Art Works Blog

Postcard from Fifth World Summit on Arts & Culture, Day One

Melbourne, Australia

Text and photo by Jamie Bennett, NEA Chief of Staff/Director of Public Affairs


Our flight left LAX at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, and we arrived in Melbourne at 9:30 a.m. on Monday---somehow managing to leapfrog Sunday entirely as we crossed the international dateline. So I find myself filing a report about Monday, October 3, 2011---before Monday, October 3, 2011 has even happened for anyone on the West Coast of the U.S.  (Rocco and I did spend some time trying to sort out how to capitalize on knowing tomorrow’s news today, but it seems the baseball leagues and the stock market are already on to that trick.)

We have arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, for the Fifth World Summit on Arts and Culture hosted by the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies. More than 500 delegates from 70 countries are gathering to discuss “creative intersections, the compelling relationship between arts and culture and the wider sectors of society”---a sentence that could have been taken straight out of a press release for the NEA’s MICD 25 or Our Town grants, or from the press release for the new ArtPlace collaboration.

Rocco is eager to share news of all three of those tomorrow, when he is part of the opening panel session---“My Place”---with Pooja Sood (India; KHOJ International Artists Association), Lachlan McDonald (Australia; writer, director, producer, community cultural development worker), and Paul James (Australia; Global Cities Institute and United Nations’ Global Compact Cities Program).

Today began with an informal luncheon for IFACCA members. Already, I have seen a fundamental difference with any other arts conference I have ever attended: it is almost impossible to assume that the people gathered are starting from a common place. Take my table at lunch: Australia, Palau, the U.S., Zambia, and Zimbabwe were all represented, and we began discussing technology and the arts. I talked about the (unfounded) fear that many American arts organizations have that technology will erode audiences. Our colleagues from Zambia and Zimbabwe talked about how their countries had leapfrogged landlines and moved straight to cell phones. Artists in Africa are now composing and creating works exclusively to be consumed on cell phones. One of our Australian colleagues mentioned the delegate from the Cook Islands, which have a population of 20,000 spread over something like two million kilometers and a diasporan population that is five times the size of people still living in the Cook Islands. Technology for Cook Islanders is essential for communication and connection of any sort. The woman from Palau explained that their country is also 20,000 people, but their country still uses dial-up internet connections, so technology has not really impacted their arts at all.

As aside note, Kiblas Soaladaob from Palau’s Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, talked about Palau’s first annual taro root festival, and it reminded me of Wormfarm’s Fermentation Fest in Sauk County, Wisconsin, that we are missing this week by being here.

Following lunch was IFACCA’s general assembly, which largely consisted of general reports and standard business. But two items of note stood out: first, it was announced that the next World Summit on Arts and Culture will take place in January 2014 in Chile. Secondly, IFACCA unveiled a database that collects countries’ cultural policies: The website is still very much in a beta phase (I think it was just 20 hours old when we were shown it), but it is worth checking out the countries that IFACCA selected as the pilot profiles.

It is not an item of note, exactly, but the delegate from Greece thanked the membership of IFACCA “for buying my ticket here.” The biggest laugh line of the conference so far.

Every session so far---from the General Assembly to the informal speakers’ briefing---has begun with a statement along the lines of “We would like to acknowledge the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri people, who are the traditional custodians of the land of Melbourne. We would like to pay respect to the Elders of the Kulin nation and extend that respect to all other Aboriginal Australians present.” It has made me realize that in order to really engage in creative placemaking, it is important to know---and acknowledge---the history of a place. Made me wonder how many Americans could name the First People who had lived in their hometowns.

Tonight will be performances by Strange Fruit, Human Body Parts, and The Black Arm Band Company. Depending on how my jet lag chooses to express itself, I might even try to catch one of the Melbourne Fringe Festival shows after that. We will have to see.

Stay tuned for Day Two tomorrow. Want to catch up on Jamie's tweets from the summit? Check out #artsummit.

Add new comment