There is increasing recognition that the arts and creative sector has a crucial role to play in supporting and sustaining communities in Australia’s remotest regions where the demographics and circumstances are vastly different from other urban, peri-urban, and regional locations. The Creative Barkly project worked closely with partners Barkly Regional Arts (BRA) and Regional Development Australia, Northern Territory (RDANT) to address a pressing need for evidence-based research that examines how this sector is currently functioning in very remote Australia and where its growth potential lies.
In order to contextualise these findings, and inform their interpretation, the report features a significant review of literature from Australia and overseas that relates to regional and remote development broadly. In this literature review we discuss the predominant deficit construction of regional and remote areas as well as the major role of the arts in development. This covers 6 areas such as inclusive social and economic development, human rights, community development and renewal, regional and remote health and wellbeing, and cultural transmission. This review also discusses the diverse roles of regional arts organisations in development. We conclude by highlighting key concepts from existing literature, such as creative placemaking, livelihoods, strength-based development, and mobility, that speak to the diverse lived experiences of arts and development evidenced in our research in the Barkly Region.
- The Barkly arts and cultural sector can be conceived as a value creating ecology. At the time of research, that ecology included multiple sectors, organisations, individuals and forms of value inclusive of cultural, political, ecological, human, spiritual, and natural value.
- With ongoing investment, evaluation, and support, major annual events such as the Desert Harmony Festival can emerge as internationally recognised best practice in arts led holistic and inclusive regional development. There is a strong opportunity to develop major annual regional arts events such as the Desert Harmony Festival as emerging models for holistic and inclusive regional development in remote arts ecologies.
- Art centres, arts organisations, and events create vibrant and enthusiastic audiences for regional arts and cultural activities that facilitate tourism. Arts related volunteering is strong in the Barkly and can support individual, community, and regional development.
- When asked to report on things that impacted on their arts practice, a majority of respondents (20.5%) stated that health was the principal factor affecting their arts and creative practice followed by cultural factors (15.2%) and lack of funding (14.3%). First Nations’ respondents were most impacted by health, family and cultural factors while non-Indigenous respondents were equally impacted across health, work, costs and finances, and lack of time factors. This report therefore recommends that arts development plans and strategies developed by government, arts and non-arts organisations, must respond to challenges and limitations that impact on artistic practice in the Barkly Region.
- Participants in the Barkly arts ecology should be supported by the Australian and Territory Governments to challenge and make redundant unethical practices such as “carpetbagging”. Carpetbagging has been reported in the Barkly Region and neighbouring centres such as Alice Springs. It involves external parties entering the region to exploit local artists for commercial gain, often without adherence to ethical and legal industry practices, artist development, or local development aspirations. There is an opportunity to strengthen regional art centres’ relationships with artists to create “ethical spaces” for arts industry and artist career development and sales.
This research found that the arts and creative sector in the Barkly Region was vibrant and diverse. As the findings have demonstrated, the sector was being supported and enabled by a number of key strengths among people, organisations, and communities; and advantages of Country, landscape and culture. The researchers found that each organisation and community involved in the study had its own unique interpretation and approach to arts delivery according to their situation, needs, and skills. The ability to collaborate and to use a community’s strengths and resources, positive attitudes among artists and creative workers, and high levels of informal education, training and skills development, meant that the Barkly was home to a number of successful and sustainable arts and creative programs and initiatives.