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?
(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.“