Applying the Theory of Complex Adaptive Systems to Arts Planning

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The theory of the evolution of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) can illuminate the circumstances for the rapid and powerful evolution of an arts culture. In 1995, the author wrote The Arts on the Edge of Chaos, an attempt to perceive the arts through the perspective of the theory of complex adaptive systems, and returns to it here as the basis for testing the possible utility of the theory in designing arts policies and interventions.

The domains in which the theory is tested were chosen mainly because at the time of writing, they are areas in which the author has some detailed knowledge. Others could have been equally suitable in the hands of another writer.

They are:

  1. Formulating government arts practice
  2. The Music Trust proposals to the National Opera Review
  3. Music education in Australian public primary schools
  4. Music education in Australian conservatoria.

Each domain is treated below in a standard format in three main sections: describing its “ecology”, how best to influence change in that ecology, and paying special attention to the achievement of excellence and innovation.

The Music Trust submission to the National Opera Review did not explicitly conceive opera as a complex adaptive system but is partly reconceived here in those terms. The submission implicitly proposes what this paper makes more explicit: the solution to the survival and development of opera in Australia is not improved management of failing strategies, but attention to all of opera in Australia as a complex adaptive system and the circumstances in which it will evolve most strongly.

Formulating Government Arts Practice


The Music Trust Proposals to the National Opera Review


Music Education in Australian Public Primary Schools


Music Education in Australian Conservatoria



Richard Letts. Entered on Knowledge Base 29 January 2016.

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