Close this search box.
Art and Cultural Diplomacy

The following article was published in The Australian 15 April 2014

Art of cultural diplomacy opens doors

Elizabeth Ann Macgregor

CREATIVITY has to be at the centre of the future economy. That’s the reason I accepted the opportunity to be a part of last week’s China leg of the Prime Minister’s trade delegation.

This was a chance to talk about Australia’s creative future. The future I want to see will place more emphasis on what artists can offer to this process of generating creativity, from early learning programs through to engaging with cultural activities to employing artists to address issues of concern for governments and businesses.

As I’ve seen in my career artists can ask the questions that don’t occur to management consultants, because they bring a different kind of thinking to the situation. This is essential for Australia and our regional presence. There is growing recognition that creativity is the key to innovation and that those pioneering organisations that have played a pivotal role in the rapidly expanding digital age are those that embrace, encourage and foster creativity within the workforce.

How better to cultivate curiosity than through art? Art requires us to be open to looking at things anew. As businesses look for ways to develop creativity in their workforce, the role of artists and arts organisations as a source of inspiration is being increasingly recognised.

Artists are brimming with new ideas. It is the role of the arts institution to provide the connection between artists and audiences in a dialogue open to experimentation and hence innovation.

For me this is the ultimate agenda — to be able to demonstrate that artists are indeed critical to society. That the arts, and in particular the contemporary visual arts, are not some optional extra. Artists make a real difference to people’s lives, individually or collectively.

The past two decades have seen an extraordinary rise in interest in contemporary art in all its various forms. Contemporary art is an international language. It bridges global barriers and provokes discussion around issues that might not be possible in other arenas. This is art where artists’ ideas have not already been endorsed by critics and arts writers. Where they have not been analysed and re-analysed.

Artists whose work we all need to make up our own minds about, albeit with the advantage of being able to talk to and question them.

The Museum of Contemporary Art presents Australian art within an international context and our relationship with artists from the region is critical. Chinese born artists Guan Wei and Ah Xian currently have work on display at the MCA and we have included Chinese artists in our international projects.

The interest in contemporary art and art in our region is fostered by organisations such as the Australia China Art Foundation dedicated to the promotion of Australian and Chinese contemporary art and the integration of art and the community. It is also why Sydney’s private Chinese contemporary art gallery, White Rabbit, is so popular.

It may seem counter-intuitive to be talking about the ways in which the visual arts can help people express ideas but I believe it is art’s capacity for triggering discussions and responses that take its importance into another realm. As the artist Douglas Gordon said: “Art is what makes conversation possible.”

The opportunity to be in China as part of last week’s trade delegation built on Australia’s experience of the visual arts as an important part of the economy and reveals the potential of our arts to be creative and invaluable influencers. My presence in China, along with Li Cuxin from Queensland Ballet and Ron Radford from the National Gallery of Australia, has the potential to present new ways to think and new ways to talk about the world, which could help us define our place within it.

Elizabeth Ann Macgregor is director of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art.