Chapter 12: Creative industries
- Creative industries play an important role in two-way cultural exchange and building people-to-people links.
- Australia and Southeast Asia have a great diversity of creative activity as well as growing consumer bases.
- There is great potential for more engagement between the creative sectors of Australia and Southeast Asia, but it lags behind traditional markets.
- There is a role for governments and business to support creative exchanges and raise awareness of opportunities.
Southeast Asia offers Australia's live arts and entertainment companies economic opportunities and creative possibilities. As Southeast Asia's middle class grows, there will be more demand for cultural experiences. Goldman Sachs reports that millennials and generation Z are spending more on music than other age groups and that global music revenue will reach US$155 billion by 2030.246 Thirty per cent of young Southeast Asians are using music streaming services daily.247 With young and growing populations, Southeast Asia is still in the early stage of this growth curve and presents a significant opportunity. This will likely mean greater demand for live performances in Southeast Asia from both Southeast Asian and Australian artists in the years to come. Most ASEAN countries have included creative industries as part of national development strategies.248 This is in recognition of the economic benefits and job creation that come from this sector.
There is enormous potential in Southeast Asia for Australia's creative industries. Australia has highly sophisticated music, theatre, dance, visual arts, fashion, film and video games sectors, and a reputation for world-renowned cultural institutions. As well as providing valuable economic opportunities, Australia's creative industries help to project a modern image of Australia in the region, and build understanding and rapport between Australians and the people of Southeast Asia. Australia has a strong live performance industry, which was estimated to contribute $5.7 billion a year to the Australian economy pre-COVID.249 In 2023, the Australian Government released its five-year National Cultural Policy, Revive, which seeks to renew Australia's arts, entertainment and cultural sector post-pandemic.250 In Southeast Asia, the policy aims to strengthen arts collaboration, exchange and cultural diplomacy through Australia's diplomatic network.
Australian artists are reaching new audiences in Southeast Asia. There are a growing number of showcase events for live performers in the region, including the AXEAN Festival (formerly ASEAN Music Showcase Festival) and Vietnam Music Week, along with new festivals being launched in Jakarta and the Philippines, that offer opportunities for Australian artists and industry professionals.251 But there is room to create further connections. For example, according to the Australasian Performing Right Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (APRA AMCOS), 433 Australian artists played shows internationally in 2022.252 Of those, only eight played in Thailand, five played in Indonesia and one in Singapore. This compared to 257 in Europe, 224 in the United Kingdom and 200 in the United States. Australia's visitor economy strategy – THRIVE 2030 – notes that cultural events drive high-yield visitation and can spread benefits to regional areas.253
According to Sounds Australia, the Australian music industry's level of engagement with, and understanding of, the Southeast Asian market is low, and geography and infrastructure can make Southeast Asia a less straightforward market for Australian artists.254 Nevertheless, industry groups acknowledge there is untapped potential for the right kinds of artists in Southeast Asia, given the loyal and passionate nature of Southeast Asian audiences.
Industry, government and stakeholders from across the creative industries will need to work together to realise the opportunity in Southeast Asia. There is also a role for corporate and philanthropic supporters of the arts, including in bringing more Southeast Asian creatives to Australia, and leveraging cultural ties with diaspora communities. Opportunities for building connections exist through established arts and culture marketplaces and conferences, such as WA Showcase and the Australian Performing Arts Market. These provide a forum for artists, producers, curators and presenters to exchange ideas, pitch productions and strengthen relationships. Attendance at these events in Australia by more Southeast Asian participants, as well as by Australians at similar events in Southeast Asia, would provide opportunities for new and established productions to find markets across the region, expanding the reach of Australian and Southeast Asian content and deepening cultural awareness.
Ruel is an example of an Australian artist with success touring Southeast Asia, (see case study).
After COVID interruptions, Australian creatives and creative organisations are re-establishing engagements with Southeast Asian artists, ensembles and writers. For example, there are growing linkages between Australia's and Southeast Asia's visual arts community. In 2022, Australian visual artist Patricia Piccinini had her first retrospective in Southeast Asia at Singapore's ArtScience Museum.
The growing Southeast Asian middle class is also giving rise to demand for Australian theatre productions. Live Performance Australia's submission to the strategy noted that some collaborations in Southeast Asia had been driven by a demand for educational performances designed to boost the audience's English proficiency.255 For example, Polyglot Theatre successfully toured Cerita Anak (Child's Story), co-created with Indonesia's Papermoon Puppet Theatre, in Singapore and Indonesia in 2019 and Victorian Opera and Singapore's Wild Rice theatre company also collaborated on the opera The Butterfly Lovers in 2023.
Collaborations between national institutions and private collections have seen Australian art exhibited in the region, such as Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia, displayed at National Gallery Singapore in June 2022. This exhibition sought to showcase to regional audiences the rich history, culture and artistic practices of First Nations Australians and recognised Southeast Asia's historical ties with them.
Case study: Ruel bringing Australian music to the region
Ruel Vincent van Dijk, known as Ruel, is an Australian singer and songwriter who has had considerable success in Southeast Asia. At present, Ruel has over 2 billion global streams, 1.2 million Instagram followers, and five platinum records to his name.
Ruel first toured Southeast Asia in 2019 and has returned twice in 2023, including sold-out concerts in Bangkok, Singapore and Manila. He has also performed in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.
His manager, Nate Flagrant, credits Ruel’s success in Southeast Asia to his regular tours in the region and having worked with local agents to help navigate cultural differences across Southeast Asian markets. For instance, agents’ encouragement to play free shows in shopping centres in the region has helped build Ruel’s fan base, with over 4,000 fans showing up to a free show in Manila in February 2023. In addition, Ruel’s team worked with local promoters to get local talents to perform with Ruel at each show in Southeast Asia, helping to further multiply exposure and collaboration.
Mr Flagrant said Southeast Asia remains a relatively untouched market for Australian performing artists.
‘The data is there to determine the potential in Southeast Asia. Given Southeast Asia’s proximity to Australia, it makes sense to include Southeast Asian cities as part of broader Asian tours, including by using more profitable events in North Asia to cross-subsidise initial forays into Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is just there, and it is so easy to catch a wave.’
Case study: Australia Awards boosting links in the creative industries
The Australia Awards program provides creative industry leaders across the region with the opportunity to strengthen their business and marketing skills and showcase their creations.
In 2023, the Australia Awards program offered Indonesians a short-term award course on 'Enhancing market integration with Australia for micro-, small and medium-sized enterprise business leaders in creative and cultural industries'.
This course will build upon the success of previous short-term courses focused on international business readiness for Indonesians working in the fashion and textile sectors. Participants on these courses learned to develop business plans, explore market opportunities and strengthen networks, as well as plan for growth and export readiness to Australia. Attendance at key fashion weeks in Australia, including exposure to First Nations fashion designers, built connections and an understanding of Australian fashion markets.
The courses facilitated valuable connections between Australian and Indonesian fashion designers and produced opportunities for participants. For example, Dana Maulana subsequently showcased his designs in GQ Australia magazine. Similarly, Jenahara Nasution from the Jenahara Black label and Melyunn Mutiara from the Monday to Sunday label shared the stage with Australian designer, Chris Ran Lin, at Jakarta Fashion Week. Jenahara said of the experience, 'This Australia Awards program gave me a study experience and a chance to build relationships and networks as well. It also helped my career to grow more directed with my vision and goals.'
Australia Awards participants attending the Melbourne Fashion Festival. Source: Australia Awards Indonesia
There are also several cultural institutions bringing Southeast Asian art, artists and performers to Australia. The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art has done so for 30 years through its Asia Pacific Triennial, which has featured visual artists from across Southeast Asia. The annual OzAsia Festival in Adelaide has also showcased theatre, dance, music, visual arts, literature, food and cultural events, including artists from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. Broader institutional links in the creative sector, such as the Association of Asia Pacific Performing Arts Centres, also bring together performance institutions and arts councils, including from Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Government-led efforts to boost engagement in cultural collaborations have paid dividends. Screen Australia has in place co-production treaties with Singaporean and Malaysian national counterparts, which – among others – led to the Australia–Singapore television series Serangoon Road.256 Australia's development cooperation program has also successfully lifted two-way engagement in the creative industries, as highlighted in the Australia Awards case study below.
The fashion industry more broadly provides avenues for Australian and Southeast Asian designers to enter these respective markets. It is also one of many avenues that Australian First Nations businesses have engaged in Southeast Asia, as the Kirrikin case study below demonstrates.
“In recent years we have used our relationships with DFAT to get introductions to wholesalers and other contacts ...” (Kirrikin)
Digital games represent another enormous opportunity for developers and investors. Video games and interactive entertainment platforms have now become the largest global creative sector (worth approximately A$250 billion), and one of the fastest-growing industries.257
With access to a wide range of creative and technical talent, Australia is producing world-class games of artistic and cultural significance. The Australian Government has committed to building Australia's digital games sector through the Revive National Cultural Policy,258 and both federal and state governments are investing in digital games development, including through tax offsets.
Comprising some 270 million gamers, the Southeast Asian games market is worth US$5 billion and is one of the fastest-growing regions for digital games in the world, with a projected compound average growth rate of 19 per cent from 2022 to 2025.259 Supported by its young, tech-savvy population, and rapidly growing economies, the region will continue to be a source of new consumers in digital games, particularly for smartphone users.
Case study: Kirrikin showcasing First Nations fashion
Founded by Hunter Valley Wonnarua woman, Amanda Healy, Kirrikin is a 100 per cent Indigenous-owned and -registered business that produces luxury clothing accessories using contemporary Indigenous Australian designs and sustainable, handcrafted fabrics.
The word 'kirrikin' is a Wonnarua word that translates roughly to 'Sunday's best clothes' and was part of the original language recorded by missionaries in the Hunter Valley during the early 1820s. It has become a symbol of the company's commitment to Wonnarua language revitalisation.
Kirrikin has a growing international reputation and has received the prestigious Indigenous in Business Award and an E-commerce award through the Export Council of Australia. Based out of Perth, proximity to Southeast Asia and assistance from the Australian Government have been key factors in expanding the Kirrikin brand internationally. Ms Healy said, 'Sales into Southeast Asia are becoming easier and delivery can be within two to three days. Very early on I used the Export Market Development Grants program, but in recent years we have used our relationships with DFAT to get introductions to wholesalers and other contacts they have.'
Utilising an e-commerce fashion platform for sales, Kirrikin has seen sales from across Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. Ms Healy said Kirrikin has had to adapt its business for these opportunities. Sizing is one challenge, with more inclusive sizing needed for different body sizes in Asia. Ensuring labelling and care advice is in multiple languages and having automatic currency exchanges on your website is also important.
Stockists in Australia have also seen high sales from those visiting Australia from the region and wishing to bring authentic Indigenous fashion and accessories back with them. Kirrikin is looking for opportunities to take advantage of luxury tastes in the region and to stock its products in Southeast Asian markets.
An example of Kirrikin fashion. Source: Kirrikin
Pathways to 2040
Mobility initiatives like the Australia–ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program and the Australia Awards program highlight Australia's efforts to reinforce bilateral ties with Southeast Asian partners across the creative industries. Future Australian Government awards should place greater emphasis on the creative industries to further facilitate collaboration between creative talent in Australia and Southeast Asia.
- Expand creative industry–focused scholarship or exchange initiatives to create access to a vibrant pool of creative talent in Southeast Asia.
At present, Screen Australia has co-production treaties in place with Singapore and Malaysia. There could be value in exploring opportunities to expand Screen Australia's International Co‑Production Program to focus on Southeast Asia, to deepen existing partnerships in the region, and to negotiate new co-production treaties with other Southeast Asian partners, including Indonesia.
The digital games industry is expected to continue its rapid growth and will be a major sector in the future for both Australia and Southeast Asia. Encouraging co-productions in this space, like governments have in the film sector, would help boost two-way engagement in this growing industry. There is scope for Australian federal, state and territory governments to work with industry in facilitating and identifying such opportunities.
- Encourage co-productions in the film and digital games industries between Australian and Southeast Asian producers and developers.
There is untapped potential for Australian creative industry exports to Southeast Asia. In particular, there are opportunities to draw upon Australian artists' rich and diverse cultural backgrounds, including those with Southeast Asian heritage and First Nations artists, to further develop ties and business opportunities in creative industries. Equally, there is capacity to strengthen Southeast Asian artists' connections with Australia and to bring them to Australia for exposure to Australian audiences. Greater collaboration between cultural institutions, including professional exchanges, will also deepen cultural ties. Harnessing contributions from both the private sector and government would be key to the success of such initiatives. There is value in Australian federal, state and territory governments looking at opportunities with Southeast Asian partners to facilitate such collaboration.
- Establish a multi-year seed grants program, drawing on public and private sector contributions, for creative industries collaborative projects, such as residencies, between Australia and the region – including Australian artists with Southeast Asian heritage, and First Nations artists.
Australia's art institutions should expand connections with Southeast Asian counterparts through more co-productions and touring exhibitions of Australian art, including First Nations art. Many national and state and territory galleries in Australia house extensive collections of Australian art, including Indigenous art, much of it kept in storage. These collections could form the basis for new exhibitions in the region, broadening awareness of Australia's cultural history and contemporary artists.
- Work with galleries and arts institutions in Southeast Asia to provide access to Australian art, including Indigenous art, from Australian national and state and territory galleries.
248 The ASEAN, Creative Economy: Culture Identity and the Business of Creativity, October–November 2021 issue, The ASEAN, 2021, accessed 20 May 2023.
249 EY, The economic contribution of Australia's Live Entertainment Industry: How has COVID-19 impacted the industry?, Live Entertainment Industry Forum, 2020, accessed 30 June 2023.
250 Australian Government, Australia's Cultural Policy for the next five years: REVIVE, Australian Government, 2023, accessed 20 May 2023.
251 Submission from Sounds Australia.
252 Australasian Performing Rights Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society, Data provided to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, unpublished.
254 Submission from Sounds Australia.
255 Submission from Live Performance Australia.
257 Australian Government, Australia's Cultural Policy for the next five years: REVIVE, Australian Government, 2023, accessed 20 May 2023.
258 Australian Government, Australia's Cultural Policy for the next five years: REVIVE, Australian Government, 2023, accessed 20 May 2023.
259 Niko Partners, Southeast Asia's Games Market: A Short Guide to One of the Fastest Growing Regions for the Games Industry, Niko Partners and Gamescom Asia, 2022, accessed 30 June 2023.