Speech to the Creative Regions Summit


It’s a pleasure to be here today at this important summit.

Australia is home to a vibrant and critically important creative arts sector.

In my remarks this afternoon, I want to speak about the economic and social importance of the arts – including in regional and remote Australia. I also want to speak on the achievements and importance of the art centres, hubs and organisations that make up Australia’s world-renowned Indigenous art movement. I will also discuss the Australian Government’s enduring support for the sector and our commitment to provide all Australians with access to cultural and creative activities and the arts regardless of where they live.

Economic and social importance of art in regional/remote Australia

The cultural and creative sector entertains and educates us, makes a profound contribution to our national identity, but is also economically important – it promotes our culture to the world, generates jobs and is a significant contributor to the nation’s economy.

In 2016-17, our creative and cultural sectors contributed $111.7 billion to the economy or 6.4 per cent of GDP and made up 8.4 per cent of the total Australian workforce.

Nationally, between 2011 and 2016, we’ve seen double the growth in the number of people working in creative occupations compared to those employed elsewhere in the economy.

That activity occurs across both metropolitan and regional and remote Australia. The most recent census data suggests regional Australia accounts for 19 per cent of creative jobs.

There is strong evidence that creative skills will become increasingly sought after as we transition to a digital environment — it is anticipated this growth will occur within and outside the sector.

Many of the industries that have grown fastest in terms of economic output employ workforces with relatively high shares of creative qualifications.

It is estimated that one in seven of those employed in the occupations that are expected to grow most quickly over the next five years holds a creative qualification.

And we can certainly see the economic effect of the arts and cultural centres at work in regional areas.

 think of organisations I have visited in recent months like Hothouse Theatre in Albury Wodonga, at the Butter Factory; Flying Fruit Fly Circus in Albury; the art gallery in Hamilton in western Victoria; the Cobb & Co museum in Toowoomba in Queensland; Bundanon in the Shoalhaven in regional New South Wales, with its magnificent collection of works by Arthur Boyd and other major Australian artists; the Araluen Gallery in Alice Springs where Desert Mob is hosted; and others too, like the Darwin Festival with Ian Kew, who I see here in the front row today.

Each of these generates jobs, attracts visitors and tourists and stimulates economic activity - as well as of course artistic and cultural endeavour.

Another important stimulus for artistic and creative activity in regional Australia is the NBN. Companies like Disparity Games in Noosa can be part of the global online games market - while their employees can enjoy the lifestyle that regional Australia offers.

Importance of Indigenous art

Let me speak about one particularly important strand of arts activity in regional and remote Australia - the vibrant state of aboriginal arts.

A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to join SA Premier Steven Marshall on a visit to four communities in the APY Lands [Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara] in the far north of South Australia.

There are critically acclaimed art centres across the APY lands including Ernabella Arts, the oldest continuously running art centre in the country. Today there are 234 artists at the art centre which is best known for its ceramics, batiks and paintings.

As many of you would know, Ernabella Arts is located in the Pukatja community, a region that is currently enjoying critical acclaim for the quality of its art, which reflects the artists’ deep connection to land and culture.

It was great to visit Pukatja - as well as Mimili, Kaltiji and Amata. 

In Pukatja I also saw first-hand how the work of an Indigenous art centre is not limited to creative endeavours — many of them are in fact central to the health and wellbeing of those living in remote communities.

The Premier and I were able to visit the new dialysis clinic. The clinic was jointly funded by artists and art centres through sales, in partnership with the Australian and South Australian Governments. It provides an important service that means people with kidney disease can stay on community for their treatment, rather than having to Alice Springs or Adelaide.

Each year, the Government provides $21 million through the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program to help support the operation of 80 of the 100 Indigenous-owned art centres across Australia, as well as a number of art fairs, regional hubs and industry service organisations.

The funding provides professional opportunities for more than 7,000 artists and 300 arts workers, most living in very remote Indigenous communities.

This network supports the production and marketing of Indigenous art and the intergenerational transmission of stories of law and culture.

It also helps cultivate a professional, viable and ethical Indigenous visual arts industry — one that instils confidence in buyers who know they are purchasing authentic and ethically sourced art.

Regardless of whether it produces a social or economic outcome, I am always keen to see a return for the taxpayers’ dollars – and this program’s funding clearly delivers both.

In 2017-18, it resulted in more than 800 exhibitions and events nationally and internationally, directly contributing close to $70 million to the nation’s economy.

This year I was able to attend two of the five Government-supported Indigenous art fairs — the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and Desert Mob in Alice Springs.

This was a first for me and I was impressed by the energy, vitality and professionalism I witnessed.

Of course the quality of the art on display was very impressive - and it was interesting to see the work of indigenous artists embodied in various products including clothing.

Last year, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair contributed $15 million to the local economy - a good example of the economic contribution which artistic and cultural activity can make in regional and remote areas.

The Desert Mob art fair was equally impressive — featuring work by more than 250 artists from 30+ art centres.

These artists come from some of the remotest communities in the Central Desert, spanning three states and territories in the geographical heart of Australia.

Each year, Desert Mob is attended by 9,000 people, has sales exceeding $1 million and contributes an estimated $4 million to the Alice Springs community.

Art fairs provide an opportunity for art centres to take their artists’ work to market. But, as I hope I have made clear in my remarks today, the value of art centres and art fairs goes way beyond the money they generate.

Through art, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are able to generate income, gain employment, develop professional skills and participate in the nation’s economy.

And they are able to do that by sharing their unique and distinctive perspectives while maintaining a continued connection to country and one of the world’s oldest and richest living cultures.

That is something that benefits all Australians.

Government’s commitment to regional, rural and remote communities

Let me turn then to various ways in which our Government’s programs support creative endeavours in regional, rural and remote Australia.

There are some really interesting examples of support which is of cultural importance - and also has flow on economic benefits.

For example we have provided $1.5 million to the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania for Project X. This major public art venture will feature events, activations and large-scale works by high-profile artists designed to stimulate tourist activity in southern Tasmania during the closure of the popular Tahune Airwalk which was damaged by the bushfires in January this year.

The Airwalk underpinned the visitor economy in Tasmania’s far south, attracting 80,000 visitors a year. Project X will help generate tourism in the area and support the recovery of the local communities.

One of the other projects the Government is supporting is in Bundanon on the New South Wales south coast.

We have provided $22 million towards the expansion of Bundanon Trust’s Riversdale property. This will help secure Bundanon as a major tourist destination and deliver more than 171 jobs for the region during the construction phase and create an additional 69 ongoing jobs.

When complete, it will provide greater access to the Trust’s significant art collection as well as world-class facilities for students and artists, and more onsite accommodation. It will also allow the Trust to expand its oversubscribed education and public programs.

Of course one of our other priorities is to make the best cultural experiences available to regional communities.

Our National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach program tours high quality exhibition material from our national collecting institutions. Over the past decade more than 300 exhibitions have been held at more than 150 venues across the country.

The shows attract significant audiences and allow people in regional areas to access cultural experiences equivalent to those in our cities — in 2018-19, more than 380,000 people attended these exhibitions, all held outside our major metropolitan centres.

The Government’s Visions of Australia program prioritises funding for shows touring to regional and remote venues and has provided more than $9 million for arts and cultural heritage organisations to develop and tour exhibitions across the country since 2015.

Another priority is taking the best available work from regional and remote Australia and making it available around Australia.

For example, Townsville’s Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts recently received $180,387 of funding through the program for its Legacy: Reflections on Mabo exhibition which features the work of 25 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and is to tour to 10 venues in six states. The funding is assisting with freight and associated exhibition costs, but it is also enabling Umbrella Studio to engage an education consultant to develop high quality, relevant and engaging educational material directly connecting exhibition material with the Australian curriculum.

This exhibition has attracted Federal, State and Local government funding support, as well as establishing new philanthropic partnerships with  Wendy Brooks and Partners and the Australian Communities Fund.

It is always heartening to hear about new partnerships that are helping creative arts to become self-sustaining. I mention this today because, as you know, the theme of this year’s summit is cross-sector partnerships — something vital to the future of our regions and the arts more generally.

Another program, Festivals Australia, makes $1.2 million available annually to regional artists, arts workers and organisations for arts and cultural projects that encourage the participation of those living in regional and remote locations in a festival or community celebration.

The Government also provides $3.5 million per year to support artists and communities in regional and remote areas through the Regional Arts Fund.

As many of you would know Regional Arts Australia administers the Regional Arts Fund through the states and territories.


Let me conclude by saying that in six months as arts Minister I have been privileged to get an insight into the outstanding work being done by Australia’s artists and creators.

And it is particularly striking that much of this work occurs outside of our capital cities.

All of us are intensely proud of this extraordinary land we live in.

And an important part of the work done by artists in regional and remote Australia is about communicating the beauty and distinctiveness of this land.

So the questions you are discussing at the Creative Regions Summiy today are of great importance - and of interest to me as Arts Minister.

Thank you for everything you do - and I look forward to a continued and constructive working relationship.