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Local participation in arts and culture

Letitia Norton discusses the focus that the Animating Spaces program placed on partnerships and participation in local communities...

In 2013 Artslink Queensland supported Redlands, Toowoomba, Hervey Bay, Eudlo and Charters Towers to consider what was distinctive about their towns by identifying three spaces they would ‘animate’ with community-led arts activity that reflected the residents’ interest and aspirations.

The Animating Spaces initiative has the tagline ‘revitalising regional communities through the arts’ and is underpinned by two central values. Firstly, the value of active participation in the arts as a key contributor to an individual’s quality of life and to the strengthening of community cohesion and identity. Secondly, the value of investing in generating locally-produced creative product and unique signature events.

The project embraces the notions of local, community-driven participation in the arts. It is about shining a creative spotlight on the place and enabling residents to come together to experience their town in new ways, through the arts. Its heart beats to the mantra ‘regional renewal will be local’.

Similar to the principles of the Regional Arts Fund, each project’s budget structure reflects the priority of paying local artists. It recognises that each project needs to be driven by a coordinator with organisational and communication skills, not necessarily creative strengths. Artslink works with the understanding that the coordinator teams come together with varying levels of arts project experience. The Regional Arts Development Officer (RADO) role serves to interface with the team over a two-day workshop in best practice or ‘fit for purpose’ community arts project management.

Partnerships between local government, community groups, businesses and service providers have formed the framework for project delivery. The 2012 callout yielded 41 Expressions of Interest from which five communities were selected for, amongst other criteria, a balance between need for the opportunity and ability to deliver. The key learning here was that partnership development needs to begin earlier and 2014 application process has required communities to evidence their ability to draw their arts and cultural sector together to attend an Animating Spaces Forum. Council partnerships have been essential, working alongside community individuals and groups to guide the projects.

The external evaluation report on Animating Spaces has revealed that coordination teams are appreciative of the support. The evaluation found that there is a genuine gap in the human infrastructure, i.e. lack of local personnel with skills and knowledge to implement community arts projects.  The evaluation also confirmed that the Animating Spaces model is working effectively to address that gap, albeit on a very small scale. A significant proportion of paid artists were found to be unfamiliar with basic business principles such as contracting or invoicing. These challenges will be addressed in the 2014 workshops and the reports will inform the sustainability plans that Artslink provides to each community.

An examination of the arts events and activities produced through the Animating Spaces project has confirmed that when funding in the form of a structured, yet flexible budget and a support framework are offered to a team of coordinators, backed by their community, they will generate dynamic, unique and high-quality arts experiences.

Other key findings include:

  • that residents from a broad demographic and social spectrum are hungry for the opportunity to learn and contribute to local arts practices
  • that events with high levels of community ‘buy-in’ and involvement from the outset are likely to be better attended and more authentic than events ’put on’ for the public.

The suite of digital documentaries created have been the most powerful tool in communicating the impact and reach of the artistic work.

Animating Spaces is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts Community Partnerships Initiative, Arts Queensland, Regional Arts Australia and the five participating Councils.


Letitia Norton is the Creative Communities Director at Artslink Queensland supporting arts and cultural development through the management of the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund and the Animating Spaces initiative. She has an extensive background in education, theatre and regional community arts project management across Australia and is a passionate advocate for the value of arts to community development and regional renewal.