Since 2016 Big hART’s Project O has worked with young women in rural north west Tasmania to build capacity, resilience, and equip them with the personal agency and professional skills to lead positive change in their own communities.
Dedicated to removing barriers and creating new opportunities for young women from disadvantaged backgrounds, Project O occupies a unique space in the arts and cultural landscape of north west Tasmania. The region is an identified family violence hotspot and a recognised area of social disadvantage, ranking in the lowest quintiles of the Socio-Economic Disadvantage Index.
However, locally designed and delivered arts and cultural programs and events amplify community strengths and build capacity while addressing these profound challenges. Project O is an explicit response to the barriers produced by entrenched inequality. The program embraces art, culture and creativity to build confidence and community visibility for local young women, while providing them with alternative training and professional development opportunities.
In Wynyard, Project O is offered as an in-school elective for 13-16 year-olds. In Smithton the program is run through the youth centre. The program includes arts and media skills development – including filmmaking and songwriting workshops – and mentors young women to design and deliver arts and media content that amplify their voices and stimulate social change (see for example This is Us: Stories of Strength zine and podcast project). Project O also connects older cohorts of young women with employment opportunities locally, such as event facilitation and stage management at events and festivals including Mapali and Acoustic Life of Sheds.
Project O Tasmania Producer Rachel Small told the RAASI team that one challenge for young people living in rural and remote communities is that ‘they can’t be what they can’t see’. She said:
“there’s not a huge diversity of different jobs that young women in a highly agricultural and industrial area are seeing as ways of living their future. We work with a lot of different artists and bring them here from Tasmania and from the whole country to run workshops and programs with the girls. A big part of bringing them in is having them sharing their skills but also sharing their story and their pathway into how they’ve got to where they are”.
The program expands young women’s view of what is possible and prioritises long-term engagement and mentorship. Young women are often part of Project O for several years, and alumni stay connected to the program through becoming facilitators and mentors for younger girls.
Rachel described one young woman’s personal journey through Project O and expressed how important long-term mentorship was for building leadership capacity and supporting self-determination. Over 18 months the young woman was mentored to deliver her own audio and sound recording project which enabled her to tell her own story, in her own way. Her story was shared with an audience including the Minister for Social Services and the Commissioner for Children and Young People at an International Women’s Day event in 2020. This is a powerful example of the value of creative media for amplifying unheard voices, and demonstrates the potential for personal stories to have public impact.
See more individual and community stories of impact on the Project O website.
Project O’s broad spectrum of activities place art, culture and creativity at the heart of initiatives designed to support individuals and entire communities to thrive. It recognises that art and culture offer some of the most nuanced and inclusive models of community engagement and for advancing community-led approaches to change (Sonke et al. 2019, 8). Project O is currently being rolled out in north west Tasmania, Frankston VIC and Roebourne WA.
Photos supplied by Big hART.