Sydney makes fresh bid as Australia’s cultural capital

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The Minns government will develop the state’s first dedicated cultural and creative industries’ strategy in almost a decade under a new plan putting arts and entertainment at the centre of a new tourism push.

The new framework will see a shakeup in the approach of marketing and events agency Destination NSW, which has been instructed to focus more of its $200 million annual budget on arts and entertainment – an employer of one in 10 people in the greater Sydney region.

Arts Minister John Graham will on Friday “fire the starting gun” on six weeks of consultations and a series of roadshows to craft a new industry policy governing funding decisions and priorities in arts and culture.

Arts minister John Graham with Sydney Opera House chair Louise Herron, Sydney Fringe Festival director, Kerri Glasscock and artist Bronwyn Vaughn.Credit: Steven Siewert

The government says the strategy aims to lead a NSW-wide renaissance in theatre, visual arts, live music, design, food and fashion, and make the sector a bigger part of the state’s economy and identity.

That means a new approach to tourism messaging and how NSW projects itself to the rest of the world, Graham said.

A critic of the effectiveness of Destination NSW’s latest tourism campaign, Feel New, when in opposition, Graham is now closely examining the funding share coming to arts and culture from events staged by the marketing agency.

“We don’t really invite people to come to Sydney, or even NSW to take part in arts and culture or nighttime activities,” he said. “There’s so many great things to do here, but we are almost keeping them secret from the world.”

The first of 12 town hall meetings will be held in Lismore Conservatorium on July 18, and in Broken Hill on August 29 with gatherings also in Liverpool, Bega, Dubbo, Penrith, and Blue Mountains.

“This is not about generating a report that will just sit on a desk somewhere,” Graham said. “We will report back by the end of the year, and we want to know what is working, what isn’t working, and your big ideas for us to consider.”

The state’s revised priorities will complement the federal government’s cultural policy Revive, which was announced six months ago and is built on five pillars including “First Nations’ first” and “a place for every story”. The Victorian government’s strategy, Creative State 2025, was launched in 2021.

Arts and Culture is to be front and centre of Destination NSW’s future tourism campaigns.Credit: James Brickwood

Graham said he did not want to unduly lift public expectations of extra funding beyond election commitments of a $100 million injection into live music and funding for expansions of three theatres and arts centres in western Sydney.

Announced in the week Labor marks 100 days in office, the consultations will likely revolve around cultural inclusivity, First Nations’ unique cultural contribution, the paucity of venues and opportunities in western Sydney and explicitly broaden the focus of arts and entertainment to include fashion, food, video gaming, design, and architecture.

Among ideas likely to be canvassed is a portal to bring together cultural offerings in NSW, listing walking trails, events, festivals, exhibitions, dining, transport connections and opening hours.

Under the coalition, Destination NSW was approached to host and support an aggregated website with a one-click ticket service, but the idea never proceeded.

Graham is also reviewing a taxpayer scheme by which Destination NSW subsidises the cost of building motel rooms in regional NSW.

“I accept there’s an issue with accommodation in regional NSW but a lot of that benefit goes back to the private sector,” he said. “We’ve got to prioritise regional culture and tourism but there’s got to be a public interest there.”

Sydney Opera House chief executive Louise Herron, who will steer the committee exploring the new industry policy, said the sector was a year beyond COVID-19 lockdowns but still faced economic headwinds caused by the pandemic.

She was a fan of greater “joined-up thinking” between Destination NSW and Create NSW, the government’s arts agency.

“There is this rich creativity across the state, but it’s not adequately supported, and the pathways are not adequately clear,” she said.

“I don’t just mean financial support, I mean the infrastructure, the programs, and spaces, how you go about pitching and budgeting and doing creative things. What we want to see is the dots connect.”

Herron hopes to hear from audiences and practitioners from all parts of the states as well as vocal sceptics of the arts “ideally with specifics so we know exactly what to look into more deeply and how we might deal with the issues raised”.

She’d also like to see more cultural support given to newly established migrant communities.

“Inclusivity is no longer a peripheral concept, we need to find ways to unlock different forms of artistic expression. What is your big idea? How can we remove the barriers to access? Where should we focus the most effort?”

Sydney Morning Herald subscribers can enjoy 2-for-1 tickets* to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales during June 2023. Click here for more details.

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