Australia/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.1 Overview of main structures and trends

Australia does not have a major organisation such as the British Council or the Alliance Française through which cultural diplomacy is pursued.  The Australia International Cultural Council (AICC) has been  Australia's key cultural diplomacy body and was established by the then-Foreign Minister, the Hon Alexander Downer, in 1998 as part of a renewed engagement by the Commonwealth Government with cultural diplomacy.  However, it had a very limited budget and its role became more a facilitation one than a funding one.  The Council appeared to have faded into insignificance during 2010-12, at which point it had access to only $40,000 to support international initiatives, but has been given a new lease of life following the release in 2012 of a major policy document by the Commonwealth government entitled Australia in the Asian Century.  As the Council’s website states ‘As an outcome of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, the Australian Government is revamping the AICC to ensure a strategic approach to cultural diplomacy.’

The revised objectives of the Council are:

  • To promote Australia overseas through the arts and culture and strengthen people‑to‑people linkages through cultural exchanges and creative collaboration;
  • To reinforce Australia’s standing as a stable, sophisticated, multicultural and creative nation with a rich and diverse culture; and
  • To promote Australia’s Indigenous art and culture;

with its key goals being

  • To coordinate programs to project a positive and contemporary image of Australia and Australia’s capabilities internationally through the delivery of high quality and innovative arts and cultural promotions
  • To strengthen long-term cultural relationships with our key regional partners, particularly in Asia
  • To enhance market access and lead market development strategies for Australian cultural exports
  • To strengthen business engagement and connections

The priority regions for action for the Council have been determined in priority order as: 

   1. Asia

   2. South Pacific

   3. Middle East and Africa, and

   4. the Americas and Western Europe.

The two objectives that have been added to those drawn closely from the original objectives of the Council refer to the long-term partnerships with regional partners, and to marketing and cultural exports.  This has some synergy with the intentions of both the new Australia Council Functions, and the content of Creative Australia and may be seen as a priority for the current Australian Government.

The funding parameters for the Council are not yet clear, nor is the new membership of the Council.

Other relevant issues

Community Cultural Development has been an important practice in Australia since the 1970s.  Periodically the Australia Council has had a Community Cultural Development Board or Community Arts Board, whose roles have been the stimulation of community cultural development in urban, regional and remote settings.  The Council now has a funding stream, ‘Community Partnerships’ which supports ‘…collaborations between professional artists and communities based on a desire to achieve innovative artistic and cultural development outcomes.’ Community Partnerships focuses its support in a number of specific areas which include regional Australia, disability, young people, cultural diversity, emerging communities, Indigenous people, remote Indigenous communities, and specific critical social and cultural issues requiring focused attention. 

There are also local government and State-based networks focused upon community cultural development, such as the Cultural Development Network in Victoria, or the Community Arts Network in Western Australia which in turn stimulate community cultural development projects in their constituencies.  Many of these are projects involving artists and communities from diverse cultural backgrounds.  By way of example, the project Malay Youth Sewing Project managed by the Shire of Katanning, in the West Australian wheat-belt, drew on the significant number of Aboriginal, Cocos and Christmas Islander, Afghani, South African, Chinese and Burmese people living in Katanning.  The project came about through the interest of four young Malay girls who wanted to learn to sew traditional Malay outfits, difficult to obtain in Australia.  The number of young girls involved in the project grew, as did its scope, ultimately embracing a multicultural fashion parade involved local Chinese, Filipino, Thai, Fijian, African, Afghan, Indian, Scottish, Malay and Dutch people.  For some of the young people, the project motivated them to become involved in the fashion industry, while for some of the elders of the Malay community, it was a way to pass down traditional skills.  For some, it had the added benefit of encouraging greater fluency in English.[1]


The Mix it Up project developed by Multicultural Arts Victoria with a range of participating state partners focuses on artists from diverse cultural communities. Mix It Up also incorporates a specific international stream, whereby Australian artists and communities work with international artists.  Projects such as these occur across Australia, in a range of artforms, and do much to activate participation and extend cultural development opportunities to communities that are often isolated or marginalized from mainstream arts activity and/or infrastructure.

[1] Described in Growing Communities: Arts and Culture in Local Government, Community Arts Network WA (Perth, 2012), 56:59.

Chapter published: 26-12-2013