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Australia Council Forum – Steve Pozel, Object Gallery

Speeches and Opinions
Oct 31, 2007

This is a great opportunity to speak with you today as it comes at a time when Object is planning and looking to the future. We have been working with our Board to develop an expanded vision for 2015 and I thought I would share some of our recent thinking with you. Some of it may be relevant to the Australia Council’s own thinking at this time and some of it may hopefully relate to my colleagues here this evening.

The scope of what we’re currently considering at Object is too large to cover in today’s five minute presentation. However, a few key issues we have been discussing in response to a changing cultural climate include the way design has moved from just being about the style and function of an object to being about the creative process that can be harnessed to address issues and problems, such as sustainability and urban planning. We have been discussing the way new technologies have changed the landscape, and how information technology itself, is changing the way people can be creative and engage with each other.

We are also shifting our thinking about ourselves. For example, rather than seeing education as an ‘add on’, we are aspiring to build Object into a learning centre that offers participants insight into the inspirations and working life of creative designers as well as design processes and creative problem solving.

I have been Director of several contemporary visual arts organisations – from contemporary art museums to design centres – in both Canada and Australia for over 22 years. In this time I have seen enormous changes within and across all sectors. I believe the pace of change is accelerating, and increasingly many organisations are now questioning the roles they will play in the future.

Object is currently doing just that. I’ve noticed that often, in these discussions, the question of relevancy comes up. In the case of Object, I believe the relevancy of culture to its audience isn’t an issue. In my view, audiences have never been so informed, curious or engaged with what is around them. I believe audiences today are faced with rapid change, incredible diversity and more stimulating choices than ever before. They are also more sophisticated, selective and demanding.

In our particular sector, I’ve also observed that people are embracing a broader understanding of ‘visual culture’ and moving between experiences and media more so than in the past. Today’s audiences at Object Gallery consider themselves to be creators as well as creative. In their visit to the gallery they are expecting far more than just an opportunity to view outstanding pieces of design and finely crafted works of art. They want an experience that connects the exhibition with their own creative enquiry and their own thinking, doing and making.

Again, I don’t believe it’s a relevancy issue for audiences; rather the issue becomes the way in which institutions can best serve changing and advancing expectations of their audiences.

So how do we do this? I believe the answer lies in adaptability, fluidity and creativity. You may have noticed that I’ve made reference to ‘visual culture’ rather than visual arts. Object is interested in the areas between and beyond art, craft and design. We look to break down the traditional boundaries between art forms and the various methods of practice. We also observe the way many of the designers and makers we engage with do the same in their own work.

Object sees the value of the designers’ approach to solving problems and the way design is often the path to innovation. We also take the principles of design and apply them to ourselves in the way we work, communicate and run our own organisation.

As arts organisations we all need to be as flexible, risk-taking, creative and innovative as the artists we exhibit and present. In order to do this we need room to be bold and brave in shaping our futures – and this can partly be informed by the policies and programs of the Australia Council.

I believe we need the Australia Council to embrace broader and more flexible definitions of art forms and respond to shifts in both the art world and arts organisations. As our broker, the Australia Council could take a far more ‘whole-of-government’ approach – from foreign affairs, small industry and trade to communications, technology and education.

The Australia Council is in an ideal position to engage with government, business, industry and the public to show how creativity (in its broadest sense) can be harnessed and applied to meet their challenges and plans for the future. Through this, the Australia Council will be ‘championing’ a creative culture in Australia and taking a leadership role in engaging these broad interest groups with the arts sector.

Finally, all of this comes back again to the question of what qualities do we need to embrace? One of the most interesting urban theorists, Charles Landry, suggests in his discussions of the ‘creative city’ that these qualities are: ‘Taking measured risks; widespread leadership, a sense of going somewhere; being determined but not deterministic, having the strength to go beyond the political cycle, and crucially – being strategically principled and tactically flexible.’