Why Arts and Culture are Important

By Emmanuel Narokobi

You’ve probably heard the argument before that Arts and Culture are important because it preserves our heritage, that it gives a medium for artistic expression, that for some it provides an escape from crime, and so on. From traditional song and dance to modern music and film, the Arts and Culture of Papua New Guinea has been recorded, stolen, borrowed and re-invented in so many ways since we decided to visit the next village or hop on a canoe to another island, and more so when the big sailing ships came to our shores.

So in most cases we see our Arts and Culture as a mixture of our history and our identity  in today’s world. For example if you’re from Manus, how do you feel when you see other PNG’eans enjoying the Manus Beats with the ‘Hey, hey, Hey’. As a Tolai how do you feel when you’re dancing next to a Highlander singing ‘Sandy, Sandy oh!!’. You feel pride that’s what and its real and its now. From Jeffery Feeger who returned recently from a residency in NZ to the Grrilla 2009 project using PNG drum beats as a back drop to Krumping, our Arts and Culture is seeping out into the world beyond our villages. And although this is nothing new,  why then is the  development and media coverage of our Arts and Culture so stone age?

h-a-pre-invit(a two-part international exhibition by five contemporary PNG artists which will open in London on Sept. 16, 2009 and in Canada on Nov. 4, 2009)

Our government has its ad-hoc support and our main stream media makes attempts but which all fall short of anything comprehensive. So for the most part it appears that our Arts and Culture seems to be categorised as a luxury which doesn’t require government support or in the mainstream media’s eye’s is not ‘sexy’ enough to sell  papers like front page rape and murder stories.

So why is Arts and Culture important? Hollywood actor, Kevin Spacey put it nicely in a March speech he gave at The Old Vic Theatre, where he said, Arts funding is neither charity nor empty philanthropy, it is an investment in our future”. Okay an investment in our future, what exactly does that mean? Its not a health plan, that’s for sure.

Spacey went on to explain by saying that, What I have come to recognise, in my six years of fundraising for the Old Vic theatre in London, is that those of us who make an argument for supporting the arts have not used the economic impact of arts and culture as the centrepiece of our appeals as much as we should. Too often we focus solely on the social aspects of what we can achieve, or the artistic merits. These are important and valid, but I believe we should change tack at this time. Instead of apologetically holding our hat in our hands, we should cite the economic successes of what is called show business. We can do better by recognising how much our cultural life contributes to the health of communities across our nation and, indeed, around the world. Those who enjoy culture should be more aware of the financial contribution arts institutions make to their communities.

Relationships between business and the arts offer a real chance to achieve financial success – not only for each other, but also to generate income for the hotels, restaurants and countless other businesses that populate the neighbourhoods where cultural centres operate. I for one do not want to see another regeneration plan that does not have arts and culture at the heart of its offer. Without it, we are not building rounded communities, but ignoring the fabric and soul of society.

Arts and Culture can be an active commercial industry on its own and it has already begun. How much money changes hands each day for the sale of PNG Music locally? How much does PNG artwork sell internationally? If we can send teams all over the world for sports, why not musicians or artists? If the government is planning to build a stadium for an attempt to get into the NRL, what about a stadium for music concerts or renovating the National Museum and Art Gallery for exhibitions.

As Kevin Spacey said in his closing remarks, “The creative industries lead the UK economy. They constitute one of the nation’s most powerful natural resources…Let’s shout louder to make sure those in positions of power and influence realise their value to our economy, as well as to our collective soul. The question is not “What can the economy do for our arts?” but “What can the arts do for our economy?” The answer: a good deal.


16 thoughts on “Why Arts and Culture are Important

  1. Emmanuel….you could not have argued this better. Let’s all shout and hope Papua New Guinean leaders will listen. A window of opportunity is opening for contemporary PNG art in the global art world but it needs networking and the efforts of everybody to support PNG artists and to alert people to what is going on. Art makes people feel better but it is also a very important educational tool and a way to express identity. Please keep us posted about what’s going on. I would strongly support your idea of having hotels , restaurants, and banks display PNG arts. But most of all the PNG government needs to fund a permanent gallery for artists to regularly present their work’ As mentioned in earlier comments, artists are cultural ambassadors for their country and spread good will. So along with Kevin Spacey. let’s shout harder so that funding for the arts is recognized as an investment for what is best in humanity. How can we help and keep the momentum GOING…..Pamela

  2. Emmanuel – well done. I have been involved in promoting art in PNG for many years now as the co-ordinator of the Luk Save Art Show which has been held at the RPYC each September. Our 7th show will open 12th Sept this year. This is a small attempt to offer PNG artists somewhere where they can show the best of their work in an environment that enables them to achieve the best price, and boy have they risen to the opportunity. The number of artists, the quality of their work, the mediums offered have consistently grown and far outdone our expectations. We have consistently sold the majority of work presented with many, many pieces traveling on across the world.

    Mr Spacey’s comments to keep the economic argument at the centre of our presentations for support is completely sound and an ethos I absolutely endorse. Our artists are generally self-funded. They invest in their profession, their materials, their product themselves. It is one of the most sustainable industries this country has and yet it is all but ignored by economic analysts, strengthening programs and the like. This is an area that, with support in funding venues and sales opportunities, would really make a major impact on many, many peoples lives.

    I will also personally vouch for the international interest in our talent. From working on old fashioned shoe leather and marching through private galleries in New Zealand earlier this year Luk Save has secured a three week show in the heart of Auckland’s art tradition. On invitation, six of our artists work will be traveling (and hopefully at least one artist) for a dedicated show of the best of this country’s contemporary art. This is a purely commercial exercise. Our work is outstanding and the gallery owner believes we can make a successful business case. If we can prove it, it will become an annual event and add much needed cash, let alone recognition into the art community.

    This country’s endemic artistic culture could really make a genuine economic impact and I would relish a more open debate on the sound financial investment of appreciating our contemporary and customary art culture.

  3. Thank you for your comments Amanda, please feel free to email me any flyers and/or information when exhibitions are on so I can post them up on this blog.

    And also congratulations to you for all your hardwork with your exhibitions. It has already made a name for itself in Port Moresby and with more people like yourself involved we can definitely make Arts and Culture a thriving community both creatively and financially.

  4. Followed your comment to this post E. Arts & Culture define who we are – as individuals, as tribes, and as one nation. That’s what I love about it.

    On the cultural side of things – is there a danger in commercialising it? Will there come a day when the PGK will be deemed more important than who we are? It tends to happen to assimilated societies – look at the US/Australia/NZ.

    On the proposal of building stadium for music concerts or renovating the National Museum and Art Gallery for exhibitions – I say YES.

    Where will the money come from??


  5. Ahh yes…those magnificent Pollies and their flying machine. (Getting Air Niugini to buy and manage a jet like the Falcon is like getting the Works Department to buy and manage a Porsche.)

    Commercialisation in art may come, but wouldn’t it be better that that the money made by artists is coming back into PNG? or rather wouldn’t it be better that a Papua New Guinean is involved in any form of commercialisation instead of some french company without a connection to PNG?

    We have to control every aspect of our arts and culture and at some level it will have to involve how it is bought, sold and marketed. Why do we have to keep traveling overseas to see the largest collection of antique PNG art?

  6. Becuase private funding, facilities and a person/s proactive passion to take the collection overseas has succeeded… LUk Save has done a wonderful job in marketing passionate artists and no doubt will succeed in expanding further hopefully into their own Art Hub/Space.

    I would love to see PNG’s Museum, UNI & Arts School, Waigani Arts Theatre, Potters Asscociation (next door), Music stadiums/Studios, a Arts Co-op & PowerHouse and more creative developments all revived as platforms for artists and most importantly pleasure & respite for the people of PNG.

    A dedicated local arts scene with the help of funds, mentoring and promotion will bring nothing but positive change…Best, Tali

    Lets call for change!!!!!!

  7. Funding in “Arts and Cultures” is truely an investment….I could vividly see the Melanessian Ways have the potential for mega bucks …. I wonder why, in the right frame of mind, for any national leader to see the same.

    Thanks for this post!


  8. Thank you for every other informative blog. The place else may just I get that type of info written in such a perfect means? I’ve a project that I’m just now working on, and I have been at the glance out for such information. eegbfegeeedd

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