Imagine if Australia Had a Cultural Policy

Imagine if Australia Had a Cultural Policy by Anita Bellman

Imagine if Australia didn’t have policies relating to health, transport, national security, finance and community services. What would that say about the value placed on these important aspects of our society and economy? Hold that thought. Did you know that the cultural and creative industries sector contribute in excess of a whopping $111.7 billion* annually to the Australian economy? If you’re reading this soapbox then you’re more than likely aware, through experience, of the way cultural and creative activities impact positively on a vibrant, inclusive, cohesive and engaged society. Ok, now back to policy. Australia does not have a cultural policy. I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions.
As Executive Director of the Northern Rivers Conservatorium in Lismore and President of the Association of NSW Regional Conservatoriums, I, of course, view the cultural and creative industries through the lens of music and music education. The network of 17 Regional Conservatoriums across NSW is unique, worldwide reaching in excess of 30,000 students annually. I’m also in an incredibly privileged position to see some of the outstanding work that is delivered by individual music educators at the local level across NSW.
There is a healthy body of research existing pointing to the benefits of arts, and in particular music education. This research extends to other areas of the curriculum, pointing to the positive impacts on social and emotional well-being and brain development. The ABC program “Don’t Stop the Music” featured Dr Anita Collins who is a leading researcher in the field of brain development and music. Anita’s research can be accessed through her website

While there is some outstanding work being done by hardworking, dedicated teachers at the local level – this is not supported structurally through policy. There is currently no requirement for music to be taught by a specialist teacher in primary schools. Generalist primary school teachers are not adequately prepared through their higher education courses to confidently deliver arts education in the classroom – this is unfair to both teachers and students.
The late Richard Gill sought to remediate this situation through the introduction of the National Music Teacher Mentoring program. This peer mentoring program for generalist primary school teachers aims to build capacity, quality and outcomes for classroom music across Australia. Interestingly, Richard secured significant funding for the establishment of this program through a federal arts minister. According to Richard, he made the case that without adequate arts education, there will be no arts and no arts minister.
Of course, Richard was right. Arts education is essential in laying the foundation for the development of our artists and audiences of the future.  While some schools have outstanding music programs, there is gross disparity between schools, meaning that many students do not have access to a quality music education. A comprehensive, quality education in the arts for children and teenagers within the school system is vital to ensure an ongoing creative sector with skilled artists and educated audiences.

Now back to policy – imagine if Australia had a cultural policy.


*From Bureau of Communication & Arts Research 2016-17

Anita Bellman
Executive Director, Northern Rivers Conservatorium
President, Association of NSW Regional Conservatoriums
Chair, Creative Lismore


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