Creative State Summit 2018 kicks off

The pleasant smell of smoke from Uncle Bill’s Welcome to Country ceremony lingering on our clothes, the second Creative State Summit kicked off in the Melbourne Museum’s IMAX theatre with a welcome from Museums Victoria CEO Lynley Marshall, followed by Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley MP.

Minister Foley described the summit as an opportunity to come out of our silos and comfort zones, communicate across disciplines and learn from each other – and also a forum to ensure that the government’s Creative State strategy remains dynamic and fresh.

He provided an update of the progress of the strategy after two years, and the general health of Victoria’s creative industries, citing an increase in employment from 222,000 jobs in 2013 to over 242,000 in 2017.

Moving on to the power of creativity to effect social change, Minister Foley announced the first round of projects supported through the new Future Makers for Change program, which pairs creatives with social policy experts to develop projects that address challenging social issues, such as family violence, mental health and social cohesion. A total of $2.6 million in funding has been provided to nine projects.

View the full list of funded Future Makers for Change projects here

The Minister wrapped up with a challenge to the creative industries to see themselves as agents for change, and applauded those who have spoken up as part social movements such as #MeToo. In his closing comments, he said that artists, storytellers and creative thinkers are vital in a post-truth world.

And with that directive, it was time for the summit to truly begin!

Morning plenaries

Thursday morning’s keynote addresses provided a fantastic mix of ideas and perspectives on the summit’s theme of ‘creativity in a post-truth world’.

Summit host Michael Williams introduced Tea Uglow as ‘a person of purest curiosity’, as was evidenced by the whirlwind tour of the projects she presented. Tea is Creative Director of Google's Creative Lab in Sydney, a role that apparently gives her almost unlimited latitude to explore some pretty deep ideas as long as she can find a way to intersect them with Google’s technological agenda. With her references to the classical Greeks, the Renaissance and other periods of technological advancement coming from ideological turmoil, Tea might best be described as an R&D philosopher – constantly thinking about the meaning of everything, but using it to create practical innovations.

“Pretty much all I do is think about how many of us see the world so differently, when it’s the same world,” Tea said. Informational is dimensional – it depends on context, location, time and other sources of perspective.

Tea’s take on ‘post-truth’ is less the idea that we have moved past truth in our time, and more that we never had truth to begin with.

Deconstructing the book has been one of Tea’s many fascinating projects at Google. In conjunction with London publisher Visual Editions, Tea and her team has created a series of ‘unprintable’ books called Editions At Play (one recently won a Peabody Futures Award for Digital Storytelling). Books with non-linear narratives or with text that changes or deteriorates over time were some of the examples she showed us.

Her final slide read:

I’m not a designer because I don’t design solutions
I prefer to play with the problems
Technically, I am, ‘a nuisance’
But a useful one

Also, I would add, a fascinating one!

Next up was Dr Jason Potts to talk about the idea of the crypto city. Jason’s viewpoint was that now that cities collect so much data – often to the disadvantage of citizens – the next step in the evolution is to decentralise the data by adding a blockchain on top and making that data democratic again.

“I think we’re on the cusp of a revolution that’s coming out of blockchain technology, and it’s going to effect the way we live,” Jason said, and while he did his best to explain what blockchain actually is.

Jason translated the definition of blockchain – “A protocol for achieving consensus and updating an append-only distributed database” – into plain English thusly – “Blockchain is a technology for helping us agree upon truth.”

I had a much better time grasping Jason’s notion of the city as a platform, in the same way that social media or an operating system is a platform. Cities are how we cooperate and come together to create value, Jason said, and so cities should be built in a way that facilitates connections between one another. I’ll be reading up on the Illinois Blockchain Initiative to try and find out how these threads come together.

Finally we heard from Nate DiMeo, host of popular long-running history podcast, The Memory Palace.

“There is an epidemic of untruth in my country – you may have heard,” he said, referring to the current state of US politics. “The only thing keeping my head on straight is art.”

However, like Tea, Nate talked about how our notion of truth is an illusion – it’s shaped by context and narrative, what is left out as much as what is included. He talked about his early career as a journalist and the pain of cutting information to fit the word count, knowing that the resulting story would never be a complete picture.

Nate began producing his podcast in 2008 – very early days for the format. He looks for stories from history that help him say something about the present. “There is an inherent unreality to the past,” he said – the past exists as a construction in our minds, and no two people can ever picture it the same way.

To bring the morning session to a close Nate read a story from the Memory Palace archives, accompanied by a short film. A lovely way to wrap up several hours of intense information download.

Day one wrap-up

What a big, exciting, exhausting, invigorating day it’s been.

Following the opener from the Minister for Creative Industries, we were treated to three powerhouse presentations from keynote speakers Tea Uglow, Dr Jason Potts and Nate DiMeo. All three were hugely different and provided unique perspectives on the summit theme.

Summit delegates were tweeting up a storm from the word go. At 11:30am the #CreativeState hashtag was trending strongly enough that some spammers jumped in. #squadgoals!

Also on Twitter, cartoonist David Blumenstein from Squishface Studio shared his notebook sketches from the session – as well as outtakes from morning tea and portraits of the crowd.

After lunch it was standing room only at the Artist as Disruptor panel with Mama Alto, Genevieve Grieves, Candy Bowers and Moira Finucane. Genevieve spoke about practitioners with privilege needing to reckon with their complicity and letting go of power in order to bring marginalised voices forward. Moira encouraged us to trust that the audience is ready when it comes to challenging ideas. And at the Q&A session afterwards, Candy spoke frankly about her misgivings in working with a mainstream theatre and speaking out about micro-agressions while other actors just focused on their roles.

Meanwhile, other delegates took in the delights of the Museum Tours, inspired by Nick Gray’s Museum Hacks.

There were tough choices to be made in the afternoon with five separate forums running concurrently. Each session was repeated a second time, but how much was the same and how much changed with the audience? We can get an idea by comparing the graphic recordings for Fact or Furphy?, which was lucky enough to have an artist in both sessions:

Graphic recording of the Fact or furphy? Considering the likelihood of arts and culture leading economic renewal in regional Victoria forum by Sarah Firth

Graphic recording of the Fact or furphy? Considering the likelihood of arts and culture leading economic renewal in regional Victoria forum by Sarah Firth

View the gallery containing larger versions of these graphic recordings

For anyone who couldn’t make it to all the sessions they wanted, or who were otherwise engaged in the Shape Your Sizzle! toolbox session, all of the forums were summarised by graphic recorders (the amazing Sarah Firth, Zahra Zainal and Devon Bunce) and the mysterious Forum Feedback session turned out to be a lightning round summary of all five topics.

The takeaways:

The groups at Freedom of Artistic Expression: how far is too far? talked about how Australians have no constitutional right to freedom of speech and decided that we need a Bill of Rights (possibly out of the scope of the summit!).

At The Creative Industries: Using our power for good and not evil, Veronica Pardo spoke about giving up her role at Arts Access to make way for a person with a disability to take over, and she and Kath Duncan challenged participants to check their privilege with a game of cards.

Fact or Furphy? Economic renewal in regional Victoria raised the point that regional programming often gets tossed into the same bucket, when in fact regional areas are hugely diverse and have distinct identities of their own that need to be recognised.

Enough Already! Do we need more art? raised the question – more art for who? There are many audiences out there who are drastically under-served.

And the hosts of Do we want to be a 24 hour city? posed the possibility of a thriving night time culture that would support decentralised working hours and serve Melbourne’s rapidly growing population.

Closing out the day was a presentation by Aaron Seeto, director of Museum MACAN in Jakarta, which opened late last year. Aaron spoke about the challenges of opening a large-scale private art gallery in South East Asia and painted a picture of a young, middle class and technologically connected population that is hungry for new ideas. The visuals of the opening exhibition and event were stunning and MACAN should be on the must-visit list for anyone heading to Indonesia.

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Creative State Summit Day 1 Image gallery

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Graphic Recordings of forums from day 1 of the Creative State Summit

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Top tweets from day 1 of the Creative State Summit

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