Catalyst for a creative revolution?

Op-ed Oct 18, 2011 2 Comments

Guest blogger Carl Scrase argues that we can learn a lot from Iceland and argues for a rethink of how cultural policy is formulated and implemented…

Could Simon Crean’s cultural policy be the catalyst for a creative revolution?

Revolution, Iceland, cultural policy, crowd sourcing, social media and artist run initiatives. In my mind these things are all connected. Or rather, they could all be connected.

Social media innovators are changing the way people work, play, communicate, innovate, create and now, vote. In Iceland, these innovators are proving the best hope of recreating an entire nation. Iceland emerged in the 1990s as a financial powerhouse after a thousand years on the sidelines of global history. Icelanders became one of the world’s wealthiest and happiest nations. In 2008, three of its banks collapsed, sending the national economy into a tailspin and shattering the people’s trust in government and industry.

The government was quickly replaced by one promising transparency and reforms, while a protest party headed by a comedian took control of the Reykjavik city council. This new cast of politicians is not alone in their efforts to move Iceland out from under the economic cloud. Members of the country’s tech, creative and entrepreneurial sectors, which saw explosive growth in the lead-up to the collapse, have emerged as leaders in grassroots efforts to set Iceland on a sustainable path.

Last year a loosely-organized group calling themselves the Anthill convened a “national assembly” of 1,500 citizens. The day-long event, based on agile methods and crowdsourcing theory, resulted in a coherent set of values, visions and ideas. The government has since facilitated a similar process, which set out the foundation for a new crowd sourced constitution. Inspired by open-source processes and leaning heavily on social media technologies, these citizens are rapidly prototyping new forms of democracy utilizing the web, creativity, collaboration and open innovation.

I believe it is inevitable that Australia will follow Iceland’s lead. It is just whether we do it post economic collapse or have the foresight to start the conversation now. It would ultimately empower all of Australia’s citizens to take ownership in our future. It would allow us to find new ways of communicating. It would allow us to embrace diversity and collaborate like a community of cohorts, co-imagining our collective consciousness. This is the country I want to live in.

I have been lucky enough to be chosen as one of fourteen Young Social Pioneers from around Australia. The program brings 14 change makers together every year, creating a dynamic community of like-minded individuals. We develop our skills while learning from and inspiring each other. I will be spending the next year trying to spark this constitutional conversation.

I could be charged with the accusation of ignorance, and probably will be. I am just some upstart, with a fine art degree. What right do I have, who made me an expert on civil participation in policy making?

My answer to that would be: We did. This was cemented in my mind recently when I attended the We Are Here (WAH) international symposium. This event was initiated by NAVA in partner with Firstdraft, it brought together leaders from the artist-initiative sector across Australia to meet in Sydney, from the 1–4 September 2011, it included talks, workshops, events, an exhibition and, of course, lots of booze.

I was there initially as an artist, exhibiting in the Firstdraft show designed to accompany the Symposium, ‘The feeling will pass…’ . It sought to explore the capacity of ephemeral, site specific and live works to respond dynamically to contemporary social, cultural and political binds that we find ourselves in. But I quickly realized I better put on my multiple ARI caps; Board member of Bus Projects, funding and grants manager of WeAustralians and co-founder of the Wemakeus Collective.

The co-conveners of the symposium, Brianna Munting and Georgie Meagher, said the Symposium was designed so that the Artist Run Initiative sector could “start having the big ideas again, ask the big questions, and make big plans”. It is obvious these ambitiously big aspirations were designed with support from the dedicated executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, Tamara Winikoff. The symposium serendipitously was held at a perfect time to enable our sector to come together and discuss the National Cultural Policy reform that is currently underway.

It occurred to me while I was at the symposium that Artist Run Initiatives are actually a sub sector of what I call: Community Generated Organisations – CGO’s. Maybe we should also have a CGO Symposium?

ARI’s and CGO’s in general are bottom up organisations. They form from a ground swell of community support and sustain for as long as they are relevant. The main question, for me, that the Cultural Policy should be trying to address is: How do we, as a government, support this organic bottom up structure in a top down system? Ironically, empowering bottom up organisations may disempower the government, which I’m sure believes it ‘knows best’ when it come to the future of our country.

So, in summation, I believe that there is revolution occurring. People are disenchanted with any body of power that is trying to dictate without listening. People want to be heard, people want to be involved and if people aren’t getting what they want they will either revolutionise or rot in disenchanted disarray. I believe the ARI sector could be a guiding light for all CGO’s in Australia. We are doing good, with very little. We are strong, we are dynamic and we are prevalent.

I believe crowd sourcing our constitution would be the ultimate creative act our country could undertake. I think the National Cultural Policy, and the governments attempt to encourage civil participation in the reform is commendable, and hopefully bodes well for the future. I encourage people who are interested in creating the future of our country to do the following four things:

1. Have your say on the cultural policy paper; we have to trust someone is listening. It only takes 5 minutes.
2. Join NAVA, it is there to support and champion the arts.
3. Look out for what comes from the We Are Here Symposium; they are releasing a book.
4. Join the Wemakeus Collective and start the conversation about how WE MAKE US.

Guest Blogger


  1. Thank you Carl. Thank you for your dynamism, your optimism and your preparedness to ‘have a go’ when, yes, there are those who will ask, who the hell do you think you are?

    Iceland is a very interesting community to watch. I hope we Australians can look and learn.

  2. Pingback: Catalyst for a creative revolution? « supercritical

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