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Paper no 21









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The Ozeculture Conference 2002

by Paul Bentley


Article originally published in Online Currents, October 2002 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. 

Australian culture has grappled with commercial necessity since George Howe published Judge Barron Field’s The First Fruits of Australian Verse and the Tegg brothers sold Manual for Intellectual Improvement in their Sydney bookshop during the first decades of the colony.  Apart from minor engagements before the Second World War, Australian government has subsidised cultural activities for the past fifty years.  A prime mover of Australian government support for the arts, Dr HC Coombs, was an economist.

One cultural sector - public libraries - paused with other types of libraries to consider the big picture at the Australian Library and Information Association’s conference on May 20-22 (see Searching for the Next Sigmoid Curve, Online Currents, July/August 2002).

A week later, the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) [i] held its second OZeculture conference, Taking the Next Step, to induce thoughts on Australian culture in the digital age.  The setting was the City Recital Hall in Sydney.  The participants included over 200 presenters and delegates, mainly from arts and IT businesses, government bodies, museums and galleries, and to a lesser extent, representatives from library and archival institutions.  For readers of Online Currents, its program provided an opportunity to explore the issues facing one industry in managing information and technology and to stimulate thoughts on information management in other industries.


Dr Terry Cutler’s environmental scan was similar to those he had articulated at the ALIA 2002 conference and in the Australian Society of Authors’ Colin Simpson Lecture [ii].

Technology has changed our world, but there is a danger in thinking that we are on track.  It is producing ‘borderless knowledge worker elites’ with multiple citizenships in virtual communities.  But it is still in the primitive stage.  There is an absence of risk taking.  There is not enough disorder, one of the ingredients of invention.

To maximise network effects, national interests need to redefined, influenced by the both global and local imperatives, e-savvy business models, increased value on people and intangible assets, and relationships with investors and partners of quality.

Intellectual property (IP) is the big topic of our time.  Tensions between the strong IP people (such as publishers) and those who want less protection need to be resolved.  Patents, which require registration and have time limits, may provide some of the answers for copyright management.

The interface between arts and business has great potential.  ‘The arts are an essential component of any ICT industry development plan’.  The challenges include long term thinking (‘reinvesting on a generational basis’), linking pre-internet and past-internet collections and ‘moving into the spaces between the main tracks’.


David Kennedy from the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) concentrated on the Creative Industries Cluster Study Report [iii].

The creative industries consist of core and partial sectors. The core industries are represented by film, music, broadcasting, publishing, games, interactive media, industrial and visual design.  Partial sectors are software design and development, advertising, architecture and professional services.

The report concludes that Australian creative industries are poorly organised.  We are in the early days of the digital revolution, which is expected to run for fifteen to twenty years.  Cluster dynamics are weak (cross-industry linkages are weak, although legacy industry silos are strong).  Key barriers are industry fragmentation, unknowns in digital business models, unknowns and under-investment in digital rights management, a weakness in specialised capital markets, and the need for new and better business and technology skills.  The boundaries between culture and commerce are continuing to blur.  Globalisation is being accelerated by digital networking and the chase for economies of scale.  Big structural changes are afoot, particularly in relation to production and distribution, as increasing economic value is placed on content and services.

It is important that we understand the nature of the problems, address market failures through innovation policy, and address structural questions (while recognising that not all problems are structural problems requiring cluster solutions).

To position Australia within a global digital value chain we need to do several things: create a digital infrastructure for production and distribution incorporating telecommunications and broadband; link creative industries into services sector innovation systems; and include support for the arts in innovation policy.  Or, in other words, developing capacity and capabilities through networks and clusters.

Developing complementary cultural and industry policy objectives and support mechanisms will involve answers to two key questions.  Does the scope of innovation and cultural policies need to refocus or widen?  How will different kinds of strategies - innovation, cluster, structural - be integrated with established support mechanisms and agencies?  To find answers, we need better industry data and industry statistics.

Film Australia’s Kim Dalton, who followed David Kennedy, stressed the importance of broadband in linking content with delivery mechanisms.  His assessment of the Australian situation was that we are falling behind other countries like Canada and UK, which have more cohesive policy and better funding.


Terry Culter’s assessment of digital rights management as the issue of the age set the stage for presentations on current legislation and problems by Mia Garlick and on frameworks, language, models and standards by Dr Renato Iannella.  Dr Jane Hunter spoke about the Indigenous Knowledge Management Project at the National Museum of the American Indian.  In outlining work on data dictionaries, models and language in a complex area, she pointed to interoperability metadata, workflow and transaction solutions of potentially wider relevance to museums, libraries and other cultural agencies.


Professor Bruce Royan talked about SCRAN, the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network, an independent educational charity that manages digital resources on behalf of 360 Scottish libraries, archives, museums, galleries and other contributors. [iv]   With a staff of twenty two, it obtains and administers grants on behalf of members, creates content and controls IP rights.  Using XML and Filemaker Pro to describe and massage legacy files, its repository of digital objects (currently 1.2 million records and 150,000 images) includes text, pictures, oral history, folk archives, film and sound, digitised at the highest resolution level.

Although it receives grants, SCRAN is sustained largely by licences.  These consist of the following elements: grants to contributors in exchange for perpetual, non-exclusive, world rights; sale of variable licences to educational institutions, students and library users; and a ‘snap-back’ clause in the eventuality of more commercial development.  Intellectual property is protected by watermarks and fingerprints.


Other presentations were devoted to cultural organisation and supplier relationships, online transactions, online learning, managing websites on a small budget, new media art, audience relationships, visual arts management, community development, publishing and doing business digitally.

The work of libraries, archives and museums in Australia was highlighted by, among others, Ted Ling on the National Archives of Australia’s digitisation-on-demand service and by Adlib’s Sonya Finnigan on the Tasmania eHeritage project, Australian Pictorial Thesaurus and Museums and Collections at Macquarie University.

Alan Corbet gave an important lesson to other cash-strapped cultural organisations in his talk on Jazz Western Australia [v].  His objectives for capturing his target market were crystal clear.  His understanding of the hurdles required no reality check (jazz is a minority interest, there is almost no information about it in the main press, and WA is geographically isolated).  His approach has been modest and achievable (develop his own skill, establish a strong identity, use free hosting services. produce within existing limited capability, and develop partnerships).


Australian culture is a $8.7 billion sector of the Australian economy, comprising creative arts, advertising, live performance, film, radio and television, print publishing, public library, museum, gallery, photography and architecture sectors.

Investment by DCITA, the Australia Council and other government agencies – at about $3.5 billion annually – is important.  According to Gulberg, Government funding for core arts sectors increased rapidly between 1969 and 1974, declined in real terms over the next ten years, increased up to $223 million in 1992 and has now reached a plateau.  Employment in the arts increased by 300% between 1976 and 1996.[vi]

Although Government support has had an impact, not everyone is entirely happy with the result.  Despite growth in economic terms, commentators express reservations about the impact of Government policy.  Katharine Brisbane, speaking about Australian theatre, represents this unease: ‘There needs to be a reassessment of the way the Australia Council works…I don’t know what its priority is now.  Current writing is bland and theatre too polite; it takes too long for plays to get to their audience; scripts aren’t being revived, theatre companies aren’t investing in new talent, and too few artists speak on behalf of the industry.’ [vii]

Converting Australian culture into an e-culture will involve more than simply marrying arts with information technology.


To find the right answers for the next decade and beyond, Government reviews of cultural and ICT sectors have become the order of the day.  In addition to the creative industries study, recent reports have focussed on major performing arts organisations, the small to medium performing arts sector, the visual arts sector and Australian heritage collections.  The Australia Council’s discussion paper, Planning for the Future, presents trends and opportunities for all artforms and proposes strategies for planning, supply, demand and infrastructure. [viii]

The thoughts of the Director General of the NSW Ministry for the Arts, Roger Wilkins may be indicative of broad government thinking.  Mapping the arts and creating a better framework is a high priority.  Strategies need to employ ‘whole-of-government’ approaches, involving other departments.  Solutions to arts problems will be found in improved networking, improvements to infrastructure and tax deals for artists.’ [ix]

Some of the complexities of shaping direction are flagged in the February 2002 issue of Media International Australia: the competing logics of art as profit and art as identity, the differences between cultural and creative industries, and the interplay of state-reliant and commercial enterprises. [x]

‘Being strategic is more necessary than ever,’ says Ben Wilmot in Getting Clustered, ‘but it depends on what you mean by strategic’.  Quoting O’Donnell and Maier of the Intellectual Capital Research Institute and Imagination Lab Foundation, he asks whether strategy is still relevant in complex, unpredictable, yet somehow adaptive contexts.  And, quoting the authority on organisations, Henry Mintzberg, he wonders  whether the distinction between planning and implementation is sustainable: ‘Strategy is a matter of learning, negotiation and adaptation. Strategy is a process.’ [xi]


Culture, as Charles Leadbeater has pointed out, is a thin-air business – ‘the assets people work with are as ephemeral as their output.’ [xii]  Defining the value of Australian culture is elusive, but essential.  Future Australian arts policy is dependent on better standardised and accessible information for improved understanding and on information systems to facilitate its capture and presentation.

The need to press home the value of the arts has generated a plethora of reports, particularly since the seminal work of Baumol and Bowan in the 1960s and 1970s[xiii].

The Arts Council of England’s recent report by Michelle Reeves on measuring the economic and social impact of the arts notes the lack of conceptual clarity and narrow conceptualisations of social and economic impact, the reliance on self-reporting with little corroborating evidence on impacts, over reliance on official statistics which give a partial picture of the arts and creative industries, lack of methodological transparency, lack of a common framework of research principles, assessment processes and standards for evaluation, simplistic and naďve explanations for attributing positive outcomes to arts projects, and over claiming in conclusions and recommendations through unfair comparisons. [xiv]

In putting forward a model for effective arts-impact evaluation, Reeves acknowledges the sector’s tendency to rely primarily on aesthetic rationale and intrinsic values.  But, ‘while these arguments are still valid, changing policy priorities has meant that alone they are no longer strong enough to enable the arts to win more resources’.  The point is emphasised by David Throsby in Economics and Culture.  Cultural value, he says, consists of aesthetic, spiritual, social, historical, symbolic and authentic components. These values must be respected even though they aren’t grounded in money and can’t be counted and weighed.  The arts can never be reduced to figures.  But economics, he says, is central to the way the arts are managed. [xv]

Many cultural bodies are browned off by number crunching.  Dr Brian Kennedy, speaking at an Australia Business Arts Foundation breakfast on 21 May said: ‘There has been too much emphasis by society and governments on quantitative measurement…we at the National Gallery [of Australia] prefer to measure our success in experiential terms, such as how memorable they are, or how intriguing, innovative, thought provoking, diverse’. [xvi]   At the National Library of Australia’s Peak Bodies Forum, held in February 2002, the meeting expressed the view that ‘there is value in trying to move the focus from strictly economic issues: social and cultural value is not necessarily measured in dollar terms.’

The Statistical Working Group of the Cultural Ministers Council was formed in 1985 because of concerns that ‘a lack of reliable data was hindering the development of national cultural strategies’.  In 2001, it produced a new Australian Cultural Leisure Classification, aimed at a more standardised approach for data collection across sectors, and is currently working on measuring the social impacts of creative participation in arts, among other projects.

Julian Meyrick, in See How It Runs, illuminates the importance of this agenda in his story of the Nimrod Theatre.  Prefacing a chapter, Figuring Nimrod, with the words of Kitson Clarke - ‘Do not guess, try to count, and if you cannot count, admit that you are guessing’ – he demonstrates the value of both quantitative information and qualitative comment in understanding and navigating the arts. [xvii]

Structure & modus operandi

The Australian cultural sector - as was highlighted by John Rimmer in the first Ozecuture conference – has a few major players around which smaller players cluster.

The need for concerted infrastructure development is a common thread in many government planning documents.  DCITA’s Ozeculture Making IT Work program is indicative of a decade-old government strategy to encourage arts and IT collaboration.  The creation of a National Collections Advisory Forum, a consequence of the report on Key Needs of Collecting Institutions in the Heritage Sector [xviii], is indicative of a trend towards more integrated management of archives, libraries and museums by government.

NOIE [xix], the Government agency specialising in information technology, has attracted  recent criticism on its role and place.  The Sydney Morning Herald’s Sue Cant, for example, reported confusion following the transfer of its ICT industry policy role to DCITA following the last federal budget [xx].  Professor John Houghton, in ICT Development in Australia, recommends a single department or agency with direct responsibility for the industry. [xxi]   But NOIE’s Chief Executive, John Rimmer, is probably right to insist that developing a knowledge and information economy is broader than sectoral ICT interests.

About half of government cultural spending supports physical infrastructure and facilities (such as public libraries and performing arts venues), which in turn sometimes act as conduits for funds to other organisations.  Rosalind Crisp, comparing Australian and European funding models for dance, expresses the view that this type of fund distribution doesn’t go far enough:  ’In Australia …there is basically only one decision-making body, the Australia Council [and a] few producers with money in Sydney.  This situation puts a stranglehold on the development of dance practices.’ [xxii]

There is a perception that cultural businesses, including major subsidised cultural institutions, require better governance and business skills.  The recent Small to Medium Performing Arts Sector Report, for example, commented on the ‘need to strengthen the sector’s administrative capacity to provide a more stable business and operating environment.’ [xxiii]

The cultural sector relies heavily on part-time and contracted workers and there is a massive labour oversupply.  As Stuart Cunningham pointed out at the Social Sciences and Humanities Summit in July 2001: ’14,000 students graduate from American music schools each year with 300 jobs awaiting them; 20th Century Fox receives about 10,000 screenplays annually of which they film twelve’. [xxiv]

The melding of business, arts and information skills was evident at the Ozeculture conference through people like Alan Corbet and David Eedle, a former stage technician, who has developed Dramatic Online into a profitable specialist electronic aggregator, news and job list distributor within the space of two years. [xxv]

Developing cluster and linkage policies are key recommendations of the Australian Computer Society’s ICT development report - along with other recommendations like more vision and leadership, adequately resourced policy initiatives and a sense of urgency.

Developing collaborative mechanisms will require big thinking and a business orientation.  As the Australian Research Council’s Professor Lawrence Cram speaking at the ALIA Conference 2002 observes: Commercial solutions are often the best solutions. Better solutions are often commercial opportunities’. [xxvi]

An approach for marshalling synergies while maintaining diversity of interests can be found in the recently restructured Regional Arts NSW, based on in increased decentralisation. [xxvii]

The role of professional associations in these new industry formations is unclear. 

Bruce McCabe recently poured a bucket on the ineffectiveness by ICT associations, the Australian Information Industries Association, Australian Computer Society, Internet Industry Association, Australian Engineering and Electrical Association and the Australian Telecommunications Users Group.  He says many small voices don’t make a big impact. [xxviii]  Falling membership in the Australian Library and Information Association and changes in funding to Museums Australia underline ongoing change in those sectors.

Mergers of any type of group are difficult unless interests are compatible (see  Managing to Merge: the Future of an Industry Association [xxix]).  Barriers to growth and expansion usually include ego as well as financial and logistical considerations (Foster [xxx]).  The reasons for failure include goal ambiguity, poor information to guide investment, a short-term focus, inadequate skills, rivalry and low levels of trust, inadequacy of supporting infrastructure, cultural differences and weak feedback [xxxi].

Weak feedback may be a sign of widespread insecurity wrought by the corporate churn of the 1990s and new workforce dynamics.  John Ralston Saul warns of an ongoing institutional danger: ‘One of the greatest barriers between thought and effective action is the contemporary employment contract…[which] subjugates [thought and action] to the idea of loyalty’. [xxxii]   That some library groups are calling for emotional support over straight talking may be cause for concern.

The new industry truss is the network – in the form of clusters, communities of practice, GRID computing initiatives, centres of excellence and consortia.  Their variety is expressed in organisations like the new National ICT Centre of Excellence, [xxxiii]  and Brisbane’s creative industries precinct (an echo of the Dublin Digital District, promoted by Jennifer Condon in the first Ozeculture conference).  Projects like the National Library of Australia’s MusicAustralia, Arts and Humanities Data Service, SCRAN and the Coalition of Networked Information contain the seeds of a new structure for unifying library, archive, museum, ICT, association, government and business interests on a national scale and at a local level.


The big messages from the recent ALIA and Ozeculture conferences were:

Australia is behind some other countries in the way it manages information resources, including cultural information resources; it’s propensity to work in silos militates against effective management; better collaborative mechanisms need to be developed to turn around these weaknesses.

Better collaborative mechanisms for the cultural sector – and for other industries too, no doubt – will require thinking big, thinking business, thinking technology, thinking connections, talking straight and not forgetting why we get up in the morning.

Paul Bentley is Director of Paul Bentley & Associates and the Wolanski Foundation

The Ozeculture conference website is at


[i] Australian Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

[ii] Cutler, Terry. A Write Australia policy: can Australian culture remain distinctive in a digital world? The Australian Society of Authors’ Colin Simpson Lecture, 23 March 2002  Available at Australian Society of Authors site

[iii] Australia. Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts  Creative Industries Cluster Study.

[iv] Scottish Cultural Resource Access Network

[vi] Broghino, Jose. The arts economy overview: a companion to Hans Guldberg’s The Arts Economy 1968-98. Sydney: Australia Council, 2000. Gulberg, Hans. The Arts economy 1968-98: three decades of growth in Australia. Sydney: Australia Council, 2000..

[vii] Brown, Penny. The next stage. The Weekend Australian 18-19 May 2002 Review Section:14-15

[viii] Australia Council. Planning for the Future: Issues, Trends and Opportunities for the Arts in Australia. Discussion paper. Sydney: Australia Council, 2001

[ix] Gallasch, Keith. The Arts: what’s next? [interview with Roger Wilkins, NSW Director-General of Arts. Realtime 48 (May 2002). http://www,

[x] Media International Australia no 102 February 2002. Culture: development, industry, distribution.

[xi] Wilmot, Ben .Getting clustered: Management Today June 2002:14-18

[xii] Martin, Lauren. Follow the Princess Di thin-air economics guru: [report on Charles Leadbeater and the Social Sciences and Humanities Summit]. Sydney Morning Herald 26 July 2001

[xiii] Baumol, William J and Bowan, William G. Performing arts, the economic dilemma: a study of problems common to theatre, opera, music, and dance. New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1966.

[xiv] Reeves, Michelle. Measuring the economic and social impact of the arts: a review. London: Arts Council of England, 2002. 

[xv] Throsby, David. Economics and culture. Port Melbourne, Vic: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Review and interview by David Marr: Doing a number on culture’s value. Sydney Morning Herald, 30 April 2001.

[xvi] NSW Ministry for the Arts. Arts bulletin no 59 June 2002. Sydney, the Ministry

[xvii] Meyrick, Julian. See how it runs: Nimrod and the New Wave. Sydney: Currency Press, 2002.

[xviii] Deakin University. Faculty of Arts. Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific. A Study into the Key Needs of Collecting Institutions in the Heritage Sector. Final report 1 May 2002. Available at Australian Museums Online

[xix] National Office of the Information Economy.

[xx] Cant, Sue. Confusion reigns as NOIE role shifts, Sydney Morning Herald 25 July 2002 Next section: 2

[xxi] Houghton, John. ICT Development in Australia: A strategic policy review. Sydney: Australian Computer Society, 2002.

[xxii] Crisp, Rosalind. A European Future, Part 1: Rosalind Crisp speaks to Erin Brannigan. Realtime 48 (May 2002)

[xxiii] Australia. Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts  Small to Medium Performing Arts Sector report.

[xxiv] Stewart, Fiona. Success and the thinking man’s economy. Dramatic Online 2 August 2001.

[xxvi] Cram. Professor Lawrence. The Roadmap for eResearch. Australian Library and Information Association Conference 2002 .

[xxvii] Keighery, Victoria. Regional Arts NSW: sustaining the gain. Dramatic Online 21 June 2002.

[xxviii] McCabe, Bruce. You’re the voice. Managing Information Strategies, June 2002

[xxix] Morris, Fran. Managing to merge: the future of an industry association. Management Today, June 2002.

[xxx] Foster, Wendy. When size matters: the case for amalgamations. Association Management Vol 3 no 1 Feb 2002: 23-24

[xxxi] Bentley, Paul. Arts and industry talk spaces. The Wolanski Foundation, 2001.

[xxxii] Knox, Malcolm.  A man of uncommon sense [interview with John Ralston Saul].SMH Spectrum 25-26 May 2002:9.

[xxxiii] National ICT Australia. ICT Centre Page.


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