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Commercial viability. Tourism is based on this premise.

Stephen Schwer discusses the different drivers behind tourism and arts practice and how they might work together……

Yes, tourism is related on a personal level to quality of life, strengthening connections with friends and families, self-discovery, self-actualisation, town and regional pride and the like, but at its base it’s there to get money flowing.

This is mostly  true of the arts but the arts are there primarily for the socio-cultural reasons I just mentioned, and as an added bonus can provide an income. So tourism is firstly about economic outcomes, and the arts are firstly about socio-cultural outcomes. It’s where they meet in the middle that I have been asked to blog about.

It may help first to define what tourism is. In my opinion, tourism encompasses the activities a tourist undertakes. A tourist is a person who travels outside their frame of reference and goes somewhere they don’t usually go. If you want a more eloquent and lengthy definition, visit Tourism and Events Queensland’s fact sheet.

In my early years in the industry I struggled with the ways that arts and tourism could interplay. My mind couldn’t reconcile the commercial reality of tourism with the altruistic nature of the arts. However having worked for almost 20 years in the tourism industry now, I have seen times when tourism and the arts intersect in a financially profitable way. This couples the tourism pragmatics of financial viability with the life enriching power of the arts to create a meaningful, sustainable marriage. Two such examples in the town of Mackay where I work are cases in point.

You will have read the blog post by Margaret Burgess, Director of Paxton’s Creative Space and the Upstairs Gallery. Paxton’s is a great example of what I am talking about. There is an empowered, artistic community in Mackay, and Paxton’s is the place they go to learn, share and create.  Margaret hosts night markets every couple of months to showcase local arts and crafts. She runs the Out of the Box Shop that sells locally produced arts and crafts on consignment. The goods from this shop are also for sale at the Visitor Information Centre in Mackay. Margaret organises workshops in all sorts of media, where locals and tourists pay to learn from guest and visiting artists. And of course she hosts exhibitions, openings and the like, as well as other functions unrelated to the artistic communities she nurtures. All of this contributes financially to the operation of the gallery, which in turn keeps the community vibrant.

The concept of vibrancy in a community sense is important to tourism, as the perceptions of visitors are influenced by the comments made by locals about their region. Trip Advisor and other sites bank on it! If locals aren’t proud of their region, it filters throughout the travelling public, and results in a reduction in visitor numbers. By vibrancy I mean that things are happening. There’s stuff going on. Visitors are able to turn up at any point and find something of interest. So when the arts community are doing things that generate an income, like running workshops, hosting exhibitions, organising functions and more, visitors feel the positive vibe this creates. A vibe is esoteric I know, but you know what I’m talking about I’m sure! A place that has a vibrant arts community is a place that thrives.

Another example when considering the arts intersecting profitably with tourism is a business who tapped into the arts community to refurbish a nightclub. The Rabbit Hole at Mackay Grande Suites is a celebration of the arts. Designers and artists were invited to create works on the walls of the Rabbit Hole. As you can see from the photos, the eclectic designs create a reflective yet positive and enlivening vibe. The need for The Rabbit Hole to be profitable is enhanced by the attractiveness and appeal of the works around the venue.  The Rabbit Hole is like any other nightclub – it could have gone for the standard, boring designs most nightclubs feature, but instead the management chose to create something special, and in doing so have made their venue a stand out one for people to visit and admire.

I suppose what I’m saying is that tourism and the arts can interact in many ways, to serve the purposes of both pursuits. Tourism can’t get away from its financial pragmatism and the arts shouldn’t get away from its life fulfilling role, however there is a place in the middle where creative minds can take advantage of both for the good of both. What do you think?

Stephen is the General Manager, Mackay Tourism Ltd.He previously worked for the Southern Flinders Regional Tourism Authority, William Angliss Institute of TAFE and Goulburn Ovens TAFE.He spent his formative years wondering why education existed, and then decided to enter the workforce. Realising that this was a futile pursuit without pieces of paper to justify his actions, he completed a few degrees. Now he enjoys living with his family in tropical Queensland, working in the tourism industry and generally chilling by the beach.And drinking the odd glass of local Sarina Sugar Shed rum.