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MAV Opinion Editorial - Arts and culture delivering growth for our regions

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Victoria’s creative industries are important to communities. Spanning arts, culture, screen, music, design, fashion, publishing and more – collectively these industries contribute $31 billion to the state economy and employ 260,000 Victorians.

Discussion about what councils do – or should be doing – is often focused on roads, rates and rubbish. Yet councils have much wider responsibilities to enhance the health, safety and wellbeing of local communities.

In particular, arts and culture facilities and programs can collectively enrich residents’ quality of life by providing vital social and community connections, as well as employment and learning opportunities.

Across rural and regional Victoria there are more than 23 council-owned or supported theatres, 16 council-owned or supported public galleries and 24 library services. Council investment also includes museums and performing arts venues, community events and festivals, public art projects and cultural programs.

The Yarriambiack Silo Art Trail has received international recognition. Stretching over 200 kilometres, it is our nation’s largest outdoor gallery established as a partnership between the council, community, the Victorian and Australian governments, and GrainCorp.

As well as reinvigorating decommissioned sites to celebrate local communities, Indigenous culture and farming history, the project has significantly boosted tourism investment in drought-affected areas.

Overall perceptions of local government performance improved in this year’s survey conducted by the Victorian government. It is no surprise that council arts centres and libraries, the appearance of public spaces, and community and cultural services continue to receive the highest satisfaction ratings.

There is ample evidence that people’s overall health and wellbeing is improved when they feel more connected and are encouraged to participate in community life.

According to the National Arts Participation Survey 2017, the arts feature in the daily lives of 98 per cent of Australians. People increasingly recognise the powerful role of the arts in stimulating our minds, helping us develop new ideas and thinking, understanding others’ cultures, assisting with stress or anxiety, and improving our sense of wellbeing and happiness.

Victorian councils invest over $490 million a year towards cultural activities. This investment provides residents with somewhere to be, enjoy and connect with others. Public libraries, for example, are visited 30 million times each year to access books, computers, wifi, kids’ story time, author talks, learning and study programs.

Arts and cultural projects also support longer-term economic growth for our regions by creating local jobs and destination tourism experiences. Over the past five years, tourism visits to regional Victoria have grown by almost six per cent.

The Our Regions, Our Rivers project is taking a regional approach involving seven councils and 16 communities spanning northern Victoria and southern New South Wales. In Victoria, Swan Hill will get a new regional art gallery including an interpretive centre, information centre and Pioneer Settlement entrance. Other river and lake front projects will benefit communities across towns in Buloke, Gannawarra and Loddon shires.

As well as creating regional jobs during the construction of multiple projects, once they are complete permanent jobs will further boost local economies, regional tourism and the liveability of towns.

But councils do more than provide arts and culture facilities. They work closely with other organisations to build the capability of their local creative industries, foster innovation and back creative talent.

The majority of our grass roots community arts and culture sector is driven by small organisations, micro businesses and sole professionals. Councils support them to prosper by providing public spaces and programs for creative enterprises and collaboration, supporting skills and entrepreneurship.

In 2017 the City of Greater Geelong developed a citizen-led 30 year plan with an agreed vision to become internationally recognised as a clever and creative city-region by 2047. The same year, the City was designated Australia’s first (and only) City of Design by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

This places Geelong alongside world famous destinations such as Berlin, Montreal, Dubai, Shanghai and Singapore - recognising it is rapidly evolving with cutting-edge smart technology, industrial and urban design, and vibrant cultural heritage. Its flourishing creative industries has over 5,200 businesses and accounts for 5.5 per cent of the overall economic output for the region.

The creative industries reflect, define and animate our identity and way of life. While I have highlighted just a few examples, councils across Victoria continue to invest in arts and culture to deliver important economic, social and cultural outcomes for local communities.

Cr Coral Ross
MAV President

This Opinion Editorial was published in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Warrnambool Standard and Border Mail on 3 August.