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Art, governance and the turn to community

A report to Australia Council for the Arts on research on the Generations Project 2006—2009
Community based participatory research Arts citizen participation Community development Community engagement Local government Arts Melbourne

As an ‘action research’ project over a period of more than three years, the Generations Project has been remarkably successful in finding out what it takes to ensure that community art practices can enrich the practice of local government in Australia. This comes at a time when the building of resilient and inclusive local communities has become even more clearly part of the ‘core business’ of local government internationally. Indeed, local government authorities that do not find creative ways to constantly build more inclusive communities will pay a considerable ‘price’ in having to deal with growing social division and conflict, often reflecting much broader, global developments and tensions. Community art projects and programs can enhance the core business of local government provided local government leaders understand that good practice in community art involves considerable skill and a deep understanding of artistic processes.

The national Generations Project was first conceived in 2004 by Cultural Development Network Director Judy Spokes and the former CEO of the City of Port Philip Council (in Melbourne) Anne Dunn. By this time a wide range of local government authorities (LGAs) across Australia had sponsored significant community art and cultural development projects and events and it was evident that successful artistic and cultural activities could build a stronger sense of community at a local level. Many people in local government could see that the arts had a vital role to play in creating more coherent and dynamic local communities and yet this kind of work remained marginal in local government structures and processes. Spokes and Dunn came up with a proposal for an action learning project that could address questions such as: What would it take to convince LGA leaders to take community art and cultural development much more seriously? and Where should this kind of work be situated within LGA structures and processes?

A wide range of LGAs were invited to participate in designing and implementing- over a period of three years-a program of artistic activities that could help the LGA address a significant and pressing social challenge and the project was implemented in the following LGAs: City of Greater Geelong, Latrobe City, Rural City of Wangaratta (Victoria), Liverpool City (in Sydney) and the Charters Towers Regional Council (Queensland). Although the project was initiated before the Australia Council established its Community Partnerships program it was suspended until that program was put in place and so the action learning project was ideally placed to inform the Community Partnerships committee on ways of working with LGAs for enhancing community cultural and artistic development.

The following research report reviews the history and development of the Generations projects in the five participating LGAs and it reports on research that was focused on responding to the following three key research questions:

1. What can be learnt from the Generations Project about what it takes to encourage LGAs to place more strategic importance on cultural development as a praxis across diverse sections and operations of Council?

2. What can be learnt from the Generations Project about forging more effective partnerships between artists, arts organisations, community groups, and LGAs?

3. What can be learnt from the Generations Project about ways in which arts-based projects and initiatives can enhance the capacity of LGAs to engage with their communities across diverse areas of Council work and responsibility?


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