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Stats and Stories

Paul Jenkins from Regional Arts Australia talks about the recent publication of Stats and Stories: The impact of the arts in Regional Australia and why this type of research is important to regional Australia

People by choice or circumstance live, work and make art in regional Australia. What is produced by regional creatives is wide ranging, inspirational and engaging. Those of us that are fortunate to be involved in the arts and creative industries know this. But those that are less engaged in the arts may not have thought through all of the ways that the arts add value to society. There are many ways that the arts are beneficial, even critical, to the wellbeing of regional communities. As active members of our own communities, artists are well placed to be advocates for a greater public conversation on regional arts and cultural activities. What is needed are the tools to help us promote the values that the arts bring to our regions.

Regional Arts Australia (RAA) has a long history of producing quality publications celebrating regional arts activities. Publications such as Belonging and Big Story Country beautifully tell the human side of regional arts activity. In looking at how RAA could better advocate for the cultural development aspirations for the one in three people that live outside major metropolitan centres, RAA saw the opportunity to integrate storytelling with detailed academic research and evaluation.  By running real world people’s stories under an analytical lens, the benefits could be identified and measured in ways that the broader community could understand. And so the idea behind Stats and Stories was born.

Regional Arts Australia and the Melbourne Business School, Deakin University collaborated on the development of this series of ten e-publications. Led by Professor Ruth Rentschler, the investigating team undertook an extensive international literature review of academic writing, statistics and program evaluations.  All of this data was then identified as falling within five interlocking themes:

Front cover of animating spaces case studyTo give each theme a human face, five major case studies were then developed based on successful regional arts activities which best represented a designated theme. For example, Animating Spaces from Queensland addressed the community connectedness theme while Big hART’s Namatjira Project addressed the theme of Civic Pride.

What has emerged from the research process is the level of interconnectedness that exists between arts activities and the measures by which we regard and value developmental activity. These findings affirm RAA’s belief that the arts play a vital role in broader economic and cultural development, especially where the creative practices are participatory in nature.  The arts tick all the boxes in making Regional Australia a better place: They engender civic pride, encourage us to connect to society, give us a sense of place, lift employment and provide alternative ways to foster regional development.

Stats and Stories usefully identifies similarities in the quality and diversity of regional arts and cultural activity to arts activities in major urban regions while extolling the unique opportunities available to regionally based artists. This research confirms that current public resourcing of arts facilities, programs, organisations and services remains focussed in major capital cities. In response, regionally based artists have developed innovative ways to seek out and secure the resources they need to fulfil their creative aspirations.

These themed evaluations and complementary case studies contained in Stats and Stories demonstrate that the opportunities to creatively engage communities are many and varied in the regions. Lessons learned from the projects can be broadly applied to other regional locations.

RAA sees the Stats and Stories publications as catalysts for further debate, giving regional artists the information to best present their case to potential funding sources, project partners and the communities in which they live and work.

Importantly, these publications present a compelling case to all levels of government. Regional arts and cultural development is deserving of a fairer share of public resourcing.

Paul JenkinsPaul Jenkins is currently the Regional Arts Fund Manager for Regional Arts Australia. Paul has a long term commitment to regional arts, having previously been the Executive Director of Tasmanian Regional Arts, and the inaugural Regional Arts Development Fund Program Manager for Arts Queensland. Paul holds a Master’s Degree in Arts and Cultural Policy Studies from Griffith University where his dissertation evaluated the effects of contemporary cultural policy settings on regional arts activity.




Images supplied by Regional Arts Australia
Feature image: From the cover of Stats and Stories – Theme 1 Community Connectedness : Group – Community Connection, Alice Desert Festival 2013, Alice Springs. Photograph by Steven Pearce.  From cover of Stats and Stories Case Study 1 Community Connectedness animating Spaces: Artist David Atkinson, Hay That’s Cool, Sculpting Samford, 2014, Samford, QLD. Photograph by Peter Storer.