President’s column – 29 November 2019

ALGA President David O'Loughlin gestures at a lectern

Two years ago, I spoke to the federal government about the importance of our work in art and culture at the grass roots, particularly the direct benefits for our communities’ health and well-being and social cohesion.

It’s terrific to see our role reflected in a new report, and its call for greater recognition of Local Government and funding coordination.

The study, Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity, was from think tank A New Approach, which collated the investment in arts and culture by three levels of government that I’ve written about previously. 

Kate Fielding, Program Director of A New Approach, spoke at this year’s Regional Cooperation and Development Forum about the growing investment of local government in arts and culture.

This new study looks at challenges facing individuals and communities, such as people feeling that society is broken, feelings of loneliness, or a perception they are a stranger in their community.

“A range of studies have found that deliberately focusing cultural and creative activities on social cohesion impacts helps to build community, belonging, and trust; enhances empathy and inclusion; helps combat the growing issues of loneliness and isolation; assists individuals and communities to recover from disasters and trauma; and makes cities, suburbs and regions more liveable,” the study found.

“OECD research has shown that a more cohesive society often also has a stronger and faster-growing GDP.”

The study’s seven recommendations include prioritising initiatives that will boost arts and culture activity in regional and remote Australia, enhancing economic diversification, community well-being and population attraction and retention in these areas.

It also asks how could Australia be transformed if there was increased investment in arts and cultural activities that enabled connections and boosted social cohesion and inclusion in an increasingly complex, multicultural society.

A New Approach supports further recognition of Local Government’s role in arts and culture “to ensure options for cultural participation and contribution are available to the local communities they serve.”

And we do great work!

Here are a few examples of how councils are using culture and creativity across their daily operations and not just in the siloed arts and culture areas – actions that have been recognised at the highest levels.

North Sydney Council wanted its community to be safer for pedestrians. Part of its 2018 Road Safety campaign included this music video which mixed a power ballad with rap.

North Sydney Council’s road safety video was highly commended in the 2019 National Awards for Local Government.

The campaign targeted younger generations on social media and was highly commended in the Excellence in Road Safety category in the 2019 National Awards for Local Government.

In another example, Gannawarra Shire Council (VIC) wanted to reignite interest in a sparingly used public park. Council began a community consultation which started with a pop-up playground, children’s garden, live music and art activities.

Locals explained what features they wanted, which Council subsequently incorporated into the upgrade. The initiative was highly commended in the Prevention and Community Safety category.

Art and cultural activities also encourage our communities to be more physically active, such as through dance and music events.

You might remember our profile of the City of Belmont (WA), winner of the national Creating Vibrant and Cohesive Communities Through the Arts category for its Adventures of the Belmonsters children’s book.  The book and appearances by the Belmonsters mascots at library programs and city events inspired children to explore their neighborhood on their bikes to visit places mentioned in the book.

I look forward to discussing issues around arts and culture when I meet the federal Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety, and the Arts, the Hon. Paul Fletcher MP, next week.

I’ll also mention that ALGA is working on its submission for the 2020-21 Federal Budget which includes advocacy on restoring Local Government’s Financial Assistance Grants which councils use to support a wide range of cultural services. I’ll also use this latest report to reinforce our call for a community infrastructure program to help address our backlog of ageing infrastructure including local halls, libraries, galleries and museums – the essential building blocks of local arts and culture programs.

Why not use the report to talk about your own arts and culture infrastructure needs with your local federal member?

David O’Loughlin

ALGA President