Australia’s cultural economy shows uneasy growth


by Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, Feb. 10 — Australia is claiming success with the growth of its cultural economy, with figures released Monday highlighting the contribution of creativity to gross domestic product (GDP), however the alliance of art and economics is not an easy one according to local researchers.
Released Monday for the first time, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) experimental measures of the economic contribution of cultural and creative activity in Australia, appears to confirm the rise of the Australia artistic economy.
Cultural and creative activity is estimated to have contributed 86.0 billion AU dollars (76.92 billion U.S. dollars) or 6.9 percent to Australia’s GDP in 2008-09.
The value of volunteer services to arts and heritage organizations are estimated at a further 756 million AU dollars in 2008-09.
“This new ABS release shows cultural and creative activity is a significant component of the Australian economy, in addition to playing an important role in the wellbeing and quality of life of the community,” said ABS Director of Culture, Recreation and Migrant Statistics, Andrew Middleton.
However, Professor Justin O’Connor from the Monash School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, said the easy ” win-win” links made between culture and economy were no longer so straightforward in a post-GFC (global financial crisis), climate- changing world.
“Rather than seeking ‘economic impact,’ a radical agenda for the cultural economy might re-assert its ethical-political imperative to challenge the injustices and dysfunctions of the ‘ economic’,” Professor O’Connor said.
“(Australia should) be investigating how new approaches to the cultural economy might help us reframe cultural policy for the next decade.”
The cultural economy is a broad representation of the practices, institutions and ‘imaginaries’ involved in the production and consumption of culture.
Professor O’Connor said the cultural economy went beyond dollar definitions and achieved three key things: it expanded the focus to include the wider systems within which cultural production and consumption take place; it suggested cultural as well as economic values be emphasized in policy objectives and outcomes; and it “articulated ethical and cultural values relevant to how we organize our economies and the impact on individuals.”
In Australia, those working in a cultural or creative industry or occupation averaged 972,200 in 2008-09.
There were 164,730 entities actively trading as a business or non-profit institution within the cultural and creative industries at the end of June 2009.
A recent study, by Kate Shaw, Future Fellow at the Melbourne University reveals the contradiction in Australia’s twin cultural capitals, and the cultural defeat that economic success brings.
Shaw argues that the growth rate in Australian property over the last 15 years — the biggest sustained increase recorded anywhere swallows creative capacity through gentrification.
“While lifestyle and property media features gush over the ‘ hipness’ of the latest district discovery, the scene tries to hang on or moves on. The doubling and tripling of rents is not ‘hip,’ it’s a problem,” Shaw said.
Australia has the highest debt-to-income ratio — encouraged by generous tax incentives to the middle and upwards classes to invest in property — suggesting that as more households commit more of their incomes to mortgage repayments, so prices continue to rise.
Sydney is the most expensive, with a median dwelling price of 660,000 AU dollars, followed by Melbourne with a median of 553,000 AU dollars.
The “creative city” is a contradiction other cities have been grappling with for years. Local governments in San Francisco, New York, Portland, Amsterdam, Berlin and Hamburg, among others, unable or unwilling to curb gentrification, are at least ensuring that some of the financial returns are invested in rent controls, capital works and purchases for (sub)cultural uses, and more cautious and egalitarian urban regeneration programs.
The arts and live music scenes in Melbourne in 2011 (and now) are still strong and the number of small venues is increasing, but they are also increasingly precarious.
Shaw said that at their core are the independent artists and musicians whose relative freedom to experiment — and to continue to feed more commercial or mainstream culture — ‘has been sustained by low rents and the capacity to live relatively cheaply. ‘
A 2010 report by the Australia Council for the Arts shows that the financial position of practicing artists over the last 20 years has worsened. Titled “Do you really expect to get paid?”, the report shows that very few artists in Australia earn high incomes and most earn very low incomes. Most earn from their chosen profession less than 10,000 AU dollars a year.
The ABS’ estimates were prepared following strong interest in the economic role of these activities, such as highlighted by Australia’s National Cultural Policy Creative Australia.[db:内容2]