marcus westbury

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2020 Hindsight

April 25th, 2008 by marcus

I’ve held off on writing this because to be perfectly honest I’m really not sure what the hell happened at the 2020 summit in Canberra last weekend. Several days of attempting to process it and decompress later the only thing that is clear is that the whole 2020 summit process was never clearly defined and i never really knew what to expect. I’m not exactly sure what we were trying to get to and what we might have achieved so i am very unsure of whether we did it or not!

So what follows is less of a report and more of a brain dump. More details and something better written will follow at some point.

The Good

  • Ideas! The climate that has grown up in Australia over the last decade to so where there has been a fear of putting ideas out there does seem to be over. The downside means that every crazy nutter can now get a microphone but the upside is that robust debate tends to lead to better outcomes. We have had a culture of “don’t rock the boat” for too long. Fear that the previous government and their media allies would pounce and fear – in the creative sector in particular – that legitimate self criticism would be used to tear down a community that perceived itself to be under siege and clinging to it’s survival seems t be over. There were many ideas, and many good ideas put forward over the weekend that would never have come out of a traditional policy process and would never have been said aloud in the last few years. Its time to start violently shaking the boat and see what floats.
  • Meeting people. The summit was a rare opportunity that brought together a wide range of people from across the creative, arts, cultural sector. Contrary to popular belief we don’t all hang out together all the time – particularly outside of narrow artform communities. It was both inspiring and practically quite useful to meet those people, realise that several issues cut right across the boundaries or artform or medium and begin to pull together a bit of a community going forward.

The Bad

  • The formal statement process. Quite frankly the whole idea of distilling 2 days of frantic discussion down to a quick headline grabbing series of dot points is fundamentally stupid. The process we followed to get there didn’t help either. The best ideas weren’t in the headlines so i hope that there is a genuine effort made by both the government and the interested communities to trawl through the deeper levels and find some real gold.
  • Our “low or no cost idea”. Oh dear. Apparently the Creative Australia stream thought that spending 1% of the entire federal government budget costs nothing. Oh dear. To the best of my knowledge very few people thought this would cost nothing and i am not sure how the hell the idea got up in that context.

The Ugly

  • A lot of things were seemingly predetermined. It appears that or final list of ideas included things we’d never discussed and included some things that we’d explicitly rejected. The conspiracy theorist in me assumes that this is because the whole process was meant to push towards a predetermined outcome, but the logical type actually doesn’t see it. I’m not really convinced that there was an uber agenda, if anything the general lack of sensing the government had any particular insight or agenda was one of the more surprising (and strangely disappointing) aspects of the whole shenanigans.
  • The lack of subtlety in promoting the government. Maybe i’m just a nuance kind of guy, but i think i would have been more enthusiastic about the government if they toned it down a bit. As someone who welcomed the change of government but then immediately switched over to scrutiny rather celebratory mode i think my enthusiasm probably would have risen more if the event had put more attention into detail and less into celebration. But perhaps that’s just me.

To be honest, very few of the specific ideas floated at this blog made it onto the table via me (some came via others). All up there was probably only ten or some minutes of formal taking that nay one person can actually do without being less than constructively pushy. I managed to attach some games issues to some larger agendas, express my support for a few very things, and identify and draw out a substantial minority with a strong interest in larger scale cultural reform (we’ll keep talking!) of the type that i flagged here last week but i was left with a larger sense that the venue may have been mismatched to some of the more substantial tasks.

The verdict from my end is that i’ll wait and see. I would like to wait to see how and whether some of the more detailed and better ideas filter through the process before i pass any final judgement. Right now i am some rapidly changing combination of enthused, frustrated, pessimistic, optimistic and several parts confused. The great potential of an event like 2020 is the chance to bring to the table voices, ideas, and perspectives that don’t come out of the usual policy feedback loop. Whether that potential is tapped or lost very much remains to be seen.

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12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Daniel Apr 25, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Re: the 1% thing. Am I the only one who thought it was really, really disappointing that seemingly, the only ‘Creative Australia’ idea that was picked up on by the media was basically, “we need more money”? I’m not sure if it was the group’s fault, a handful of summiteer’s faults, or the media’s, but really, you could ask any first-year Creative Arts student what could improve Arts in Australia and the answer would be “more money”.

    Marcus, please fill us in on the better ideas brought up that never made it to the half-column summary in The Age!

  • 2 TimT Apr 25, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks for the summary and v. interesting commentary, but I just don’t know what you mean about this:

    The climate that has grown up in Australia over the last decade to so where there has been a fear of putting ideas out there does seem to be over.

    Any hasty perusal of any of the newspapers published over the period 1996 – 2007 would clearly show that the Howard Government never lacked critics, and people never really felt afraid to express different or alternative ideas. A particularly good example is the content on ABC television or radio, which was supposed to have been stacked by Howard: in fact, these stacks did nothing, and right up to the last, Howard engaged in regular intellectual stoushes with forceful press hacks like Kerry O’Brien and Tony Jones. I’m baffled as to why people think the contrary is the case.

    I do know that, in my forays around the blogosphere over that time, there were often commenters in moderated forums such as LP (http://larvatusprodeo.net) who claimed censorship when their comments were deleted (as if they didn’t have ample opportunity to express it on their own blog). Possibly similar flawed perceptions existed in the field of public debate, which would account for the origin of this bizarre idea that John Howard stifled dissent.

    Otherwise, good post.

  • 3 TimT Apr 25, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    PS Your comments box seems to be cutting out my paragraphs. Censorship! Censorship!

  • 4 Scoot Apr 25, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Watching from the sidelines (ie: ABC-TV Coverage) I agree with your range of feelings towards the 2020. In one sense this is quite a big thing, to publicly get quite a bit of ideas thrashing out in the open, and as you identified I also felt myself scrutinising the way it appeared to have been pre-determined.
    Unlike many conservative commentators I don’t think the point was to get 30 ideas implemented straight away, and infact even those that made the initial report, I wouldn’t care if they weren’t implemented, that is not the real point. It was the very nature of a summit to get people together, rather than dividing and conquering, that is the big part, and for those groups to make connections and to go away and do stuff. Why leave it up to one group (ie: the Federal Government) to do everything, if each group present goes away and does something with another group that was there towards getting a project off the ground, then I think it has been a success. The outcomes are in re-activating the activists, that is the real hidden agenda.

  • 5 Sam Hinton Apr 26, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Well. I’d like to say thanks Marcus. I’m impressed you managed to get your voice heard at all. Well done, and thanks a lot for not only asking for input but for taking it seriously and attempting to present it at the summit.

  • 6 Tamara Marwod Apr 28, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    It was all kinda nuts really – the only commentary I caught up on was that Cate was looking fabulous walking straight out of the delivery room into the lime light.

    I guess it all comes down to networking really – and having a good mishmash of people must surely create new ways of people thinking and problem solving and doing business

  • 7 Feargus Apr 29, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Thanks heaps for the run-down Marcus. I can imagine it was a pretty intense 48 hours so i’m not surprised that you have been left with some mixed feelings. My boss went as well – he was in the regional group – and he definitiely felt more postive than negative overall.

    Just one comment on what u have written about the government being firmly placed in middle of things. They r the government now, it was their summit, and they will be the ones who have to do something with the ideas, so i feel its fair that they were right in the middle of the proceedings. But like u said, maybe that’s just how i feel about it.

    Again thanks very much for all the insights. Hope u r having a little bit of a rest at this stage.

  • [...] attendee, the prolific (check his CV) Marcus Westbury, posted a blog entry saying much the same thing a week earlier. Meeting people. The summit was a [...]

  • 9 Alison Croggon May 2, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Marcus – a good report of a pretty flummoxing experience! And it pretty much sums up my experience of the Summit. A very heady couple of days, that ranged from exhilarating to sheer cringe…

  • 10 Alison Croggon May 2, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    PS The 1 per cent thing was apparently not represented as presented either – the original proposal was that departments track the money they already spend on things like design, artworks etc.

  • 11 Colin Hubert May 3, 2008 at 2:51 am

    Surely someone at 2020 was rude enough to suggest that spending nothing on arts is not ‘low or no cost’.

  • [...] as with the period leading up to the 2020 summit (you can see various posts about it here, here and here) I would strongly encourage input from you [...]