetermined. But the way we shape a space – the way it looks and the kinds of artists we are going to work with – is open. That is what makes the work we do so exciting! The way we start to develop such thinking is through consultation with the community, so we do not say for instance, “the space there is going to be pink and blue and these are the people who are going to use it.” We have a framework, and through engagement with the community it usually gets layered and enriched. It is sometimes quite surprising what comes out at the end.

How do you attract and develop new audiences?

I like to think of our role at the City Design Team as dealing with the hardware of the city; it is almost like we are the stage builders and other areas of the Council who run events and cultural programming deal with the software. But even though there is that distinction, if the hardware and the stage are not right, then no one is going to come and perform. So in the way that we design public spaces, we are very conscious of providing flexibility in the use of spaces. The colour and light of the city is its fleeting, ephemeral nature. The more flexible, accessible, open, and sometimes, the more attractive an amenity is – has shade and people want to use it – helps build audiences. But the audiences themselves cannot be predetermined.

What are some of the pitfalls to avoid when developing new cultural programs?

First of all, the City needs to be really clear about what is happening in the diverse and broader range of cultural activities in Sydney. The last thing we want to do is to duplicate what others are able to do better. For example, in the visual arts, there is already a great biennale [Biennale of Sydney], so why would the City want to reproduce that? Knowing who your partners are and who the other players are in the city is also really important. Another big pitfall is not being open-minded. If you are not open-minded when programming something culturally, you might miss an opportunity to work with someone new and to look at something differently. Sometimes people get comfortable with what they do and they just keep repeating it. So the biggest pitfall is not being open-minded and not being prepared to change to make sure there is freshness, flexibility and difference.

Interested in more on diversity and the arts?

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: