What do the arts do for Australia? What is their contribution to society, the economy, people's health and well-being, education - and how do we understand, express and measure the value of such things? The Arts Value Forum examined such questions at the Canberra Theatre on Wednesday.
ACT arts advocacy body The Childers Group and the Cultural Facilities Corporation jointly convened the forum which attracted more than 100 people from the region and around Australia and presented 23 local and national speakers including Minister for the Arts and Community Events Gordon Ramsay, award-winning Canberra Indigenous artist Jenni Kemarre Martiniello and the director of Melbourne's Heide Museum of Modern Art, Natasha Cica.
The keynote speaker was Kalgoorlie-Boulder based Kate Fielding, who is the chairwoman of Regional Arts Australia and a board member of the Australia Council of the Arts as well as a company director, writer and social change hairdresser - the last being someone who's trained to use hairdressing as a context "to have conversations about difficult topics". Fielding said she used it as a tool in remote areas of Australia to bring together people who normally wouldn't relate to each other such as police officers and recently released prisoners.
Speaking before her Arts Value Forum session, Fielding said she would talk about the value of arts and culture and some of the key pieces of evidence used to explain that value both in financial and other contexts.
"I'll be delivering some headline statistics such as the fact that 98 per cent of Australians participate in arts and culture," she said, "and I'll be challenging some of the preconceptions people have so we can start a conversation about the arts that's based on fact."
One of the preconceptions she wanted to challenge was the idea that arts and culture don't happen in regional areas.
"One in three people in Australia live in regional areas and if 98 per cent of people participate in arts and culture there must be a lot of arts and culture out there in regional Australia."
Dianna Nixon, a member of The Childers Group, was pleased with the response to the event as people came to sign in before the speeches started.
"We wanted 100 people - we're overbooked. We wanted people to have a chance to talk to each other."
She said the event was independently organised and received no government support and relied largely on volunteers.
"It's not beholden to anyone in terms of funding."
She believed the priorities of the present federal government lay elsewhere than the arts and that the focus of organisations such as The Childers Group should be to try to work with the ACT government as well as other organisations to gain support for the arts.