Playing fair: Telling the story of Sydney with multiple and diverse voices

We asked Craig Limkin, Executive Director, Create Infrastructure to tell us about his role at Create NSW, his views on arts and culture in Sydney and what the future of ‘play’ in Sydney is likely to look like. Create Infrastructure is the first of its kind in the world and is dedicated to the planning and delivery of cultural infrastructure.

The NSW Government recognises the vital role that creatives, arts, screen and cultural organisations and communities play in transforming the liveability of our cities and regions. Create NSW is responsible for furthering Government’s vision for NSW to be known for its bold and exciting arts and culture that engages the community, supports innovation, facilitates economic development, and reflects the state’s rich diversity. We invest in the success and future of arts, screen and culture in NSW through infrastructure, funding programs, partnerships and advocacy.

Sydney is a globally unique centre of First Nations artistic excellence. It offers an extraordinary opportunity to access First Nations art, histories and sites of significance that are tens of thousands of years old and to experience contemporary First Nations arts and culture. It is home to many prominent contemporary First Nations’ artists and cultural organisations who lead the telling of these stories, including the only national Aboriginal dance company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, leading screen production company, Blackfella Films, Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, Moogahlin Performing Arts and many independent artists and practitioners. It also home to many First Nations community organisations and land councils who provide support to ensure that First Nations culture thrives within local communities.

The Sydney arts and cultural sector is a broad and diverse ecosystem of arts and cultural organisations that spans across the city. These organisations differ in size, scale and focus and each make an important contribution to the wider cultural sector. Sydney’s major cultural institutions are nationally and globally recognised and esteemed, with established museums, theatres and galleries that are of high international calibre and host leading contemporary and prestigious collections and performances. Across Sydney, smaller cultural organisations deliver high-quality programming. These spaces encourage risk and innovation and make a vital contribution to the vibrancy of Sydney’s culture by providing space and opportunities for Sydney’s diverse population and subcultures to express themselves.

People in Sydney embrace arts within their communities and neighbourhoods, with a strong participation in and demand for community-based art facilities and opportunities. More widespread support and understanding of the value of arts, culture and creativity is needed. Sydney needs to tell a bolder story about itself, creativity and culture. Our story needs to be authentic and inclusive, dispelling archetypes, reshaping perceptions and celebrating what makes Sydney special. The DNA of Sydney with its unique and profound position for First Nations and its inherited cultural diversity over successive cycles of immigration and integration gives it both a distinctive cultural identity and accumulated global reach.

To become a competitive global player, a balanced, integrated and compelling brand and identity for Greater Sydney and New South Wales must be developed, one that looks beyond culture’s capacity to drive tourism and bed-nights, and harnesses culture and creativity to serve important purposes.

Arts, screen and cultural practitioners, organisations and communities play a vital role in improving the liveability of our cities and regions; promoting growth, contributing to urban renewal, facilitating social cohesion and strengthening a sense of place. Culture and creativity encourages investment from business, increasing employment opportunities; draws participation from both residents and visitors and builds the visitor economy.

But it’s not just about attracting and retaining talent to Sydney, it is also about generating our own talent by supporting creativity in our education system. Providing young people with the skills that will help them secure the jobs of the future is essential. Companies want workers who can brainstorm, collaborate and communicate effectively, who can take risks and use new, creative approaches to solving problems, because these are the skills that drive innovation. The arts help to provide students with the learning mindset and critical capabilities for the future world of work; developing the complex skills required to create and test ideas, shape inquiry and critically evaluate, communicate persuasively and generate creative solutions with confidence.

While Sydney has many unique advantages, building a cultural identity for Sydney and enabling that identity to influence and shape how the city generates liveability and is promoted will require leadership and courage to address constraints and barriers.

First Nations’ stories and culture need a central and visible position as Sydney’s foundation narrative. A consensus on Sydney’s cultural identity has not yet been achieved. The story of Sydney needs to begin with First Nations’ stories of history and culture. This must be led by First Nations’ people to ensure authenticity, respect and genuine partnership. The process to develop this narrative will need to involve empowering First Nations’ leaders, continued conversation and listening to the lived experiences of First Nations’ communities and a willingness to reconcile difficult histories.

We also need to get better at defining and measuring the value of culture. The positive impact that creative and cultural participation has for people’s health, education, wellbeing and sense of belonging is not yet a focus of broad-based policies and investments. The broader value of culture and identity as a differentiator and an advantage is not yet fully recognised and organised.

While the size and scale of Sydney is a strength, as is its diversity of cultures and unique neighbourhoods, it also means that the city can feel disconnected and divided, both socially and geographically. This is exacerbated by Sydney’s transport network, which makes it difficult to move across the city and in between communities. The places and images that Sydney often relies on to promote itself such as the beaches of Bondi, the Harbour, the Opera House are not reflecting the broader and multi-faceted identity of what Sydney means to many people who live here. Sydney will not realise its full potential until it is able to tell a more connected and joined-up story of itself, one that makes room for multiple and diverse voices, and which positions the rich cultural offering of Western Sydney within its narrative.

 

Deloitte’s ImagineSydney series sets out to contribute to the conversation around how we can create smart, flourishing and productive communities through exploring strategies that will drive economic and social development in Sydney. Our third Edition, ImagineSydney:Play is available now.


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