Culture without “world”: Australian cultural policy in the age of stupid

Julian Meyrick, Tully Barnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


In March 2013, after six years of consultation, an Australian Labor government launched the national cultural policy document, Creative Australia. In July 2013, a Coalition government was elected, Senator George Brandis became Minister for the Arts, and the policy was dumped. With it went cross-party consensus about funding rationales and measurement strategies, with disastrous consequences for the cultural sector. This cautionary tale of gaffes, pay-back and abrupt changes of direction, highlights the fragility of policy memory that condemns artists and arts managers to a never-ending reinvention of the evidentiary wheel. Our paper examines the problem of collective understanding (“world”) in cultural policy-making in Australia, exacerbated not only by the short-term electoral cycles which undermine long-term cultural outcome timescales, but by a fixation on what Hannah Arendt calls “the peculiar and ingenious replacement of common sense with strict logicality”. Evidence of value is only meaningful when it occurs in a policy memory that can fully avow it and respond in appropriate ways. Measurement methods are over-determined by epistemology and by experience. We argue that the balance between these determinants of effective cultural policy-making has been lost. An emphasis on numerical data–especially economic data–has forced arguments for culture into a decontextualised register of quantitative proof. Recent events in Australia suggest that different, more direct ways of engaging with cultural policy-making are required for the problem of collective understanding to be successfully assayed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-124
Number of pages18
JournalCultural Trends
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2017


  • arts funding
  • Australian cultural policy
  • George Brandis
  • policy memory
  • policy world


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