Australia is a big country. Queensland is a big state in a big country, one that is particularly geographically dispersed and politically fractured. It is also home to some of the poorest areas in Australia that experience many barriers to accessing for arts and cultural activities.
Government regional arts programs have the potential to develop and deliver arts content, activities and events in and to remote, rural and regional areas that build community, develop skills and celebrate creativity. However, the reality of arts policy and programs has been vastly different to the potential. Funding is too often focused on providing one-off performances of metropolitan shows or replicas of city festivals delivered as satellite events in regional towns. Importantly, local arts organisations are under-funded and under supported to create sustainable long term arts programs.
After three years of making stories across Queensland using post it notes, pens and paper, smart phones and open source storytelling software I have learned a few things about the role of the arts in regional Queensland and the disconnect sometimes between urban and rural areas.
- Regional areas are filled with passionate creative people. Each town we visited had a vibrant arts culture that was part of the every-day workings of the community, and the creative events put on by locals were crucial to the fabric of the town. Libraries often function as home to the writer’s group, art group, silver smiths and pottery club. These small self-organising entities are dynamic and crucial to well-being of the town.
- Arts events in Roma or Bundaberg aren’t the same as arts events in Brisbane. Regional events combine different activities and different parts of the community. For example, an art exhibition might find the local gallery teaming up with the bowls club to promote the opening of the art show followed by barefoot bowls and a BBQ. The overwhelming message from regional areas was that they want to share and contribute cultural content not just receive it.
- Rural towns aren’t intimidated by technology. Remote communities are familiar with using new technology as part of their way of life to combat isolation. Initiatives such as School of the Air, tele and e health and robotics being deployed in agriculture mean that residents of rural areas less intimidated by digital technology than most city workshops I’ve conducted.
- Lastly and most importantly: regional areas do not feel heard by the cities, and the consequences of this disenfranchisement affect everyone.
In this video I discuss these issues with Matt Finch (Creative in Residence State Library Queensland) and Tyler Wellensiek (Strategic Projects Officer, Regional Access & Public Libraries) both of whom have worked extensively in remote Queensland. We also manage to touch on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian futures and the rise of right wing populist politics in western democracies!