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Speech to the 2010 NIDA Graduates, Sydney

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Speech to the 2010 NIDA Graduates, Sydney, NSW

01 May 2011 CS12/2011

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here today, to congratulate the 76 graduating students who represent Australia's newest wave of creative talent. Graduates, you are following in the footsteps of generations of respected and admired practitioners who have studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. Everyone here is confident that you will make a real and substantial contribution to NIDA's continuing tradition through your own careers.

I want to talk more in a moment about the world that is waiting for your contribution. I also want to talk a little about why the Gillard Government is preparing a new national cultural policy. First I want to pay tribute to two individuals who have made a particularly significant contribution to NIDA and to the broader creative industry. With a record of more than 70 years of practice in her craft, Jean Carroll OAM is passing on her skills in millinery to a new generation of theatre artists as a teacher here at NIDA. It is just an amazing achievement - and today's students are fortunate indeed to draw on Jean Carroll's skills. Second, as you know, financing the arts is a complicated patchwork of private, public and corporate investment allied to box office and merchandising revenues.

So it is important that NIDA celebrates the partnership between the arts and philanthropy by honouring Andrew Banks, Chair of NIDA's Foundation. The Foundation funds scholarships and bursaries which allow students to take up places at NIDA whatever their background, or where they come from. Since I am Minister for Regional Affairs as well as Minister for the Arts, I particularly note the role of the Foundation in helping students from rural and regional Australia to develop their creative talent. Both Jean and Andrew are successful models for leadership in Australian creative life and deserve the congratulations of us all.


Friends, Today I want to talk about the rapid change in the arts and the creative industries. This is because:

• Today's 76 new graduates will be the artists who must again challenge and renew the artistic traditions, • You will be part of the generation which will discard the old divisions between stage and screen as new art

forms and craft skills emerge out of the digital technologies,

• And you will be leading the way in finding new ways of connecting and engaging with audiences, whether as part of a global on-line community or in a touring venue in regional Australia.

Whatever you do individually as theatre and screen artists, your careers will shape our values, our economy, and our image of ourselves. The creative arts have become integral to Australians' exploration of their values, their self-expression and their confidence in the world.

It is now more than 50 years since The Elizabethan Theatre Trust established NIDA in an environment almost unimaginable today. It was the time of the 'cultural cringe' - when Australians valued anything from European and particularly British art as intrinsically better than their own work. The Government of the day even brought in a British theatre expert to review the backward state of local theatre, and the expert's proposal was to send Australian theatre artists over to England where they could learn from the real professionals. Thankfully Australia did better than that. Instead of playing catch-up with the old world, we began investing in Australian talent. The Elizabethan Theatre Trust drew on British skills, but NIDA and the Trust had a firm commitment to development of Australia's capacity to produce and present theatre, dance and opera.

So when it came around to the key period of the late 1960s and 1970s, as a new interest in Australia's identity developed, NIDA graduates were ready to become leaders. The Whitlam Labor Government invested in the creative arts and put them at the heart of the exploration of who we were, and how we could tell Australian stories in Australian voices. Successive governments continued this support - a bipartisan commitment we must continue to foster. We were using the arts to express and build Australian national identity.

NIDA graduates told Australian stories in Australian accents. Australian TV dramas and film flourished while theatre companies became part of the fabric of Australian cities, and travelled out on tour. But importantly, NIDA again moved on, aspiring to make waves beyond Australia and to tap the nation's creative talent across the range of theatre disciplines. NIDA graduates were to be among the best and most innovative. As a result NIDA graduates took their place, on-stage or backstage, on screen or behind the scenes.

The arts sector now employs more than 200,000 Australians and underpins employment and investment in tourism, exports, education and training. Australia has developed an international reputation for its world-class artists and arts, recognised by international prizes - the Oscars and the Grammy Awards, the Booker and architectural prizes. Our success earlier this year at the 83rd Academy Awards where Australians won four Oscars is evidence of this. At home we are a nation of readers, theatregoers and movie lovers. Audiences around the country are supporting new artists - not least the many creative arts students and researchers emerging from our universities and TAFEs. Yes, there is arts training outside NIDA. The Keating Government's Creative Nation policy of the 1990s was based on this growing recognition of Australia's arts talent and its ability to drive change and aspiration.


The essence of good government is to look to the future and prepare to meet the challenges ahead. In the arts and creative industries massive change is underway - not least because of the high-speed broadband rolling out across the Australian landscape. In response the new national cultural policy is under development. It is Australia's first cultural policy in almost two decades and will put the arts in position to play an important role in driving innovation across the nation. It is based on an understanding that a creative nation produces a more tolerant, expressive and confident citizenry. A creative nation is also a more productive nation. Put this together and it is clear that the cultural policy is about the unique Australian brand - a brand built around values and creativity.

The Gillard Government's policy will also rest on a clear understanding that the structures and funding programs of the past need review and upgrading for this new environment. National cultural policy must be all about bringing the arts and creative industries into the mainstream of Australian life. Whether it is by providing an empty building for young artists to revive a regional CBD, or by linking designers to high value manufacturers, the arts and creative industries are a key element of driving productivity growth and skills development.

I call it joining the dots - linking the arts to industry, to regional development, to social engagement policies and of course to education. The rollout of the National Broadband Network is critical here. It will give nearly all communities in Australia simultaneous access to both local and global networks. Its potential impact is only now starting to be grasped. Today's graduates will be using this network to make work, share work and find new audiences. It could be fairly described as the largest cultural infrastructure project Australia has ever seen.

Another key element of the national cultural policy is to better connect what we are doing in the arts with the government's education revolution. You graduates know the importance of this better than most. I am convinced by the research which shows that a school education that is rich in the arts prepares children for better academic achievement and for creative flexible thinking. The Gillard Government's commitment to placing the creative arts into the national curriculum will be the catalyst of some exciting programs and teacher development complemented with high-speed broadband services.

We need to develop new pathways and new opportunities to study the arts and develop students' potential. To do so we must use the schools more effectively. Then we should link the schools to the elite training institutions and the industries which are increasingly using creative skills and knowledge to build their business. Let's ensure that kids in disadvantaged areas can better access courses which can lead to entry into our elite training academies including NIDA.


Mastering the technical aspects of your craft is no easy road. Since becoming Arts Minister I have met with many of our elite arts training organisations and talked about how we can support creative talent. The arts will always be a high risk proposition, but like other professionals, artists should expect, well after their initial training, to see some career pathways - in Australia and overseas. Australia's new National Cultural Policy will have a particular focus on the development of career pathways. Career pathways that will support and nurture the next generation of talented

Australians in the creative industries and the arts. Of course there is no single career path and no simple way to build career success.

When I look at this group of graduates, I see 76 different stories of inspiration, and hard work. Each and every one of you has a personal story about when you realised that you wanted the arts to be central to your life. Several of you have come from regional Australia - from far north Queensland to Kalgoorlie to regional Tasmania and many towns in between. There are also graduates who were born overseas and who bring diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds into their study and work. It's a tremendous achievement and you all deserve congratulation.

NIDA has equipped you not just with contemporary skills that are in great demand, but has also encouraged you to be practical and hands-on in taking charge of your own career. Some of you have put on your own shows and some of you have taken the opportunity to work with graduates from the other courses on sets, props and costumes. This, I believe, is one of NIDA's many strengths - to graduate well-rounded individuals who can make it in the real world. Some of you will stay in core arts areas - experimenting and developing cutting edge work. Some will move into the wider cultural industries - design, entertainment, events and media and communications.

The point is you now have a set of creative skills relevant across an innovative economy and society. I discovered recently for instance that the First Assistant Secretary in the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet's Office for the Arts attended NIDA - so the Australian public service is another serious career option for you. And despite the example of Chris Lilley's Mr G at Summer Heights High, I want some of you to consider teaching as part of your career. You would be at the vanguard of change as the national curriculum comes in, and important advocates for cultural investment.

Musician and Festival Director Robyn Archer recently said that the most effective incubator for creativity is art, whether it produces artists or not. So a child exposed to art may equally become a scientist, sociologist, engineer or homemaker. But art, as Robyn said, is the invaluable tool whereby we evolve as a creative nation. Graduates, it's your turn to make your own mark on Australia's arts and cultural life.

Please, help me put the arts at the heart of Australia's continuing growth and discovery by your active engagement in our nation's cultural life.


Thank you.