creative industries

Building creative futures from the powerful stories and voice of First Nations peoples

Australia Day this year was marked by thousands of people marching against holding our national celebration on 26th January. It is a day that represents the start of invasion, pain and dispossession for First Nations peoples. The pain was compounded this year by the refusal of the Australian Government to embrace the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ and its call for the establishment of a ‘First Nations Voice’ in the Australian Constitution.

So I believe it is important to share the stories of great creative work that celebrates partnerships with First Nations peoples. First Nation knowledge and creativity could be playing a vital role in helping educate our children and can help us achieve the productive futures we want, where innovation and creativity are basic to growing our national economy.

There are important stories to be told about how we can realise creative futures, where creative, technical and business skills combine, which can draw upon the most ancient of traditions of our First Nation peoples. These include approaches that value kinship and connections, and artforms that combine ancient stories and knowing with contemporary creative technologies and performance art.

First Nation remarkable heritage can be part of our innovation and creativity agenda

Whether it be examples of Aboriginal dances adapted and created to tell the stories of first sightings of ships or white man, to a breakthrough musical theatre production like Bran Nue Dae that disrupted popular stereotypes of Indigenous peoples to recent new works such as ‘My name is Jimi’ featuring Torres Strait Islander stories from Jimi Bani, and Nakkiah Lui’s ‘Black is the new white’, First Nation theatre and performances serve as performative acts of protest and agency. Such actions and work demonstrate that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have always had to devise, adapt, create and remake to achieve equal rights and recognition, and arts and creative forms have been important vehicles for this.

Recently at our national capital our Arts Education, Practice and Research group along with the AARE community of educational researchers acknowledged this remarkable heritage. It was especially pertinent with 2017 being the 50-year anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, 25 years since the Mabo decision and the 20-year anniversary of the ‘Bringing them Home’ Report.

We heard from Traditional Owners such as Dr Matilda House and from Indigenous artists such as Dennis Golding and were inspired by First Nation voices, stories, resilience and creativity. Matilda House believes that “you must have stories of your country. If you don’t, you don’t belong, no matter where you come from’.

These stories, these histories and contemporary arts practices should be more appropriately recognised within various national innovation and creativity agendas. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributions are rarely considered within the innovation agenda, apart from deficit discourse about Indigenous performance and outcomes. However, Indigenous creativity, endemic to traditional cultural practices, is also an inspiration to contemporary arts and innovation practice. As Noonuccal Nuugi director, writer Wesley Enoch said:

‘The facility for change is also built into Indigenous traditional meaning-making structures. A dance from Bathurst Island depicting the gunning turrets stationed on the islands during WWII shows interpretive traditional enacting as a more modern experience, or the creation of explanatory myth-like structured stories for the coming of alcohol or money or AIDS or the Nissan four-wheel drive bespeaks a flexibility to accept and explain environmental changes through a facility of ‘New Dreaming.’

Our research project

I am currently engaged in a new research project that reminds me of the power of story and voice for helping provide insight into the human experience, but also for enabling us to realise new visions and ‘New Dreamings’.

Working in partnership with JUTE Theatre in Cairns, our research with the ‘Dare to Dream’ project will seek to investigate the short and longer-term impacts of a participatory program whereby new theatre works are being created that tell Indigenous stories, that are also generated in collaboration with local Indigenous leaders and feature Indigenous artists as key creatives on the projects. Each year as well as the performance of the work in schools, a one week workshop program is conducted within 10 schools in far-North Queensland. During the week young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (from grades 6-10) participate in drama and storytelling workshops and at the end of the week they are invited to share what they have created with the community. The theatre and workshop experience provides direct contact for the young Indigenous people to positive professional role models and positive stories about a range of possible futures.

The first work of the series was ‘Proppa Solid’ by Steven Oliver (of ABC Black Comedy fame). The play begins with a great creative premise: in 2044 Australia has its first Aboriginal president of the republic. He has moved the centre of power (the Black House) to Brisbane and unlike his wife, the President Paul Toppy has little knowledge and connection to his country or people. Throughout the course of the play he comes to understand who he is, where he comes from and the importance of his kinship with family and country.

This week a creative development process is being hosted in Cairns which profiles the life of Henrietta Marrie, a Traditional Owner whose great-grandfather was known as ‘King Ye-i-nie’ of the Yidinji. Henrietta has been a tireless advocate for Aboriginal culture and heritage. This includes Henrietta’s work as the first Aboriginal Australian to work for the United Nations and draws attention to Australia’s obligations to its Indigenous communities under various UN Articles of the Convention of Biological Diversity.

The 2018 work being developed for the ‘Dare to Dream’ project is known as Bukal, named for Henrietta and also the black lawyer vine which grows in the rainforest and is used for weaving and other purposes. The goal for this new show is that it will inspire and educate young people, particularly young Indigenous women.


Nurturing an innovative and creative future through drama, theatre and arts education

This type of project and the related research is important for a number of reasons. It works in the short term to help Indigenous students feel valued and to see their cultures and stories represented on stage, but it also can have significant longer term benefits. For example, recent work from ANU reported on the Australian Council site reports:

‘One in ten First Nations people in remote Australia earn income from arts, “remote creative arts participation rates declined between 2008 and 2014-15 driven by declines in remote NT and Queensland – a concerning trend given the importance of First Nations arts to cultural and economic sustainability, and community wellbeing’.

Drama and theatre are often not regarded as particularly innovative art forms or crucial for realising ‘New Dreamings’ within digital worlds. However dramatic learning affirms the fact we still inhabit human bodies, which enable us to take action within the world. Through drama and performance players can learn. They are using dramatic forms of storytelling, but they are also bearing witness, inventing and affirming new voices and identities, and discovering new career pathways and life roles.

Through theatre we have seen the emergence of a strong body of work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and writers. They have documented their experiences, perceptions and imaginings through embracing, adapting and innovating upon western theatre forms of performance and scriptwriting.

From the Kevin Gilbert in 1971 with the ‘Cherry Pickers’, Bob Maza, Robert Merritt’s ‘Cake Man’, Eva Johnson’s ‘Murras’, Jack Davis’ ‘The Dreamers’, to Enoch and Mailman’s ‘Seven Stages of Grieving”, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playwrights have provided us with insights into what has often been hidden and not spoken about in the lives of Indigenous peoples.Women’s experiences have been shared through personal histories revealed in works by Lingali Lawford, Leah Purcell, Sally Morgan, and Jane Harrison. Different insights on major historical events have also been documented, including through works such as ‘Black Diggers’ which highlighted the experiences of Indigenous soldiers during WWI. These play texts contain great sources of insight that can be brought into any classroom, not only theatre or drama classes.

The contribution of the drama, theatre and arts education for cultivating the skills of communication and expression, of experimentation and innovation, reflection and creativity required for productive futures seems to be undervalued by the government bodies, even though in this past year they claimed to value the importance of creativity and innovation for our future national prosperity (see the 2017 House of Representatives Federal Parliamentary inquiry).

However projects such as the ‘Dare to Dream’ project are demonstrating that creative work and processes are able to generate innovative work and life options for young people and arts professionals. As Mark Sheppard, ‘Proppa Solid’ actor said in 2017:

‘I think what enables them to have that breakthrough is a different way of learning. There is no right or wrong, it’s actually about participating. … it can be empowering and give a different perspective about what is out there in a wider world… not only in being a performer, but that the tools of theatre and creating and creativity can bring to everyday life tools of empowerment, of feeling good about yourself, and hopefully we’re able to make an impact that way.’

So much more to be done

While it is early days for the program and research, so far students and teachers have all noted the positive outcomes of the program with reports of high levels of student engagement, increased levels of confidence and the young people having expanded notions of opportunities and life pathways. The actor/facilitators have spoken of how for many of the students, the experience has opened up their sense of what might be possible (beyond sport, teaching, nursing or in some communities the military). Plans for future work will also focus on ways to capitalise on the possible connections across the school and wider communities where the shows tour, and to firm up the strategies for building and extending learning through the kinship and connection networks.

It is time to recognise that creativity and innovation relies on people and very human forms of creativity and expression, it is also time to more fully recognise the contributions, strengths, creativity and innovations of our First Nations peoples, and that their ingenuity, resilience and creative endeavours are quite extraordinary and should be more explicitly celebrated in ways that are respectful and appropriate.


Susan Davis is Deputy Dean Research for the School of Education & the Arts at CQ University, Australia. Her research has focused on drama, arts-education, engagement and digital technologies. She is one of the Co-Convenors of the Arts Education Research SIG of AARE and a Board member for Drama Australia and the Sunshine Coast Creative Alliance. Sue was previously a drama teacher and performing arts Head of Department and has created and managed many arts-based projects in collaboration with various education, arts industry and community groups. Susan was one of the convenors of a Creative Education Summit held at ACMI in 2016, with summit outcomes contributing to an Arts Education, Practice and Research group submission to the “The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training Inquiry into innovation and creativity: workforce for the new economy”. She was also invited to present further evidence at a roundtable for the inquiry. 



Creative industries are essential for our future economy. What are they? How our roadshow helps schools open CI futures for their students

The Creative Industries were included as a Strategy for 21st Century Australia by the Australian Government back in 2011.   They were seen as having the potential to drive our economy and build future Australian entrepreneurs who could participate in a growing global economy. Around the world Creative Industries are now seen as essential to growth in a modern economy. Our universities offer a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees in Creative Industries.

The Creative Industries remain under-exploited in Australia.

Many teachers and careers advisors in Australia do not have a well developed idea of what Creative Industries are, what skill sets they involve and what school subjects underpin this strategic area of future workforce growth.

I believe the current curriculum emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in Australia is marginalising The Arts (visual art, music, dance, drama and media arts). Creative Industries is simply not a priority in the national secondary school curriculum these days, even though The Arts, and the entrepreneurship and innovation skills they embed, are critical for our future.

What are the Creative Industries?

According to Australian Government the creative industries involve “the generation of creative intellectual property with the potential to be commercialised” and they include:

music and performing arts;

film, television and radio;

advertising and marketing;

software development and interactive content;

writing, publishing and print media; and

architecture, design and visual arts.

The Queensland University of Technology points out that “the creative industries are innovation led, knowledge intensive and highly exportable, and make a larger contribution to GDP than a number of traditional industry groups.’ Also that: –

The lines between creative fields are increasingly blurred. Visual artists use interactive and moving images, performers use digital media in site-specific works, and collaborative teams create sophisticated productions that captivate our senses.

Technology provides new possibilities for artists – in the creation of their works, as new outlets for their creativity, and as a means of promoting and distributing their work. Cutting-edge use of digital technologies produces networked performances and cultural experiences.

According to QUT “employment in creative industries is growing 40% faster than the Australian economy as a whole.”

If you are interested in how India is using the soft power (ways of influencing others by co-opting rather than coercing) of its Creative Industries to become a superpower you should check out this TED talk by Shashi Tharoor.

How is the Australian education system responding to the need to develop our Creative Industries?

I see one of the main problems with what is happening in Australia is that many students are immersed in a contemporary social media Big Data – creative space. They continuously blog online, post on Facebook and Instagram and produce content for YouTube etc. This currently appears to be an alternate universe to formal learning, where written testing abounds and censorship pervades. Formal school assessment fails to acknowledge that increasingly students approach the web and social media with an entrepreneurial focus and have been developing their digital skill sets outside of the classroom. Students produce music videos, blogs, tutorials and already attract audiences and followers.

The Australian education system significantly invested in technological infrastructure, digital resources and support for teachers’ practice in schools through the Digital Education Revolution (DER) back in 2013. It aimed to develop the skills in digital media that “are essential to all 21st century occupations”, through the production of “knowledge and skills development in areas such as ICT and technology, which are central to Australia’s skilled economy”. However skip forward to 2018 and, while technologies discourses are present in Australia’s education policies and in the national curriculum as a general capability, they don’t appear to have been developed as “central” to our education for the creative economy.

I believe the learning opportunities in the Creative Industries, which carry significant technology skill sets, are very limited in Australian school education and are over shadowed by old perceptions of what The Arts can contribute to the cultural and economic future of Australia. This perception underestimates the soft power of the Creative Industries and further reinforces its marginalisation as an important learning area.

I participated in a project by the University of Newcastle to tackle the problem of how to help school students envisage the Creative Industries from an entrepreneurial and innovative agenda. The aim was to get parents, career advisors, teachers and students to see more clearly how Creative Industries contribute to our economy and to envisage new workforce opportunities for students in regional areas.

Our project focused specifically on how to strengthen teachers’ and schools’ knowledge of the significance of the Creative Industries studies at university and its pathways to careers. We did this through a hands-on roadshow.

Our project

The project Creative Industries Careers: Re-imagining Regional and Remote Students’ opportunities was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training in the Higher Education Participation Program (HEPP) National Priorities Pool. I was one of eight collaborators involved in this project.

Our ‘pitch’ to get funding focused on how to support regional and remote High School students facing the prospect of decline in traditional farming, mining, service and manufacturing and to re-imagine their futures and aspire to work in the Creative Industries.

Our project was developed to present the full range of art, media, design and illustration opportunities, with a significant focus of digital media, in the Creative Industries. The aim was to show how increasingly mobile technologies are opening up remote work and entrepreneurship opportunities. Students can study Creative Industries at university and return to their rural communities to go on and pursue fulfilled productive lives connected to global economies via the Internet.

We developed the slogan “See what you can be” to drive the project. We created videos of young creatives working in their own innovative and entrepreneurial ways across a range of industry sectors. We developed hands on activities in digital workshops of video, virtual reality and animation accompanied by career advisor and teacher information sessions. We wanted to show emerging employment trends and career opportunities to our audiences.

At the same time our project acknowledged limitations of career choices imposed by regional life, such as the availability of role models or creative champions. So we used Creative Industry student mentors who shared their learning journeys from school to university and their individual Creative Industry work goals.

The Creative Industries Roadshow

Our Creative Industries Roadshow website houses all the Creative Industry Roadshow content and it provides a breakdown of what we did. Our Roadshow showcases real stories of current students and university graduates who have been able to reach their potential through a variety of pathways specific to Creative Arts, Communication, Visual Communication and Design. There is a particular focus toward digital technologies, ‘makers’ and practical problem-solvers.

Our Roadshows provided information sessions and discussions and we ran hands on digital media workshops.

The six University of Newcastle academics, including myself, and two research assistants that formed the research team, along with 16 university Student Mentors, provided accurate and up to date information to participants about Creative Industries career options and university life.

In addition the series See what you can be’, which features six interviews with University of Newcastle graduates describing their pathways from High School to a Creative Industry career, is now hosted on a UoN YouTube channel. It is also available via the Roadshow website.

What we did with our Roadshow

Our Creative Industries Roadshow went to seven NSW regional areas -Port Macquarie, Taree, Dubbo, Mudgee, Gunnedah, Merriwa, and Tamworth. The eight Roadshows toured 13 networks of principals in remote and regional NSW, engaging 40 High Schools and allowed over 602 high school students, careers advisors and teachers to learn more about the creative industries.

Challenges ahead

Our project highlights the need for professional development in regional and remote areas about the Creative Industries and how both The Arts and STEM subjects are involved. We noticed the increasing concern of Arts educators (music, visual art, dance, drama and media teachers) that STEM policy initiatives were impacting schools to the extent that students wishing to pursue a future in the Creative Industries were increasingly finding their school subject choices restricted. Arts teachers in regional and remote schools are becoming increasingly anxious about retaining their jobs in some locations and digital Arts learning opportunities are technologically constrained.

The project has been successful in shifting career advisors and teachers perceptions of the skill sets required at secondary school level for a pathway into careers in the creative industries. However, we regularly discovered that schools suggested the Roadshow experience only to their Creative Arts students, not to the wider creatives within the school, those who could be pursuing their passions through technology subjects such as Design and Technology and Computing or others who could be showing skills as creative writers. A computer student, for example, could well go on to a career in the film industry or gaming.

We discovered careers advisors and teachers were not fully aware of the wide range of career opportunities available in Creative Industries via higher education at university. Careers advisors who participated in our project went on to feel confident about presenting Creative Industries options at university to their students. The Roadshow and the project as a whole has shifted students and teachers perceptions beyond the limited service industries (farming and mining jobs) to entrepreneurial, freelance, startups, innovation hubs or small businesses (drones in marketing and real estate for example).

This project was small scale and strategically for regional and remote schools and their communities, yet it is the observations of the project team that these challenges are equally relevant in cities.

The challenge for tertiary educators is to shift pre-existing perceptions held by career advisors and teachers who are key stakeholders in education, whose views have been shaped by past subject career boundaries, traditional pedagogies and assumptions about where to find creativity in learning and how to turn these activities into viable careers. Moreover the creative pedagogies, which have traditionally underpinned the Arts, are becoming an increasingly important skill set for all students, as every future career will entail digital communication skill sets, including design and video and creative entrepreneurship.

Increasingly young people are faced with the reality of work emulating from their own initiatives. Small scale start up innovation companies are now becoming the norm and requiring varying degrees of marketing and promotional skills on top of their industry focus. Soft skills now underpin most marketing and professional communication avenues and now drive national economies. Far more work needs to be done in this area in order to open up to schools and communities awareness of the Creative Industries and the significant investment that needs to be made.

At the moment schools and communities are undervaluing Creative Industries pathways. Australia should be currently building subject pathways in schools where students seeking careers in their creative passions (from virtual reality design, gaming, animation to film and the design and media industries) can have their ambitions supported.

Most of all we need to work on promoting the visibility and value of the benefits of a career in the Creative Industries. I believe there is a lack of understanding of enterprise and innovation as a cornerstone in new curriculum learning. Often students who come to the creative industries are as likely to be good at STEM subjects as well as traditional Arts subjects. This highlights a limited understanding of the transdisciplinary nature of the Arts, Design & Technology and ICT that was identified in our pilot. We found misunderstandings around how students could traverse both Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and The Arts so that there can be a closing of the gap around the Creative Industries fields.

The opportunity for secondary students to move more freely between and across subject areas is becoming limited under current educational funding and policy, and this is reinforced by old perceptions about the creative curriculum in secondary schools.

I believe careers advisors and teachers are becoming perplexed with this narrowing of the curriculum as government policy and funding increasingly focuses on STEM futures. My fear is a Creative Industry skill set, where technology, creativity and passion abound, may well become the missing link for school learning in Australia.


Dr Kathryn Grushka is a lecturer in art and design education at The University of Newcastle. Her research spans the visual arts and design, art/science, arts-educations, e-learning and the visual art, Arts Health and the Creative Industries. Her qualitative research draws of empirical and philosophical fields with an emphasis on narrative, arts-based methods and the performative work of image construction in representing the contemporary subject. She publishes nationally and internationally and works with a range of editorial teams. Kathryn’s career spans being a visual arts teacher, community artist, curriculum designer, academic and arts researcher working on national arts research projects. Most recently she has collaborated with Creative Industries and schools to deliver the Australian Government Department of Education and Training in the Higher Education Participation Program (HEPP) National Priorities