The report that follows was released to artsHub late on Wednesday May 30. It is the best synthesis available anywhere of how the NBN will affect the way the arts in Australia will be practised, delivered and consumed. For those who think that the NBN is some way off, think again. Early release sites have trialled some initiatives like Trove, the composite archive of Australia’s heritage from the National Library of Australia, more than 1,000 libraries and institutions all across the country, and the combined collections of Picture Australia and Music Australia. One look at Trove and you will immediately understand the scale and depth of what the NBN can hold and deliver.
The report runs to more than 2,100 words. It’s not a quick read, and slower still if you stop as you go to appreciate the significance of the many issues it covers. Some things you may have already imagined, such as the profound effect the NBN will have on regional and remote Australia, but then you realise reading this that there are things already happening that you haven’t imagined. A recently announced joint initiative by the Federal and Northern Territory governments will put you in the frame of what can be done. At several points along the way the report considers the many ways the NBN can help reduce Indigenous disadvantage through the arts.
We know that Australia’s education economy has been slowing recently. The online education market can counter that by taking our education to the world, rather then bringing the world to us. And that is a point consistently made: that the NBN puts us right smack in the middle of everything that is happening in the world. It applies to arts as much as it does to anything else. Distance has lost its meaning and the spotlight will always be shining for those who seek it.
Philanthropist, businessman and NBN Champion Harold Mitchell sees very clearly how our arts institutions are now competing against the best the world has to offer. Their audience is no longer paying patrons sitting in seats along rows. That bears consideration. It might be scary, or it might be time to stand up and back ourselves against what anyone is doing anywhere.
It’s all in front of us. Let the NBN begin.
The text that follows is entirely the creation of a senior communication adviser, Media and Public Affairs, Communication & Media Branch of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Australian government protocols say that the writer cannot be credited with a byline, but artsHub would like to acknowledge the source of this report.
Australia’s story—in zeroes and ones
A peaceful cultural revolution is taking place in Australia. It is a revolution comprised of zeroes and ones, bringing high-speed, high-definition Australian creativity of all kinds on an unprecedented scale to ever-widening audiences at home and around the world.
As with delivery of health, financial, education, government and business services, the National Broadband Network (NBN) will be a game-changer in the "imagination" sector, which employs more than 200,000 Australians. The rollout of the NBN promises vast expansion of digital collections and interactive cultural content on the internet, by extending to artists, cultural centres, designers, film producers, writers, arts organisations and venues.
High-bandwidth broadband will open doors to high-quality virtual tours of cultural institutions, two-way interactive lessons with artists, and connect regional arts with global creative industries. This is of particular importance to Indigenous Australian artists, enabling realisation of the full potential of their artistic endeavours — and being able to present this work directly to an enthusiastic audience.
Australia has an international reputation for its world-class artists, its visual arts, architecture, music and literature. The NBN, providing the underlying infrastructure, coupled with a strengthened and connected artistic community, will turbo-charge Australia’s arts sector. This will drive broadband adoption and participation in the digital economy through improved distribution of and access to Australian content, expression and opportunities. Artists and administrators are being trained to adapt and respond to this new and rapidly growing paradigm - to capitalise on e-business opportunities, including through the online education market.
A discussion paper on National Cultural Policy, published in August 2011 by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Office of the Arts, affirmed that "the NBN, with its high-speed broadband, will enable new opportunities for developing and delivering Australian content and applications reflecting our diverse culture and interests. It will also give business and community organisations in regional areas a historic opportunity to connect with national and international audiences and markets."
The discussion paper said the NBN, with its ubiquity, speed and capacity to handle large files and rapid interaction via video, promises to help Australian artists, cultural organisations and cultural products compete on the world stage. The NBN had, said the paper, the potential to bring Australian artists, art products and cultural bodies together and to better link these with their counterparts around the world. While cultural globalisation allows us to join in a world exchange, it also serves to showcase Australian art, artists and content and to highlight our national attractions as a tourist destination, as a place for investment, work and play, it said.
"A recent report from Australia’s Major Performing Arts Group — the peak body for 28 major performing arts companies — notes that Generations Y and Z are ‘digital natives’, to the extent that it is intuitive for them to communicate, research and be educated and entertained online. Older generations too, use the internet to research and make purchases, including tickets to live performances. This means that businesses seeking to engage with younger generations now and in the future will be compelled to have rich, online content as a baseline of being a part of the known world, much in the same way as once businesses felt the need to promote performances in the Saturday broadsheets.
"Emerging technologies present opportunities for Indigenous communities to use new media to present their art, language and culture to wider audiences and to enable traditional cultural practices to be transmitted to future generations," the discussion paper said.
The paper preceded Australia’s first National Cultural Policy in a generation - a strategic framework for the arts and culture in Australia based on the new opportunities opening up with new technologies, exemplified by the NBN. Already, cultural communities are gearing up for the transformation to come.
A sizeable boost for cultural dissemination occurred in late 2011, with the Australian Government’s announcement of a $19.94 million NBN-enabled ABC-ESA (Education Services Australia) education portal. To be launched the second half of 2012, the portal will give teachers, students and parents the opportunity to access exciting, innovative and interactive educational resources. Accessed via an NBN high-speed broadband connection, the portal will enable students to collaborate in real time via video to solve real world problems. It will also enable direct participation by means of virtual excursions to national and state-based events covered by the ABC.
In May 2011, the Australia Council for the Arts told the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications that broadband technology would have "transformative effects on the creation and consumption of arts". The Council concluded that the NBN "will allow anytime, anywhere access to creative and cultural content. It will make possible entirely new forms of connection between arts producers and audiences, and strengthen networks connecting artistic talent, skills and resources throughout the sector."
The Council said most artists and arts organisations were small-to-medium-sized businesses and the NBN would make it easier for them to connect and collaborate with each other. "The NBN has the potential to move us towards a more level playing field for the creation and consumption of the arts between regional and metropolitan areas, reducing the tyranny of distance," the Council said. "Further, the NBN will catalyse new forms of connection between organisations in Australia and internationally, making it easier for Australian artists to take their art to the rest of the world."
The Council also submitted that broadband-enabled artists increasingly use new interactive digital technologies and business models, and noted "the NBN will have positive outcomes for regional populations by providing greater access to arts content created locally or anywhere on the planet. And the NBN will support regional and rural arts and culture organisations and creative industries, as well as individual artists and practitioners, connecting networks of art workers to each other and to new markets."
And in December 2011, the Council announced a pilot Broadband Arts Initiative, inviting submissions for innovative, pioneering art projects enabled by new generation, high-speed broadband. Projects were to be funded up to the value of $100,000, with a total funding pool of $300,000 available.
The National Library of Australia, whose strategic directions for 2012-2014 refer to the opportunities offered by high-speed broadband for delivering high quality documentary resources to Australians, is showing how the NBN could cast a wide cultural and educational net — with a potential for a massively wider reach and greater volume.
Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, Assistant Director-General, Resource Sharing, at the National Library, said the NBN, combined with investment in digital content and other enabling services, would "open many opportunities". She said "the NBN will enable us to deliver digital content and services to all Australians, regardless of their proximity to major research libraries, as well as high-resolution copies of public domain works to all Australians, rather than the low-resolution copies current bandwidth demands. We will also be able to build our collections via the internet, by receiving high-resolution copies of digital material selected for deposit online, rather than offline. And we will be able to offer new ways for Australians to engage with our content. Today’s social media strategies and opportunities to reuse content held in collecting institutions are just the beginning, and we know that many opportunities — as yet unthought of — are likely to become available."
The library’s Trove program, a revolutionary and free search service, provides access to 390 million items about Australia, or of interest to Australians, from more than 1,000 libraries and institutions. Picture Australia and Music Australia, which were established in the early 2000s and absorbed into Trove this year, allow the public to search many significant online pictorial, music, newspaper and journal collections nationwide.
And through Trove, the library’s Pandora initiative is also discoverable. This archive of websites is being built to include sites representing cultural activity, including significant Australian online publications and data to ensure long-term access to significant Australian documentary heritage. All this is available to anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, but its qualities can only really be experienced with the kind of high-speed connection the NBN will provide.
The State Library of Western Australia, with partners including the Western Australian Government, local councils and Rio Tinto, uses Trove to improve literacy, especially among disadvantaged and remote communities, striving to close the digital literacy gap for Indigenous communities. In the Kimberley they use Trove to help communities find photographs and other material held in collections across Australia, noting that it provides "really special and inter-generational training opportunities" and "encourages elders and children to create personal digital stories together".
Broadband Champion Harold Mitchell, a long-standing advocate for the arts, said he was very conscious of how valuable the NBN will be as a tool to promote Australia’s international competitiveness in culture and the arts. "If we don’t compete, the world will overtake us," he said. Mr Mitchell, who is Chairman of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Chairman of Art Exhibitions Australia; a former Chairman of the National Gallery and of the Museums Board of Victoria; and former President of the Melbourne International Festival of Arts, said it was important for the whole world to get to know and understand Australia’s creativity.
"Right now, the NBN is beginning to open the world up to us. With its speed and bandwidth it will be able to showcase our national artistic genius - and not only the high arts - in a way we have not experienced before. The great museums of Europe are doing just that online, as may be seen in museums online.
"I recently visited the Metropolitan Opera of New York, and noted how they now send their performing talent around the globe. If we are able to watch what the Metropolitan can present to the world, it means we have to compete with the Met in terms of what Australia has to offer.
"Australia is the most multicultural nation in the world, with our arts spread across all of our nearly 23 million people. It’s a world of arts, which by use of the NBN, we can much more effectively present to a planet of almost seven billion people," Mr Mitchell said.
As the NBN rolls out nationwide, this sentiment is catching on. Many culturally oriented enterprises are ripe for the expansive possibilities offered by the NBN.
Another Broadband Champion, Dr Helen Thompson, Director of Centre for eCommerce and Communications at the University of Ballarat, said the university is embarking on a project entitled Eureka, I’ve found it! "It’s designed to take advantage of the NBN’s ability to deliver high-speed, reliable broadband connectivity. Trial services are being developed which, by leveraging this additional capacity, will let educators, students, historical researchers, curators and others from NBN early release sites across Australia explore key historical events.
"The NBN will allow Eureka, I’ve found it! to communicate aspects of the social, industrial, agricultural and Indigenous histories of Ballarat and surrounding regions. The capacity of the NBN will also facilitate the sharing of rich digital repositories, including books, newspapers, letters, pamphlets, maps, photographs and 3D imaging of selected historical artefacts from participating collections and organisations," Dr Thompson said.
Another example of NBN enhancement may be seen in what the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is doing. MCA Manager of Digital Media Dr Keir Winesmith said, "We’re very excited about the video conferencing capability being rolled out across the country. We’ve installed a video conferencing bridge in our new building that allows a direct connection to all schools in NSW - and soon all schools in Australia. Video conferencing is a great way to engage rural and remote school communities with the sort of cutting-edge contemporary art that they seldom get access to locally. Currently, the resolution of the video is low, which affects our ability to communicate visual art stories effectively. So we’re very excited about the NBN and the virtual museum visitation experiences we can provide for those who can’t physically attend the museum itself."
Another example of NBN power will become evident in a program which forms part of an $800,000 joint initiative announced in mid-April 2012 by the Federal Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, and Northern Territory Minister for the Arts and Museums, Gerry McCarthy. This initiative is designed to place artists in remote schools around the Northern Territory. The aim is for theatre specialists, puppeteers, visual artists and circus performers to boost students’ confidence, creativity and interpersonal skills. These creative people in the schools will develop and deliver multimedia, visual and performing arts programs in partnership with the communities they serve, maximising the innovative use of information and communication technology. Imagine, children in remote corners of the Top End travelling by broadband to wherever in the world that great art is being created.
Australia can look forward to the NBN providing ever greater opportunities to hold up a mirror of the Australian story, to reflect to the world our new ideas and the fruits of our cultural diversity.