In the words of Richard Florida, “Places that succeed in attracting and retaining creative class people prosper: those that fail don’t.” There is little argument across Australia that Victoria is a thriving creative state, and Melbourne is the cultural capital of the country, attracting and retaining a world-class creative population. With the introduction of Victorian Government’s Creative State creative industries strategy, there has been a clear commitment to investing time, money and energy into strategic measures to ensure all kinds of creative and cultural activity thrives and contributes to the state’s economy. This commitment has now been further reinforced, with Creative Victoria delivering the Creative State Summit – a two-day conference over the last two days of June, bringing together a variety of local, interstate, and international creative minds to explore, unpack, inspire and learn from one another in order to shape the future of the creative state.

With Creative Victoria being one of our clients, and having recently spent time engaging with Bendigo’s regional creative community, Left Bank Co. headed to Melbourne for the two days to tune into the wider creative scene, and gauge where the sector is at. We met with old friends and new, engaged with great ideas and ways of viewing the creative economy, and heard how Melbourne’s creative institutions are forging the path ahead to stay relevant to their audiences.

The Creative State Summit was a clear demonstration that the government places significant value in the creative economy, and in the voices and ideas of the creative population. Victoria has a very confident creative and cultural scene, and the state is clearly at the forefront of the creative industry here in Australia, if not up there with international leaders. The breadth and depth of creative industries represented in the room, and the sectors from which they came – practicing creatives, institutions and government bodies, as well as the business sector – showed that there is real power in uniting different creative approaches and ways of thinking, and that encouraging a well-rounded, supportive, and entrepreneurial creative community can achieve far more than more conventional ways of viewing the ‘traditional’ arts as distinct and different from creative industries.

There were a number of stand-out speakers who injected fresh thinking into the room, challenging what we know, and showing us how to look outside the norms of the creative and cultural ecosystem. Jason Potts, Professor of Economics at RMIT, explained that the policy problem for the creative industries is in value, and how we discover and then measure that value. Value became a hot topic at the Summit, and was discussed in the sense of how to get people to better value creative spaces in cites in the same way they value green space, or simple amenities. Rose Hiscock, Director of Melbourne’s hotly anticipated Science Gallery, showed us the significance of bringing science and art together and the disruption and unknown potential this can offer, which was further explored by ACMI’s Seb Chan showing how artificial intelligence can collapse the boarders between sectors. Alice Black, Director of the Design Museum London, told us the wonderful story of re-housing the Museum, and simultaneously giving new life to a stunning 1960s architectural landmark. The broad team of architects involved in the Nightingale Project in Melbourne shared with us their vision and how they are shifting notions of inner city community. And Berry Liberman of Small Giants, and financial whiz Christine Christian gave us new hope around the power of entrepreneurialism and investment in the creative economy.

What did emerge from the Summit is that government don’t just need to be the policy makers or the regulators – they can be the catalyst for change. Resonating heavily through the words of speakers Clora Romo from Laboratory for the City, Mexico, and Ania Pilipenko from Holzmarkt in Berlin, it was clear that government needs to be more innovative in developing initiatives that allow Victorian creatives the space and time for creative activity to be explored and evolve, and enable other, often far more capable and impassioned people, to lead the way in shaping creative cities. The current thinking and approach in Victoria is very focused on an audience development model, with instant engagement and the outcome of creative activity found in cultural institutions, exhibitions, and commercial outputs, and very much driven by tourism. However, creatives are eager for time for research and development, opportunities to learn how to professionalise, and government-subsidised space to allow them to do this without the pressures of paying high rents. Spaces, places and opportunities to take a risk are evident in the cities and states where the most creative ideas flourish. The question remains of how all this innovative thinking can translate into government action.

Some of this, at least, doesn’t seem to be too much of a challenge for Victoria. The Summit began with an announcement from Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley, introducing a $1.27 million Creators Fund to pay for time, supporting people across all creative disciplines to take an extended period of creative development and experimentation, with no specific outcomes to deliver. With initiatives like this, and like the Summit itself, being recognised and implemented by the government, Victoria is already ahead of the rest, as rightly pointed out by Ania Pilipenko, who asked “…why we are here talking about establishing a creative state and not about being the creative state?”. And this is where Creative Victoria’s challenge lies in its years ahead: how to keep its’ creative community at the forefront, how to continue innovating to be the enablers who let creativity flourish as it should, and how to grow the value of the creative industries in the eye of the contributors as well as audiences.

Congratulations to the team at Creative Victoria for their efforts putting this Summit together, and showing the other states how it’s done: you’ve set the bar significantly high.