In this article in The Age, ‘Less Kulcha More Creativity’, Steve Dow raises the issue of what image the Australian government is willing to promote overseas, how much funding they are giving to (or cutting from) arts and cultural industries in their diplomatic representations overseas.

The article criticises the Australian Government for being too interested in economic relations and cutting the funding for cultural counsellors in diplomatic posts around the world that can guide interested parties to Australian culture and creatives, as well as promote the image of Australia as a sophisticated and cultured on the international stage.

Could the creation of an Australian arts advocacy body for the dissemination of Australian culture internationally give our image and culture a broader, more sophisticated focus? Models being considered include France’s Alliance Francaise, Germany’s Goethe-Institut, China’s Confucious Council and the British Council.

While the mix of sources combined in the article does not quite attain what one would called balanced, what the article does raise is to what extent a government should or even can control the image that content and other creative products create of a nation. The article cites an incident where the Department of Foreign Affairs pulled funding from the Jakarta International Film Festival because the ‘Australian films selected for screening would not promote “greater mutual understanding between the people of Australia and Indonesia” ‘.

On the ‘can’ side of the coin, consider the Japanese Government (particularly the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and its minister Aso) hopes for Japanese content to be a(n) (in)tangible but cogent source of soft power, allowing neighbouring nations to see Japan in a positive light. As mentioned in previous posts (and in a forthcoming book chapter), there is nothing to say that private companies will produce works that the government will be proud to peddle overseas or hold up as examples of national pride. If the ‘textbook issue’ (issued by a private publisher) in recent years is not example enough, a certain amount of animation that is produced in Japan services a ‘specific market’ that the Government of Japan might not be happy to announce that exists let alone be excited about using these products as representative works of Japan’s national image.

As anecdotal as these might be, they provide an interesting contrast of a government trying to alter the representation of the nation, and a government being unable (?) to control the image that private citizens and industry may be carving on their own.