Creative skills in times of crisis: how the arts can help – by Adrian Collette

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Speeches and Opinions
Aug 31, 2022
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On the eve of the Jobs and Skills Summit – and as we grapple with labour shortages, economic challenges, and the immense strain on workers and sectors affected by the pandemic – I have a message of hope: our arts and culture can help.

Arts, culture and creativity unlock potential – they are tools for change and help us think differently. The skills they require and develop are keys to a brighter future.

Some continue to debate whether arts and culture should be valued ‘for arts’ sake’ or for their instrumental value: what they offer to wellbeing, the economy, our cultural diplomacy and more. Guess what? We should value both. The reality is we don’t get the many public benefits of creative participation without a thriving arts sector.

We need to break down false dichotomies between the cultural and the commercial, between ‘the arts’ and the creative industries.

Arts, culture and creativity can provide a vital nucleus of ideas and intellectual property, supporting skills development and generating growth. The creative sector will be vital to our future productivity.

A wide range of creative, social and commercial outcomes can flow on from a well-executed, original idea: a literary work can be adapted for stage, screen or immersive experiences; a musician can compose for games; a community-engaged theatre project can be part of the recovery in flood-affected communities; art programs can make our hospitals more welcoming and more rewarding places to work; visual arts and performance can deepen inter-cultural understanding across our region.

Creative skills built by the arts are already embedded across the workforce and economy.  These skills are key to sustaining economic growth and have been integral to the fastest-growing industries in Australia over the past decade. Prior to COVID-19, creative employment was growing at a rate nearly twice that of the Australian workforce.

The skills and capabilities of our creatives are among those least likely to be automated and are increasingly sought after. Research from the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s arts investment, development and advisory body, shows that by having the opportunity and space to deeply develop their own craft and creative practice, artists and creatives develop transferable skills that bring great value to a wide range of settings and problems.

Half of all Australian artists apply their creative skills outside the arts, with these transferable skills viewed as vital to business success and to solving complex problems. Employers have identified greater need for 21st century skills – creativity, originality and initiative, and analytical thinking and innovation.

As we retool for jobs for the future, creative skills are becoming ever more valuable. We cannot take their many benefits for granted.

Creative workers are the original gig workers, many working freelance and contract-to-contract across multiple jobs, and our regulatory and support settings need to develop new flexibility to grapple with these forms of work.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our arts and cultural sector has faced hardship. The loss of income, markets, skills and wellbeing due to COVID-19 disruptions has impacted artists and creative workers, exacerbating many existing – and identifying new – challenges for our creative sector. Those employed in industries driven or supported strongly by arts and creativity – such as education, tourism, hospitality, and regional and community businesses – have also felt these effects.

The cancellation of festivals, literary events, live performances and art fairs had a devastating effect on job stability, and many highly skilled creative workers left the arts and cultural sector. Many artists have also considered giving up their artistic practice.

To nurture Australian arts and creativity, and to reap the benefits across industry and the nation, investment is critical. Investment in professional arts and culture ignites creativity’s engine room. It enables experimentation, risk-taking and innovation, and the development of careers, creative infrastructure, and sometimes new, unexpected pathways.

Creativity is generative, it is adaptive, and it sparks new possibilities. It is not tied to one industry or form of practice, but it needs fertile ground to flourish.

The Australia Council for the Arts is working with research and industry partners on projects that develop professional pathways for young creatives, and to identify new contributions that creativity brings to industry.

We recently hosted a round table of creative education and training providers and researchers to discuss current labour market challenges, career pathways and new possibilities. We have developed, with support of research and industry partners, an evidence-based submission to both the Jobs and Skills Summit and national cultural policy consultation highlighting the need to recognise creative skills in future focused conversations around employment and culture.

We know we need to address the current skills gaps and labour shortages as a priority, providing targeted training to rebuild the creative workforce and ensuring the sector continues to thrive.

But COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the ways in which people view the value and viability of creative careers, precisely at a time when creativity is required for recovery and responding to change.

We need to build confidence in creative sector careers and better equip young creatives to apply their skills across sectors – responding to future demands and disruptions. We need to consider training pathways from early years through to employment, and then to new opportunities unlocked by transferrable skills.

It is my great hope that we can use what we have learnt through the pandemic to think differently about the drivers of our productivity and our human potential. It is not just jobs in traditional industries that enrich and sustain us. It is the power of our creativity, our capacity to innovate, and 21st century skills that will take us to sustainability and to prosperity.

The deep talent pool of the publicly funded arts feeds and propels the dynamism and substantial economic contribution of our cultural and creative industries.

Creativity connects us – to each other, and to the possibilities of a brighter, more skilled future.

Adrian Collette AM
Chief Executive Officer
Australia Council for the Arts