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DEMOCRACY VERSUS CREATIVITY

Nicole Canham

Platform Paper 29

in Australian Classical Music

Nicole Canham

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‘Those of us working in the classical music sector today’, writes Canham, ‘tend to have a very limited understanding not only of the general public’s relationship with their own creativity, but also of the impact this has on their potential interest in the creativity of others. Which is a way of saying that none of our surveying and reporting and documentation for grant acquittals is really asking the essential question: “Why don’t you, or wouldn’t you, come to our concert? Or if you were to come, what would you like to see/hear?”

‘But today we are in a unique position—the middle of a creativity revolution, inventing new forms of popular culture in which everyone can be a participant. Everyone is open to the idea of making their lives more beautiful or successful. Shouldn’t we be adding the enjoyment of classical music to that list?’ What really inspires us is awakening to our potential. Canham suggests how this might be done and describes her own experience of making ‘deconstructed’ opera developed with her audience.

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About the Author

Nicole Canham plays the clarinet and works with a range of non-musical performers to explore connections between artists and audiences. In 2007 she received a Churchill Fellowship to explore internationally the social value of music to people’s lives.

The difference between what it takes to be excellent and what it takes to be loved is enormous. Our art form traditionally views excellence obtained over years of training and experience as the apex of achievement. It soars into the air like a cathedral spire, puncturing the skyline in a way that a skyscraper does not. Not only is the spire finer and more elegant, it represents values and attitudes that were fundamental to the fabric of daily life in times past. Our classical-music cultural policy, however, would have us generate the enthusiasm of the rock fan in our audiences, in order to justify our existence. So, how are we to make friends and fans in the world we currently inhabit?

 

Comments

Dr sophie Lieberman is head of Programs at the historic houses Trust
of new south Wales.

In Democracy versus Creativity in Australian Classical Music Nicole Canham provides a timely and insightful reflection on the tension between the attainment of excellence that is at the heart of classical music practice and the expectation of participation inherent in the policy and funding frameworks that support its performance in Australia. As a practitioner in the 'allied' museum sector, her thoughts and reflections on the disconnect between a 'democratic' policy approach and the inherently elitist training that is required in order to participate as a professional in the field have considerable resonance. As Canham suggests, if we want to resolve the tension between 'democracy' and 'creativity' we need to ask ourselves: 'Who is this for?' and make sure that we create work that honestly addresses the needs, interests and creativity of our audience. A brief review of recent experience in the museum sector supports much of Canham's argument: the value of democratising participation, the unique opportunities offered by social media and technology to collaborate with our audiences, and the role of policy in shaping sectoral practice. I offer the following reflections in support of the argument that those of us who work at creating, promoting and funding the Arts be encouraged to take risks and connect with our audiences and their creativity.

Perhaps because, unlike an orchestra or an opera company, museums are founded on a principle of public education, to varying degrees the 'public' has always been the focus of the work of the institution. Since the rise of museology in the 1980s the tradition of edification-a didactic, educational approach to our audiences-has been shifting to one of inclusion, collaboration and 'connection'.1 This has been accelerated in the past decade by the rise of new technologies and is shifting our understanding of concepts of 'excellence' (curatorial practices) and 'connection' (audience engagement). A key example of this has been the experience of the Powerhouse Museum where in 2006 a commitment was made to allow the general public to tag and curate their collections using their own criteria using OAPC2.2 The outcomes have informed decisions about what onsite museum visitors experience at the Powerhouse. Even more strikingly it has added new levels of depth to the understanding of the collections and changed the work of curatorial and research staff in the institution (although not always seamlessly). Online audience engagement has given rise to a dynamic body of research and discussion exemplified by the New Media Consortium's annual Horizon Report, Nina Simon's research on the Participatory Museum, Museums and the Web, and MuseumNext.3 This research has in turn given museum directors the evidence they need to support decisions that privilege audience participation. Where once Web and Programs units were seen as adjunctive to core business, they now sit firmly within the museum structure alongside exhibitions and collections management. For the museum sector excellence is increasingly measured not only by traditional research outputs but also by the involvement of a wide range of audience groups and their satisfaction with their experience.

Democracy versus Creativity rightly recognises the importance of policy in reflecting social values and shaping institutional decision-making processes. Keating's Creative Nation valued excellence in audience experience as access to standards of excellence in the Arts and placed responsibility for engagement squarely at the feet of the performer. The absence of any cultural policy under the Howard Government created a problem for those institutions that set their agendas in part in response to federal funding. In the museum sector the absence of such a framework-the persistence of the 'bums on seats' model-complicated tensions between the museum as research institution and the museum as cultural institution. In seeking to address this, the sector looked overseas. An instructive, though not uncontroversial, model has been the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) policy framework that provided a decade of clear direction and structural change in the sector in the UK.4 As the work of Richard Sandell at the University of Leicester has demonstrated, this policy framework required museums to actively value the voices of a variety of different audiences in their work and necessitated the rethinking of institutional structures in order to respond to policy and funding requirements, structural changes that necessarily redistributed resources towards including- connecting with-different audience groups.5 In Australia, the fact that the museum sector, like the classical music sector, has had limited success in shifting our audience profiles beyond 'university-educated, reasonably well off, fifty plus', can in part be attributed to the absence of a policy framework that required otherwise.6

I don't want to overstate the extent to which the museum sector has succeeded in mediating tensions between 'excellence'-curatorial practice-and 'connection'- audience engagement. Nor argue that we have achieved a paradigm shift. Despite the time and effort that has gone into audience engagement in the sector we are a long way off bumper stickers reading 'I love my museum'. What I have tried to draw out is the value of connecting with audiences and the methodologies and approaches Canham suggests. Taking risks, asking our audiences to participate in our practice, has yielded benefits for the museum sector and there is a vast body of case studies on which leaders in the classical music sector might usefully draw. Similarly I am not arguing that policy is the panacea; rather that is has and can provide important impetus in shifting standards and expectations. Finally, in drawing these comparisons between the museum and classical music sectors I hope I have demonstrated the advantages of widening the thesis presented in Democracy versus Creativity and that we in the museum sector will take from Canham's thesis a renewed sense of the value of connecting with our audiences and even, perhaps, of moving beyond 'Who is it for?' to 'What do you value?'

1An overview of founding issues in museology is available in The New Museology, ed. Peter Vergo (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 1989). 2Seb Chan 'Tagging and Searching, Serendipity and Museum Collection databases' paper presented at Museums and the Web 2007, [http:// www.archimuse.com/mw2007/papers/chan/chan.html]. There is a wealth of discussion and exploration of the Powerhouse's experience on Chan's blog fresh+new(er) http://www.freshandnew.org/ 3New Media Consortium Horizon Report, Museum Editions are available online http://www.nmc.org/; Nina Simon's research on Participatory Museum is on her blog Museum2.0 http://museumtwo. blogspot.com/; Museums and the Web Papers are available at the Archives & Museum Informatics website http://www.archimuse.com/ conferences/mw.html; and, MuseumNext papers can be accessed online at: http://www.museumnext.org/ 4A good summary of the debate surrounding this policy framework is available in the Papers and Notes from "From the Markings to the Core? Sackler Conference for Arts Education", March 2010 available at http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/from-the-margins-to-thecore-2010... 5Richard Sandell, "Social Inclusion, the museum and the dynamics of sectoral change", in Museum and Society, 1(1), (2003), pp. 45-62. 6Canham p. 3.

James Nightingale is the president of the New Music Network.
He completed a PhD in cultural policy studies at the University of
Queensland in 2011 and performs with the ensemble Continuum Sax.

Nicole Canham's Platform Paper, Democracy versus Creativity articulates the sentiment that all is not well with classical music. She finds fault in both the outlook of its practitioners, the training they receive and the cultural policy background that governs its practice.

While agreeing to many aspects of her argument, I do not believe that the paper is entirely fair on the art form, her colleagues in the classical music world or the current state of cultural policy debate surrounding classical music. The criticisms made by Canham are largely aimed at the relatively well-resourced major performing arts sector, a sector that has proved to be quite resilient to the criticisms of cultural commentators and good at constructing administrative structures that serve the purpose of sustaining these organizations and justifying their existence.

The major performing arts companies are currently arguing for their existence in an increasingly hostile cultural policy arena. But whatever criticisms we may have of these organizations, I for one am not going to tell them that they do not know their audience. Their knowledge of their audience is what makes them appear conservative and constrains their ability to program new work. Pushing the envelope of taste is something that many in the major performing arts sector, including the AD of Opera Australia, Lyndon Terracini, see as the preserve of academically minded musicians who are out of touch with the real world of audience taste.1 While the major performing arts companies would love more of the younger demographic to appear at their concerts, there is no compelling reason for them to program risky work in the hope that some younger people might just come along. They need a much more compelling reason to be more creative: box office success.

As a performer and in my role as president of the New Music Network, I deal with the small-to-medium part of the classical music world on a daily basis. The issues of concern here are very different from those faced by the major performing arts companies. The difficulty of capitalizing on creativity and building audiences are issues that Canham has described as being central to her experience of classical music practice and administration. Success within this sector of the classical music milieu depends upon the effectiveness of dealing with these issues. As I was reading Democracy versus Creativity, I was busting to know more about Canham's personal experience rather than her opinion on the 'malaise' of classical music. How did Canham build the audiences for the CIMF? What were the outcomes of the PolyOpera project? Why does PolyOpera seem to have fallen by the wayside? How can practices from Canberra Music Festival and PolyOpera be embedded into the practices of classical music in Australia rather than being one-off catalysts? I believe that the answers to these questions will say more about the future of classical music and the shape of careers within it than any analysis of the major performing arts sector.

Finally, I would suggest that the allies we need to encourage creativity within the small-to-medium music sector are the major presenters: for example, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Festival, Vivid Festival, Angel Place, and Musica Viva, to cite only a few of the NSW-based organizations that might be helpful. That these organizations (with the exception of Musica Viva) do not support the small-to-medium classical music sector more directly is a problem that needs to be overcome. But that won't happen by berating these organizations for being old-fashioned, or blaming 'cultural policy' and 'conservative audiences'. It will be done by presenting high quality work and building smaller organizations to the point where the major presenters- government funded, not-for-profit and commercial-can no longer ignore the groundswell of interest and audiences that we have garnered. To look at only NSW, the recent successes in presenting work by Synergy/Taikoz, Ensemble Offspring, and Sydney Chamber Opera demonstrate that there is much to be optimistic about. That the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra has created a sizable audience out of nothing within its very short history is encouraging. That Kathy Selby and Friends have brought to life a whole new set of concerts at lunchtime at Angel Place is a sign of growing interest and audiences. There are many other market opportunities (suburban and regional in particular) that can be exploited and it is important that the discussion about the future of classical music recognizes the many people across the board who are working to make it more popular and to increase its artistic relevance.

Classical music should not be seen in opposition to democracy, as the title of Canham's paper suggests, but should be rising to the challenges and opportunities that are presented to it in the ever-changing media and policy landscape of modern Australia.