Jon Hawkes

Jon Hawkes


Keynote lecture: Making sense together - Thursday, November 4 at 1:00 pm

Sometime circus strongman, underground press editor, lighthouse keeper and bookseller, Jon is the author of the groundbreaking ‘The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: culture’s essential role in public planning’ (Common Ground, 01) and is one of Australia's leading commentators on cultural policy.  ‘Fourth pillar thinking’ has spread worldwide, with Jon making presentations in the USA, Canada, Spain and New Zealand.

He is the Resident Cultural Analyst with the Cultural Development Network of Victoria and has been Director of Community Music Victoria (01-08), a Fellow of the Community Cultural Development Board (Australia Council) (04-05), Director of the Australian Centre of the International Theatre Institute (91-98), Director of the Community Arts Board of the Australia Council (82-87) and was a founding member of Circus Oz and the Australian Performing Group (Pram Factory).

Read more about Jon Hawkes in "The Biography of my Father Jon Hawkes" by Lucy Hawkes


Description of Jon Hawkes' talk:

Making sense together

Abstract of address to the My City’s Still Breathing Conference, Winnipeg, Nov 2010

1. Public policy making is profoundly improved by applying a cultural perspective to ALL activities.

2. The most important priority in the development of arts policy is the facilitation of widespread, active and collaborative arts-making in communities.

The public planning sector has been awash with new ‘paradigms’ for at least a decade.  For all their variety, they share common concerns: sustainability, equity, engagement and wellbeing.  These paradigms also share an appreciation of the cause of community decline: Disconnectedness - the breakdown of a shared sense of purpose, the attenuation of a sense of belonging to groups that are living and preparing for the future together, the increase in isolation.

It is in addressing this issue that culture can be extremely valuable.

One of the most useful ways of looking at culture is to think of it as describing the ways that we make sense of our lives together, or in more formal terms, as the social production of meaning.

There is growing recognition of the benefits that come from communities being regularly and actively involved in expressing their aspirations and identity – of making sense together.  The challenge is to develop the conditions in which this involvement can become a normal and everyday part of public life.

A useful first step is to apply a cultural perspective to ALL policy, planning and programming.

Assessing the cultural impact of a plan involves evaluating the extent, processes, and results in three areas: participation, authenticity and engagement.

•    Active participation: active and universal involvement in the expression of commonly and publicly negotiated aspirations.

•    Diverse authenticity: expressions that genuinely reflect the democratic discourse that has produced them, and the inevitable diversity that is inherent in all communities.

•    Continuing engagement: the development of conditions that enhance communities’ capacity for ongoing action and interaction in public life.

This approach is a way of consciously encouraging cultural vitality to stand alongside environmental responsibility, social equity and economic viability as one of ‘the four pillars of sustainability’.

For governments wishing to enhance their capacity to re-engage with their constituencies and/or to support the development of resilient communities, applying a cultural perspective is a valuable way to encourage all its activities to positively impact on these objectives.

This overview approach can be enhanced by the development of specific policies and programs in culturally intense sectors.  That is, in areas of human activity where creative expression is really strong, for example, the arts.

Policies and programs that support and nurture community creativity will help to create a climate in which the rebuilding of connectedness will be significantly easier.

Viewing the arts as an industry requiring support is a reasonable way of dealing with the needs of artists wishing to make a living from their work.  But this approach needs to be balanced by a parallel view: that is, of seeing the arts as an activity that ALL citizens and their children have the capacity, need, desire, right and responsibility to actively engage in.

For the necessity of art springs not simply from its function as a catalyst in developmental processes or as the avenue for individual self-actualisation, but most importantly, from its role in filling profound human needs:

•    In order to survive, we NEED to learn, and to learn to enjoy, doing things co-operatively; if our life’s journey is undertaken with experientially-based expectations that co-operative work can be productive and fulfilling, then it’s more likely to turn out that way.  Song, dance and music-making in particular, give us that opportunity, but most other creative activities (from image-making to story-telling, from gardening to cooking, from games to rituals) offer a similar context.

•    Our insatiable quest to make sense of our surroundings is facilitated through art-making.  We NEED art-making to compose patterns and ‘connect the dots’.  We don’t choose to make sense of the world around us, and our place in it; we are impelled to go at it from the moment we are conscious.  Long before logic, science, philosophy and faith become tools, our creative imaginations are hard at work.

So, as well as initiating an across the board cultural perspective, governments need to implement arts policy focused on community-based arts making.  They also need to introduce more imaginative arts practices into their own operations AND ensure that arts options are on the table when considering programs across the board.

In implementing both of the points I began with, the key changes needed are attitudinal.  The most important of which is to adjust the way we think about the concepts of culture and art:

Culture as core business: start thinking about culture as the way we make sense of our past, present and future.

Art as essential essence and invaluable tool: start thinking about art as an invaluable avenue through which we all can express meaning and rediscover the joy of co-operation.

Check out The Hawkes library for more on these topics.

This Keynote address is sponsored by the Urban Ideas Centre

Go Back