Ministry of Silly Speeches

Cate Blanchett’s keynote address to the Australian Performing Arts Market in Adelaide. Cate Blanchett is an actress.

Australia has been enriched, challenged and changed by taking a stronger and more complex place on the world stage, rather than just selling ourselves as a great beach resort populated by smiling outdoorsy larrikins. Now, I know this from my own experience. I know this from having worked recently with Benedict Andrews. I know this from seeing a growth in my own husband’s work. We can justify ourselves with economic indicators and KPIs and graphs and acquittals but it just makes us look like any other industry, and we are not.

The arts operate at the core of human identity and existence. They operate at the cutting edge of a science that is now trying to unravel the puzzle of consciousness and identity. ”Our experience, for all that we are the subject of it, is a mystery to us”: Emerson’s wonderful hymn to the mystery of experience is not a piece of whimsy. It touches on the enduring source of cultural power in human life. How did we come to know, to understand, to grow? When did the pieces fall into place? Not on some graph. The graph is proof and proof comes afterwards. Proof is important to science because scientists start with speculation and conjecture to arrive at reality. Our job is to change reality, to challenge it, not prove it and explain it.

Now this little detour probably hasn’t got much to do with the Australian Performing Arts Market, but I think it is important in this room because around the country, certainly, and I think in the world more generally, there’s been a growing pressure on the arts to justify themselves, to prove their case, make their graphs and their pie-charts, and we have done it. We know the ripple effect of funding the arts leads to better dollar multipliers than many other expenditures and we know that cities with strong arts opportunities are more vibrant and attract more business and tourism. We know that most of the arts community works for lower wages and longer hours and this is only tenable because they are so proud of their work.

But I want to make another point that I don’t hear made often enough for my liking: the arts are a great employer. At the Sydney Theatre Company, we have a staff of about 130 at any particular time. The division is the interesting thing. Thirty of them might be artists working on a specific show – actors, directors, designers – and maybe 10 of them full-time staff who would be considered artists in our permanent employ. That means that about 90 people, more than double the number of artists, are employed to help create and realise the work of the company. We are a big company, yes, but my guess is the ratios are pretty similar all around the world. It’s not just the artists who work in the arts. It is an entire highly skilled, highly committed and passionate community.

Anyway, what else do we know, and have studied and measured? We know that countries with strong cultural identities demonstrate greater social cohesion and on and on and on. Basically, all sorts of studies have been done, key-performance indicators, measured and indeed graphed.

But there is more. We do more than all that. We must remember the arts do more than just that. We process experience and make experience available and understandable. We change people’s lives, at the risk of our own. We change countries, governments, history, gravity. After gravity, culture is the thing that holds humanity in place, in an otherwise constantly shifting and, let’s face it, tiny outcrop in the middle of an infinity of nowhere.

What I’m saying I don’t think anyone would deny, and yet no one seems prepared to constantly value that we give people the chance to make sense of the experience of their lives, their brief lives, and the tool to communicate that unique sense in another person or people.

This insistence on the importance of experience itself is a feature of these witnessing books and these witnessing lives, an insistence that history is not a concept or a force, but the brief, limited, unimportant lives of ordinary men and women involved in the business of just getting from one day to the next, just this, repeated a million times over.

This is an edited extract of the keynote speech Cate Blanchett gave to the Australian Performing Arts Market in Adelaide yesterday.

Source: theage.com.au

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