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CULTURAL GROWTHTHE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL - ABORIGINAL ARTS
Australians are world famous for their love of sport, but they are also enthusiastic supporters of the arts and the communications industries. Their expenditure on arts products ranks among the highest in developed countries, and research indicates they read more newspapers per head of population than any other nation.
Australian cultural achievements are becoming well known internationally through the awards gained by films and literature, and the reputation of touring Australian groups. Strictly Ballroom won the Prix de la Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992 and the New Zealand-Australian production The Piano won the Palme d’Or in 1993. Thomas Kenneally and Peter Carey have each won the prestigious Booker Prize for Literature in the United Kingdom. The Australian Ballet was described by The New York Times as a "world-class company" when it toured the United States in 1994.
Government support has been an important factor in developing the arts. Funding at the local, state and federal level totals more than $2.5 billion a year, with the Federal Government alone providing more than $1 billion to a number of cultural institutions through the Department of Communications and the Arts. It has pledged itself to additional funding of more than $250 million to develop the arts and the communications industry throughout Australia through its Creative Nation program announced in October 1994.
Government-supported television and radio channels play an important part in artistic and cultural development, with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) receiving $515.1 million from the Federal Government in 1994-95 and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) $75.7 million.
The activities of the ABC provide an important outlet for artistic talent. It has always been a patron of musical talent, and supports symphony orchestras in each capital city. Its Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras have toured internationally, and leading international conductors and soloists have visited Australia to appear with the ABC orchestras across Australia. The Federal Government has taken several steps under Creative Nation to develop orchestral standards. It will set up a National Academy of Music in Melbourne to develop gifted musicians to international standards, and will transfer the Sydney Symphony Orchestra away from the ABC to enable it to gather additional funds and to increase its players to internationally recognised levels.
The drama and documentary activities of the ABC, with an average 75 per cent of evening programs devoted to Australian programming, are also an important support for the arts. SBS specialises in international programming for the ethnic community but with a growing audience from among other Australians.
The Federal Government will provide $20 million a year for three years under Creative Nation to increase Australian content on Australian commercial television. It will also provide $84 million to develop the capacity of the Australian multi-media industry to produce Australian content for national and international distribution.
The two major organisations involved in ballet and opera on a national basis are supported by Federal Government funding. The Australian Ballet has been the major representative of the classical dance form for many years. The Australian Opera Company also has the support of the Federal Government, which has pledged its assistance to allow the company to tour more frequently and to establish a consortium involving the Australian Opera Company and those set up by some State Governments.
Other organisations have played an important part in Australia’s musical and artistic life. Musica Viva, established 50 years ago to promote chamber music in Australia, now coordinates one of the largest ensemble music concert networks in the world. It also organises overseas tours for Australian chamber music groups on behalf of the the Federal Government and commissions worksby Australian composers. Youth Music Australia, formed in 1948, has helped the careers of more than 8000 young musicians and its Australian Youth Orchestra tours overseas each year. The Australian Chamber Orchestra, established 20 years ago, became a permanent orchestra five years ago and now tours overseas several times a year.
Support for literature and the visual arts is provided mainly through grants provided by the Australia Council. Established in 1972, its five boards have provided continuing support for individual authors and artists. The Literature Board has provided more than 2000 grants, and generated a ten-fold increase in published Australian novels in the past two decades.
The Creative Nation statement envisages a new direction for the Council, turning it away from its previous focus on the supply side of the arts towards the creation of a higher level of demand from arts consumers. This new direction will involve the establishment of two new organisations within the Australia Council. A Major Organisations Council has been formed to address the requirements of the major arts organisations as significant business enterprises, and the Foundation for Cultural Development will stimulate private sector sponsorship for the arts.
Aboriginal art was little known and appreciated until recent years, partly because few other Australians knew of the work of the world’s oldest continuous living art tradition. The fact that it was rendered only in natural pigments and on natural surfaces like rocks, bark or the earth was also a longstanding inhibition. It has now entered the cultural mainstream through the use of paint and canvas, translating the distinctive Aboriginal genre into a permanent and portable form. Where once it was confined to the ethnographic sections of museums it now takes its place in contemporary art galleries and has been shown internationally.
Indigenous dance and music have been introduced to national and international audiences through Federal Government support. The National Islander Skills Development Association and its offshoot, the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre, were formed in the early 1970s and have generated companies like Bangarra and the Tjapukai Dance Theatre, which take their traditional performances around Australia and overseas. The rock band Yothu Yindi, which features Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal musicians and combines traditional and modern Australian musical styles, has also proved popular in Australia and overseas. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers like Sally Morgan and Jack Davis, and the late Kevin Gilbert and Oodgeroo Nunuccal, are well known throughout Australia. Sally Morgan’s My Place, the moving account of the discovery of her Aboriginal heritage, has sold more than 300 000 copies.
The Federal Government has decided that it will establish a gallery of Aboriginal Australia in Canberra to provide a national perspective on indigenous cultures. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, established in 1989 as a research and publishing centre, will be co-located with the gallery.
This document has been prepared by Australia's International Public Affairs branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The help received from Australian government departments, associated organisations and other authorities is gratefully acknowledged. Information is current to April 1995. Money values are in Australian currency, weights and measures in Metric.