Following on from his 2006 Platform Paper Does Australia Need a Cultural Policy?, in his highly anticipated new Platform Paper from Currency House, Art, Politics, Money: Revisiting Australia’s Cultural Policy, cultural economist David Throsby reviews Australia’s fraught attempts to deliver a sustainable, wide-ranging arts and cultural policy – and on the eve of Budget 2018, points to where we go from here. In this excerpt, he discusses how international engagement might fit into a broader cultural policy.


Cultural diplomacy and the exercise of soft power has been an important element that falls within the ambit of a comprehensive cultural policy. There are both cultural and economic dimensions to the promotion of a country’s culture abroad. Here in Australia we have always engaged in cultural exchange with other countries, including through programs such as Asialink Arts, and the cultural engagements pursued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In this latter context, the conjunction of foreign affairs and trade is appropriate when the arts are involved, in view of the old adage “where culture leads, trade follows”. Although such a slogan may seem far-fetched, the fact remains that countries in our region are our major trading partners and economic relations with them are likely to be enhanced if we have a stronger cultural dialogue with them. Thus, although international relationships in the arts have their own artistic rationale, there are also economic reasons for paying more attention to this area.

Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti, David Throsby, North KoreaRichard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra

It is true that we already engage in significant levels of artistic exchange with countries like Japan, China, India and others, propelled both by government and private sector initiatives that may have some economic motivation. But it would be possible to strengthen these endeavours, as part of a more active engagement with international affairs in our cultural policy. For example, we could make it a requirement that a cultural exchange program should precede or accompany every trade mission to one of our regional neighbours.

We might even contemplate some bolder initiatives in this field. For example, consider our diplomatic and trade relationships with North Korea. We have incurred the wrath of this unpredictable and dangerous regime by being seen as a handmaiden of the United States. To counter this impression, we could open a direct dialogue with the North Korean leadership by framing it in cultural rather than strategic terms. We could initiate such a dialogue by sending one of our leading music or dance ensembles to Pyongyang – the Bangarra Dance Company would be an obvious choice, or one of our world-class classical music ensembles such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Brandenburg Orchestra, any of the State orchestras, or the Australian Ballet. A tour to North Korea by any of these groups could open the way to a more cordial relationship between our countries than the usual militaristic posturing. In fact we would only be following an example set by the US when in 2008 it sent the New York Philharmonic to North Korea, a visit that created a far more positive response than would have been experienced had they sent a battleship or a nuclear missile.


An edited extract from the new Platform Paper by Professor David Throsby, Art, Politics, Money: Revisiting Australia’s cultural policy, published by Currency House, available here.