Contextual Notes – Melbourne


Australia had a Labour government in 1984. Prime Minister Bob Hawke was elected in March 1983. It was during the previous Labour government led by Gough Whitlam (1972-75), however, that the Australia Council established a Community Arts Programme. By 1984 organised, funded community arts programmes were well-established. Gay Hawkins in her account of community art, ‘From Nimbin to Mardi Gras: Constructing Community Arts’ (published by Allen & Unwin in 1993), critiques Left accounts of community arts as ‘romanticised’ and ‘stultifying’. She felt they were too simplistic in their accounts of ‘ordinary people’ against the capitalist state. Instead, she focuses on the official invention of community arts and a framework of analysis based on the historical and institutional context of the development of a democratic cultural policy in Australia marked by the setting up of a separate Community Art Program in 1973.

There are some interesting parallels with Australian and UK policy development in relation to community arts funding (e.g. the Arts Council of Great Britain established a Community Arts Committee in 1974). A footnote in Hawkins’ book led me to an issue of ‘Art Network’ from 1982 which has a special supplement on ‘Socially Engaged and Community Art’. This is a very early mention of the term ‘socially engaged art’ (the earliest I have found in the UK is in Malcolm Dickson’s ‘Art with People’ published in 1995).

Also in Australia in 1984, Aboriginal voting and enrolling became compulsory; Western Australia became the last Australian state to abolish capital punishment; the Australian banks were deregulated; the Federal Sex Discrimination Act was passed, based on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; Cabinet considered a submission by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Clyde Holding on strategies to achieve consistent national Aboriginal land rights and a film about disability activism ‘Annie’s Coming Out’ directed by Gil Brealey was released…

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