Ambition signals cool new dawn for Canberra’s culture

'CBR' work of art curated by Dionysus

CBR artwork curated by Dionysus. Photo: Martin Ollman.

In a single statement, ACT Minister of Arts Tara Cheyne has signaled the end of Canberra’s reputation as physically and culturally gray.

It does not matter if we become Australia’s art capital, by uniting local authorities, Canberra’s arts sector and the city’s businesses on the obstacles to this vision, we will be known for what we are becoming: cool.

No more fuss about parking, here are real city problems to solve when we get out of the COVID-19 lockdown: affordable prices, planning constraints and the ambition of our arts sector.

Affordability is a key issue for the Minister’s Declaration of ambition for art 2021-2026 ‘. The majority of artists do not earn much, so a vibrant art ecosystem needs a Lonsdale Street hub without Lonsdale Street prices.

Where are the mass places with cheap food, or the cheap areas that do not sleep? With the expansion of the light rail and some smart footwork from the planning department, places like Fyshwick or Phillip could become the new Braddon – a hub for mixed creative use.

Fire burns at LESS Solstice event

The LESS Solstice event at Dairy Road. Photo: Gupi de Zavalia.

But smart footwork is not a common feature of the planning department unless it is to dampen cultural activity. Mixed-use urban areas – the modern planning solution for our city – have impossible sound laws.

In the past year alone, MusicACT is aware of three separate residents who have purchased apartments – recently approved by the planning department – next to two venues and a restaurant and lodged noise complaints with the aim of reducing their opening hours.

One of these places has been trading since 1857. The 164-year-old pub had to lower its support for live music and has been denied a development permit because they break an impossible definition of ‘excessive noise’.

Cultural sites will always lose to one grumpy resident under current sound laws, but the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) sees no problem.

D-Nox appears on the Soul Defender truck

D-Nox appears on the Soul Defender truck. Photo: Caitlin Welch.

Maybe we, like them, should go to bed at. 22.00 in the Australian Art Capital. But that is not Minister Cheyne’s intention.

Gordon Lowe, Director of Planning at Molonglo Group, is well acquainted with this pattern.

“It does not seem to matter that the ACT Assembly agrees – they are only a parliament of the people’s representatives,” he says. “It’s the public authorities that seem to have the last word.”

But times are changing.

The Statement of Ambition for the Arts 2021-2026 is an economic championship and urban businesses should pay attention.

Artists dance in water

Australian Dance Party at Shine Dome. Photo: Maria Koulouris.

An active night economy (NTE) – with evening events in public spaces, restaurants open after noon. 21, later retail and a diversity of theaters and venues for locals and tourists – could counteract the economic downturn in the CBD caused by the Covid19 pandemic.

In 2018, Canberra’s NTE employed 29,915 workers, or 12.9 percent of the total ACT economy, contributing revenue of $ 3.345 billion.

Seventy percent of this huge number were just food businesses closing around 6 p.m. 21.00. This is the largest single economic move available to the city – to inspire an NTE – and the planning of it is already in focus for Minister Cheyne’s ‘Better Regulation Taskforce’.

I welcome our progressive government, but I am concerned about the omnipotence of the current EPA – they are silent but deadly to progress.

The declaration of ambition for the arts 2021-2026 involves more than politics and tourism.

We need to talk about bad art in Canberra. Yes, it’s subjective, and it can happen in any city, but we’ve seen too much. Bad art will slow down audiences, investment and the maturation of the sector.

One solution is to develop and attract great artists to flood the ecosystem, so when you choose from lots of local shows, you can find something to love.

Citizen Kay performs on Let Music Live

Citizen Kay performs on Let Music Live. Photo by Martin Ollman.

We need to stop the brain drain from top artists traveling to ‘do it’ in Melbourne, Berlin or New York. This is a high order, but not impossible.

As Canberra becomes known as a great place to live, the artist emigration has already slowed down – the real trick is to keep the best artists, because let’s be honest, superstars are the guys.

eX de Medici stayed here. Safia has it too. Why? Aside from being good enough to be successful from another planet, they enjoy Canberra and they have roots here.

But they made many appointments away to get back here. Countless stayed away.

All our cultural organizations must contribute at a national level. To establish more great artists, more people need to discover our local culture. They need to grow roots here and they need to be nurtured with enticing roads and industry connections so that they flourish inside the ACT.

This probably means new thinking.

If Canberra works towards this ambition, COVID-19 will mark the end of our gray reputation.

What is your role? My company, Dionysus, has a submission site for new ways to enliven the city here.

Now let’s rock and roll.

David Caffery is the founder of Dionysus, president of MusicACT, chairman of the Australian Dance Party, and owner of Soul Defender.

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