Mechanics, gold and the uses of art

2006-09-19T15:03:10Z (GMT) by Lisanne Gibson
This paper will argue that the origins of modern Australian cultural policy can be traced in the establishment of Australia’s first cultural institutions, the Mechanics’ Institutes. My aim is to investigate those cultural programs that were specifically established to target publics understood to lack access to culture and to be able to derive various benefits from the provision of such access. For Reverend Henry Carmichael, vice-president, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts in 1833, the provision of cultural programs was based on a double logic. It was to civilise those who were not civilised and to protect those who were, from ‘receding rapidly on the field of civilisation’ (1833, p.78). For reformers in mid-nineteenth century Australia, the development of cultural institutions with a ‘popular’ remit was specifically connected to the transformation of the colonies from convict to settler societies and then to the provision of civilising influences in the face of ‘gold fever’. It is on the basis of the governmental problems related to these transformations that we can understand the establishment of an Australian cultural infrastructure.




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