President’s Column 4 October 2019

ALGA President David O'Loughlin gestures at a lectern

This edition I want to highlight how local councils around Australia proudly invest in their local communities’ art and cultural sectors.

You only need to look at a council’s homepage or its social media presence to see how much we celebrate our artists, festivals and other cultural activities that help define our communities.

These activities help promote social inclusion, harmony and community wellbeing and can take various forms.

They’re seen in public art works, a drag queen or Elvis festival, a photography competition, or light projections such as Balllarat’s White Night, that show our physical buildings from a different perspective.

While we in local government know the intangible benefits cultural activities and art bring our communities, for the first time the Big Picture study by A New Approach puts a figure on just how much that is worth.

Local Government alone spent more than $1.5 billion in 2017, or roughly 26.2 percent of all money invested in arts and cultural activities by all levels of government in Australia.

This was an increase on the 22.4 percent invested in 2007, the report added.

Nationally, Australia’s arts and cultural sector contributes more than $111 billion to the economy, or 6.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product, and employs around 600,000 people, or 5.5 percent of the workforce.

Most of local councils’ arts-related capital expenditure goes into buildings and maintenance, and recurrent programs such as art and cultural activities like festivals.

Combined, this investment forms the building blocks of cultural experiences and life in local communities, be they in metropolitan, regional or remote locations.

My council, City of Prospect in Adelaide, offers grants to help groups and organisations develop public festivals and other events, especially those which celebrate our inclusive and tolerant community, including through dance, stories, music and food.

Another active and innovative council in West Australian used art – a children’s book and costumed characters – to promote its community.

City of Belmont won a 2019 National Award for Local Government for its Adventures of the Belmonsters book, created with the help of its hearing-impaired community. The city gained a secondary benefit as the book inspired children to physically explore their communities with their families.

Investment in cultural activities has also been demonstrated to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities including celebrating the heritage and culture of multicultural and indigenous communities.  

And, while many of our communities are suffering in extended drought conditions, local theaters, music and arts can bring people together and collectively lighten the load during stressful times.

An example of innovation and creativity is the Silo Art trail which began in one wheatbelt community in Western Australia and now spans dozens of silos and water towers across regional communities in SA, VIC, NSW and QLD, with more added each year.

Local councils and corporations supported the splashes of colour on bland concrete structures and turned them into tourist attractions that are magnets for local and international tourists who now visit and spend their money on accommodation, food and other tourism services. 

Lastly, consider this example featuring seven councils along the Murray River border region of NSW and Victoria.

These councils agreed to work together to create a Murray River Interpretive Centre that will showcase their region, improve cultural and Indigenous awareness about the area, support local businesses, and encourage more tourism.

This is why ALGA continues to advocate for federal financial support to maintain the vital infrastructure and services that underpins art and culture in our communities.