Event report: Cultural conversations: Ideas, Practice, Networking session 3

Event report: Cultural conversations: Ideas, Practice, Networking session 3
Tuesday 20 September 2022

Our third HRC/AMAGA Cultural Conversation took place shortly after the federal government’s consultation on a National Cultural Policy closed, just before the launch of the National Museum of Australia’s newest and biggest gallery in its 20 year+ history, and in the midst of Australian Research Council (ARC) funding announcements and a recently announced independent review of the ARC.  

This cluster of events shows how different research can look in each of our discrete sectors, but how crucial the creation and communication of new knowledge is for all of us. One of the themes of Cultural Conversation 3 was cross-sector multi-disciplinary collaboration. It is clear to me that this happens more than perhaps we even recognise ourselves. For example, the submissions to the cultural policy process that I saw were written by advocacy organisations AMAGA (GLAM sector) and the ACHRC (university sector) but drew on research networks and teams built across sectors, including with the community sector. The new Great Southern Land gallery at the NMA is similarly the product of working and thinking across sectors, and a quick look at the outcomes of recent ARC Fellowship schemes shows this also to be the case. It’s not just a Canberra thing. All of these examples draw on networks across different levels of government and different individuals, groups and communities. Each example works toward exploring and putting in place steps that will contribute to build an ethical and sustainable collective future for us all.

In reflecting on Cultural Conversation 3 (see video recording of event below) to write this report, I thought more about the currency of ideas in context of the funding cuts that have affected all our institutions. There is a risk that ideas are not perceived to be resource intensive. There is a misconception that what we do in the humanities, arts, social sciences and cultural sectors does not have the same research infrastructure needs as research in STEMM fields and institutions do. As our own professional experience shows, and as increasing numbers of commentators have argued, this is not the case. Gideon Haigh commented in the Australian on 18 June that ‘big thinking is exactly what’s needed now’. And thinking, no matter it’s size, is not free.

Big thinking needs to be resourced adequately, and for this to happen, there needs to be greater government recognition that the arts and cultural sectors are no less significant than STEMM fields in solving global grand challenges and engaging with urgent national problems alike. Indeed, as became evident throughout our event, none of these fields – including our sectors – can solve problems alone. Bridging this gap requires equity of resourcing and recognition of the urgent requirements associated with all forms of access to our ‘data’ and the ‘thinking’ they generate.

A further note on this point about ‘thinking’. Thinking – be it applied or conceptual (honestly it is usually both) can too easily be railroaded by expectations of utility. An article published today in The Conversation reminds us that Education Minister Jason Clare has specifically advised the ARC he wants to see "impact with industry”. On the one hand, research across university and GLAM sectors often shares this goal. But on the other hand, we need to always be alert to the dangers of instrumental and politicised – as opposed to political – research. We need to remain conscious of the lessons from Britain in the 1990s around this trend (see Message 2019).

To grapple with some of the complex issues around research – what it is, how to do it, and how to communicate its value – as well as some key questions about how to initiate and what you need to understand and expect from cross-sector research relationships, Conversation 3 brought new speakers together to represent the GLAM+U spectrum. Dr Stephen Gilchrist (UWA and HRC Visiting Fellow) spoke about galleries, Dr Shirleene Robinson (National Library of Australia) spoke about libraries, Dr Mike Jones (ANU) spoke about archives, and Dr Laina Hall (Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House) spoke about museums, and Professor Kylie Message (ANU) spoke about universities. By the end of the event, several new collaborations and research ideas had already emerged. Our format was panel discussion and networking, which seemed a perfect fit for the theme.

Report by Professor Kylie Message

Our next breakfast will be held Wed 2 November. Venue tba.

For information, registration, and confirmation of the discussion topic, please visit



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