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Regional arts

 A woman in a red dress dances with a man bending backwards in front of dark grey clouds.
Peter Goodbourn and Jessica Rouse in A Light Shade of Red. Credit: Nic Duncan.

The stories of regional and remote communities are integral to Australia’s cultural identity and the artistic excellence among regional artists, communities and organisations is critical to a vibrant arts sector that reflects Australia’s depth and diversity. Australia’s regionally-grown artists, works and stories captivate audiences locally, in major cities and around the world. In regional Australia, engagement with the arts enriches lives and creates stronger, healthier and more cohesive communities.

The arts in regional and remote Australia are a priority for the Council. We champion and invest in them through a broad range of programs and strategies, and through our core activities such as peer services, outreach and research. Our commitment to supporting regional arts and artists, and increasing regional communities’ access to the arts, is embedded across our work.

Investment

In 2018–19 the Council invested $29.3 million in funding for the arts in regional Australia (see: Figure 4: Funding in regional Australia 2018–19). This supported the creation of art with and by regional communities and artists, professional development for regional leaders, and the touring of diverse and excellent Australian work to regional audiences. One quarter of the 128 small to medium organisations receiving Four Year Funding from the Council (2017–20) are based in regional or remote areas, including First Nations and youth arts organisations. Regional arts reflect the intersections between diverse groups and identities.

Creating and presenting work

In 2018–19 the Council supported regionally based artists, groups and arts organisations to create more than 2,500 new works and present 384 exhibitions and 6,047 workshops, masterclasses and education programs. Their public outcomes reached audiences of 3.3 million locally, nationally and globally.1

International engagement

Through grants and international strategic initiatives including the International Arts Strategy Outcomes Fund, the Council supports great regional artists’ and arts organisations’ international ambitions.

In 2018–19 this included support for international literature delegations; international visual arts partnerships, exhibitions and artist exchanges; participation in performing arts platforms and showcases; and international tours by regional companies and musicians.

Capacity building

In 2018–19 the Council’s leadership programs included components held in Launceston, Bunker Bay, Daylesford and Broome. Local leadership exchanges enable regional guests to join the conversations in these programs and provide a unique perspective of development from a regional context.

In December 2018 the Council delivered a two-day Arts Skills Exchange in Broome in partnership with Country Arts WA, Arts Law Centre of Australia, Queensland University of Technology and Our Community. Over 35 local leaders participated in the program learning new skills and receiving funding information from Council and partner staff.

Outreach and peers

The Council works closely with state and territory jurisdictions, local government authorities, arts service organisations and a wide range of key stakeholders to deliver targeted bespoke grant information sessions. Working in partnership with these and other agencies we go on the road holding funding presentations, Q&As, and one on one meetings. We leverage our presence at conferences and arts events by sitting on panels, taking meetings in a dedicated Australia Council booth/lounge, or by providing specialist funding sessions.

In 2018–19, the Artists Services team held grant information sessions, Q&As, roundtables and one on ones with over 1,500 artists and arts workers in 23 regional and remote areas nationally. Jeremy Smith, Arts Practice Director and lead for Regional and Remote Australia under the Cultural Engagement Framework undertook extensive engagement with regional and remote communities including in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Warburton, Bendigo and Albany.

Our peer assessment model implemented in 2014 has enabled greater geographic, demographic and artistic diversity among our expert peers, strengthening both the assessment process and enriching the Council’s sector knowledge. More than a quarter of the peers used in 2018–19 were from regional or remote Australia (29%).

Research

In July 2018, the Council published Electorate Profiles, a new online resource that shows data on arts and cultural engagement in each electorate across Australia. In November 2018, the Council published International Arts Tourism: Connecting Cultures, which indicated the many rich arts offerings in regional areas may be helping to drive regional tourism among international visitors. International arts tourists are more likely to travel to regional Australia than international tourists overall, and this trend is growing.

Artists and farmers coming together to envision a new future

Socially engaged art responds to urgent real world problems while simultaneously creating new genres and aesthetic approaches. It results in new collaborations, ways of engaging and ways of thinking which provide both artists and communities with important new platforms and opportunities.

Wollongong artists Kim Williams and Lucas Ihlein have been visiting the Mackay region since 2014 to gain a deeper understanding of the sugarcane industry and to investigate how artists and farmers can work together on large-scale human/ecology problems. Their in-depth social and ecological engagement informed the stories told through their exhibition Sugar vs the Reef? At Artspace Mackay from November 2018 to January 2019. The products of the artists’ extended collaborations in Mackay stimulated dialogue around complex intersections between environmental management, social behavior and cultural traditions.

The exhibition and its companion Watershed Land Art Project at Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens were outcomes of Lucas Ihlein’s 2016–17 Australia Council Emerging and Experimental Arts Fellowship.

A large group of people in a paddock, some holding up sunflowers or ukuleles.
Kim Williams and Lucas Ihlein, Seed & Song Community planting day – sugarcane and sunflowers, at ‘The Beacon’, Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens, as part of the Watershed Land Art Project, 2018. Credit: Robert Bole.

Regional touring making musical connections with communities

People living in regional Australia increasingly recognise the positive impacts of the arts on their daily lives and communities. Around seven in ten regional Australians agree that the arts make life more rich and meaningful and that it is exciting to see new styles of art.1

Throughout 2018, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) travelled to ten regional Victorian centres giving a total of 22 performances and 26 workshops for close to 13,000 people. Performances of Handel’s Messiah in Bendigo and Ballarat with members of the Ballarat Choral Society and Bendigo Chamber were sell-out successes and important collaborations between local communities and the MSO.

Through connections the MSO has made with Traditional Owners via its annual regional touring program, the MSO is undertaking a unique project which will see the development of a musical Acknowledgement of Country for each of the 11 official First Nations language groups of Victoria. In partnership with Short Black Opera, led by Deborah Cheetham AO, the MSO is delivering a series of on-Country workshops with First Nations communities as part of the project, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia. The MSO is supported through the MPA Framework.

1. Australia Council 2017, The Arts in Regional Australia: A research summary.

 Four people stand in a field of yellow flowers. Two hold violins.
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra musicians on 2018 regional tour. Credit: Lucy Rash.

Footnotes

  1. The support comprises all programs delivered and administered by the Australia Council acquitted in 2018–19. This can include activity that was funded in previous years. The data was correct at 30 July 2019.