The Australian Government brought together the AFC and ScreenSound Australia, the National Screen and Sound Archive, on 1 July 2003. The decision allows two strong and complementary organisations to enhance and expand their programs and national and international reach, in an exciting and positive initiative for the Australian film and television industry and Australian screen culture.
The decision by the government to amend the AFC Act and provide statutory authority status to the Archive is an historic first. The archive community has long called on the government to provide statutory authority status to the Archive for the flexibility and independence not available as part of a government department. The AFC Act now provides legislative security and protection to Australia's audiovisual heritage and imposes on the AFC the statutory obligation to collect, develop, preserve and provide access to the nation's sound and visual heritage.
A united Archive and AFC unlocks synergies by bringing together the production of cultural product and its preservation for the future within a single organisational framework, a model successfully adopted by many countries. We are better placed to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex technological and competitive environment with:
- the Archive drawing on the AFC's expertise in policy development, government relations, advocacy, rights management and legal affairs, screen culture and marketing and
- the AFC drawing on the Archive's Canberra base and long-standing expertise in archival management, preservation, screen and sound heritage and database technology.
The AFC and the Archive together have a stronger voice influencing policy development for the film, television and new media industries. Co-location in Sydney and Melbourne enhances our combined presence, profile and reach in these two important centres of industry influence
The Commission, appointed by the Minister, will provide leadership to the new organisation. Two new Commissioners have recently been appointed: Dominic Case is knowledgeable in audiovisual preservation and technical services and Paul Grabowsky brings his experience in sound to the Commission. Dominic and Paul join a team of highly regarded professionals with many years of experience in the screen and sound industries and creative communities, as well as a significant amount of knowledge and experience of the governance responsibilities associated with a statutory authority.
The way forward
Considerable time and energy has gone into thinking through how best to bring the Archive and AFC together as a single professional entity while also enhancing the Archive's role, contribution and profile as one of Australia's most vital cultural heritage institutions.
The AFC has gone through a number of stages in this process, although made no decisions aside from those required to bring together some common corporate functions to help run the Commission's day-to-day business activities.
Importantly, the Commission has agreed to make no other structural or program changes before the appointment of a new Archive Director. Advertisements for this position have been placed nationally and distributed internationally. It is hoped an appointment will be made preferably in May or as soon as possible thereafter. The new Archive Director will play a pivotal role in any decisions that are eventually made and related consultations.
In the meantime, the Archive itself is continuing to work through the many submissions that have been received concerning the Archive's future. This is an important process requiring considerable time, energy, sensitivity and professionalism.
Work on what has proven to be an ambitious consultative process began in earnest in October 2003 with the issue of a Stage One Discussion Paper containing an overview of current programs. Comments through formal submissions and consultations with staff and stakeholders then fed into the proposals contained in the Stage Two Directions Paper released in December 2003.
Eight staff forums were held in January 2004 to provide the opportunity for all staff to meet with the CEO Kim Dalton about the proposals. Staff comments have been compiled and made available to staff for further consideration.
Independently chaired stakeholder forums were held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and two in Canberra. They were attended by Commissioners, key staff, including the then Acting Archive Director Mary Durkin, and members of the Archive Reference Group. Transcripts of the stakeholder forums are available on the AFC website.
The period for making submissions to the Stage Two Directions Paper closed on 16 February. As it did, the AFC had received over 120 submissions from management, staff, external stakeholders and interested parties.
"We've been delighted with the number of the submissions we've received," said CEO Kim Dalton. "This wide level of interest in the Archive indicates the importance of its role in Australia's audiovisual culture."
The discussion and direction papers and all submissions received electronically are available on the AFC website.
The consultation process is far from over. Many of those who made submissions also requested an opportunity to speak personally about their ideas and suggestions. The Commission has been following up on these requests through further informal discussions with them.
In the meantime, the Archive's Kate McLoughlin is formally reviewing and summarising the content of the submissions themselves. Key topics and issues that emerge from her analysis will be followed up and feedback analysed in detail to inform the nature of further consultation and the development of advice on the transition to one organisation. The Archive itself is taking the lead in this process and there will be opportunities for further significant consultation.
"Again, there will be no structural or program changes before the appointment of a new Director," CEO Kim Dalton assured staff in his March staff update, "and when the Director is appointed, there will be extensive discussions and consultations before any recommendations are put to the Commission or decisions finalised. So there will be substantial opportunities for staff to ask questions, make suggestions and generally be engaged in the process. No jobs will be lost as a result of the programs review. In addition, appropriate training and support will be provided as or when new roles emerge, or the work evolves in any way that may require new knowledge or skills."
Director of the Archive
The wide community interest in the Archive's future has also led to an understandable interest by the media. Responding to this, the then Acting Archive Director Mary Durkin wrote to The Canberra Times on 1 March to update on progress with the transition.
"We are progressing discussions with our Australian Film Commission (AFC) colleagues in an atmosphere of healthy and vigorous debate," she wrote. "Over 100 submissions have been received and we have a significant task ahead in analysing and discussing them, let alone deciding on the way forward…Change is rarely easy and the past few months have been challenging. We are actively working towards the best outcomes. Thank you to all who have contributed to the debate. The depth of support for ScreenSound Australia is appreciated."
In March, Mary joined the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office as Senior Assistant Ombudsman. She started at the Archive as Deputy Director in 2000 and had been Acting Director since May 2003. In this capacity she played a key stewardship role in bringing together the AFC and the Archive as a single organisation.
With confirmation of Mary's appointment to the Ombudsman's Office, CEO Kim Dalton appointed Pam Saunders to succeed Mary as Acting Director of the Archive and, in view of the importance of the position, wrote to key stakeholders (including organisations and individuals, and other interested parties such as academics, cultural interest groups and key members of the international archiving community) to advise them of the change. Pam has been a Deputy Director of the Archive for three years. Previously she was Manager of the National Australia Day Council and Manager of Old Parliament House.
Pam will hold the position from 22 March until the appointment of the new Archive Director. A Canberra-based professional executive recruitment agency is assisting with the search, and interest is being sought from appropriately qualified applicants both from within Australia and overseas. Advertisements for the position appeared in the local and national press on 27 and 28 February and closed on 22 March and, as mentioned, an appointment will hopefully be finalised in May. The position will be based in Canberra.
Also as mentioned, the new corporate services structure was approved by the Commission at its meeting on 10 February and, since 1 March, members of the Sydney and Canberra corporate teams have been working together and agreed on an implementation plan. The new corporate arrangements combine the strengths, skills and resources of both organisations and have been achieved at modest additional cost with no job losses and generally supported by staff and unions. Several new positions have been created and will be advertised on the AFC website. The Director, Corporate Services is Greg Brown. Staff are now working closely together to provide best practice corporate services across the organisation.
AFC and Archive staff continue to work together in other areas and on other projects. Not least of these is Big Screen, a national program developed and run collaboratively by the AFC and the Archive since 2001. Big Screen brings to regional Australians the very best of new Australian film, Australian actors and filmmakers plus classic films and footage from the National Screen and Sound Archive.
"Big Screen is a great example of the Australian Film Commission and ScreenSound Australia drawing on their collective strengths to develop audiences and an appreciation of Australian cinema," said Mary Durkin just before taking up her appointment at the Ombudsman's Office.
Kim Dalton agrees: "Big Screen is one of those programs that draws on the very best that the Archive and AFC have to offer," he said. "It shows how well we work together and what can be achieved when we do."
On 19 March, Adam Elliot, winner of the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Animated) for Harvie Krumpet, was a special guest at the launch of Big Screen 2004 in Wangaratta in north-east Victoria. For more information about venues and programs go to www.screensound.gov.au/bigscreen
While in Canberra on 23 March as guests of the AFC to attend a function at Parliament House following an AFC Commission meeting, Adam and producer Melanie Coombs visited ScreenSound Australia to deliver a print of Harvie Krumpet to the Archive collection and show off their Oscar to a group of visiting school children.
Helen Musa, Arts Editor of The Canberra Times, wrote of the event the following day: "The excitement was palpable yesterday at ScreenSound Australia when the winner of this year's Oscar for a short animated film Harvie Krumpet arrived with a present for the National Screen and Sound Archive.
"Director Adam Elliot and producer Melanie Coombs had scarcely come down to earth after the glitz of the Academy Awards, but made it their business to head, Oscar in hand, straight for ScreenSound where they presented a copy of the film to acting director Pam Saunders.
"Ms Saunders described Coombs and Elliot as 'model citizens of the film world', since both had deposited all their films for preservation with ScreenSound."
The AFC requires that a copy of all films it funds be provided to the National Screen and Sound Archive to ensure they are preserved for future generations of Australians.
"This has been an important AFC policy for many years," CEO Kim Dalton says. "The Archive and AFC are both significant cultural institutions. Our job is not just to support the creation of a vibrant Australian film culture but also to ensure its products are preserved for the future."
Pam Saunders added another dimension to the natural synergies that exist between the Archive and AFC with the comment that: "The AFC collects extensive data on production activity and this will help the Archive to track new productions, such as Harvie Krumpet, and ensure that copies are placed with the collection. The bringing together of the two organisations may result in an expanded national audiovisual education program, with the Archive's current school visits program as an important part."
Over three Fridays in March, those with leadership responsibilities in the transition process got together to begin a substantive discussion on the way ahead. Assisted by the PALM Consulting Group in Canberra, the meetings opened genuine dialogue and are the first of a regular and ongoing series of discussions that should increasingly address critical operational issues. Among the things to be progressed is the formation of new governance structures, including formal planning processes and strategies; reporting arrangements and interaction with the Commission; and reviewing and improving communication processes. The results of a staff survey, while yet to be finalised, should also help in contributing to the development of a strategy to support the transition and to measure its success over time.
At the end of 2003, a project steering committee comprising senior staff, including the Acting Archive Director, selected Emery Vincent Design to assist the organisation through the various stages of brand position and development. In February the consultants briefed senior management on their research and evaluation of the opportunities to redefine and reinforce the organisation's role among its various stakeholder groups, while maintaining the identity and integrity of the Archive. Subsequent discussions of these issues have involved other members of the Archive's senior management and are under consideration.
"While there's a lot happening and we have a fair way to go," said CEO Kim Dalton, "we are making steady progress with the transition. I've been tremendously impressed with the effort and contribution of everyone involved. It is a pleasure to work with such dedicated professionals. Thank you for the work you are doing."
For updates on what's happening with the AFC and ScreenSound Australia coming together, visit www.afc.gov.au/screensound/default.aspx