This project presents a rare opportunity to address the long standing problem facing regional and remote communities in Australia of how to strategically communicate and effectively evaluate the social impact of the creative arts in their communities. The consequence of this ongoing issue is the lack of policy for regional arts funding that responds to community capacity and need, which is potentially failing regional communities. The term regional arts is a catch-all for vastly different activities and areas, from large prosperous regional centres to isolated remote townships. The current ‘one size fits all’ approach to regional arts funding, by Federal/State/Local governments and philanthropic bodies, leaves communities on the margins of decision making and often dealing with unwanted and expensive fly-in-fly-out arts programs.

The Centre for Social Impact (n.d., p.1) defines it as ‘the net effect of an activity on a community and the well-being of individuals and families’. While social impact is an increasing field of research and investigation its application to the creative arts has not been significantly understood or examined from an end user perspective. This research will collaborate with two geographically opposed regional communities, both of whom face considerable challenges while also having an activated creative landscape, to develop a social impact toolkit. This holistic toolkit will consist of an engagement and evaluation framework to uncover, articulate and measure the social impact of the creative arts in their communities in order to secure funding and investment for community-led and sustainable arts programs.

Rigorous consultation methods that capture the creative capacity, the future skills required for a sustainable career and the social challenges in these communities, and an impact evaluation model that can be used across a variety of geographically, socially and economically different environments that is replicable, comparable and scalable, is urgently needed in Australia to address the absence of strategic targeting of limited regional arts funding. This project addresses this need.

This project will enable regional communities to use evidence-based research on arts engagement to develop future investments by government and philanthropic funders to enhance jobs growth, liveability factors and visibility of arts and culture in regional Australia. The positive impacts and benefits of arts and culture are well documented in the areas of health, civic pride, crime reduction, economic opportunities and development; however, arts policy and funding remains outside the otherwise whole of government approach to regional policy. This research will also present a focused argument for the arts to be included in current ‘whole of government’ policy for regional Australia, which takes into account state and local nuances regarding service provision and funding. This project challenges that structure and presents ways in which a more integrated framework for regional Australia can be designed that positions the creative arts as central to the success of regional communities.

The aims of this project are to:

  1. significantly advance the approaches to design, development and delivery of arts-based projects in regional and remote areas of Australia that consciously represent the interests, needs and capacity of communities and promote healthy, sustainable communities.
  2. develop comprehensive, contemporary, rigorous consultative and evaluative frameworks to account for a multiplicity of understandings related to the impact of arts and culture across diverse communities.
  3. conduct case studies of the arts and cultural activities and outcomes in two vastly different key regional sites to articulate the patterns of historical and contemporary funded arts activities, approaches to evaluation, and the legacy created by these programs.
  4. conduct an evaluation of this research project, based on the framework developed in collaboration with end users, to complete the process for community and arts organization partners by reporting back on the success and sustainability of this model.

The overarching goal of this project is to develop avenues and methods to include end users, through the voices of communities, in the decision making on how regional arts funding is dispensed and allocated. The fieldwork will involve activities and research methods designed to understand and amplify the expectations and experiences of end users of arts and cultural activities. The research team will also collaborate with the Partner Organisations to ensure that the data collected addresses their most pressing concerns about delivering impact and conducting rigorous evaluation of their existing arts programs in relation to the social impact for individuals and their communities.

Our partners are the Central Western Queensland Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD), Red Ridge (Interior Queensland) Ltd, Burnie City Council, Regional Arts Australia (RAA), the Department of Communication and the Arts (DoCA), Performing Arts Connections Australia (PAC) and the Regional Australia Institute (RAI). The fieldwork will be conducted in remote and geographically dispersed regions of Central and Western Queensland and the Northwest Corridor of Tasmania; both of these communities have existing active arts ecosystems while also experiencing significant economic disadvantage and rates of social exclusion. The first site in Central and Western Queensland will be the primary site for intensive engagement and collaboration, and the findings from this site will be transferred and tested in the second site in Tasmania. The Central Queensland site for this project comprises of seven local government areas and has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the country at 28.4%. Burnie in North-West Tasmania is a recognized area of social disadvantage, with 45% of young people not completing high school. The research sites have been chosen in consultation with our partners and are deemed communities in most immediate need and whose capacity and challenges are reflected throughout much of regional Australia.