Local Government and the Music Sector

By Chloe Beevers. Published in Music Forum magazine, Vol 19 Issue 1 (November 2012)

The performing arts have been a function of Local Government in Australia since inception, with participation in local cultural production from the early nineteenth century, mostly through using town halls as performing arts spaces. Chloe Beevers gives a NSW perspective on the current state of play.

In recent years, NSW Councils have expanded their support to the performing arts with those having Theatre/Music/Performing Arts Centres increasing from 16% in 1999 to 57% in 2009[1]. More than bricks and mortar, the venues bring civic pride and cultivate a sense of community. They are spaces for community participation in the arts and professional development of performers. The venues stimulate the creative industries and cultural tourism. With an outlet for presentation of their work, development of local content is stimulated. Touring artists can now reach communities that previously had to travel great distances to access the productions. As 85 per cent of Australian adults attend at least one cultural event or performance every year[2], it is recognised that the performing arts serve the whole community.

Councils make substantial investments in arts and culture. Nationally, Local Government investment in arts, heritage and cultural development in 2010 was $1.2 billion or over 18% of the total national investment, and growing[3]. NSW Local Government investment in cultural activities in 2009/10 was $391.1 million3.

Councils’ invest in cultural infrastructure such as libraries, galleries, museums, performing arts centres, local halls, community arts spaces, public art, studios and others. Local Government also supports a very wide range of social and community programs, which may use arts processes. Councils often define cultural development to include a range of activities that can contribute to local and regional identity, a community’s sense of place, social cohesion or enhancing quality of life.

In NSW, a Cultural Accord recognises the significant commitment both Local and State Government have towards arts and culture. Agreed priorities are to:

    • Identify the status of existing arts and cultural infrastructure across NSW and approaches to meeting future needs, including possible principles for future development of arts and cultural infrastructure (eg: galleries, performing arts centres, museums, libraries, halls, public art).
    • Engage with councils and other organisations to encourage the development of local capacity, and councils’ facilitation of connections between local arts and cultural groups.
    • Encourage councils to explore local initiatives to provide artist studios and residency programs, develop creative enterprise hubs and support local creative industries.
    • Provide Aboriginal people with greater opportunities to participate in, share and strengthen their culture through arts practice, and develop careers and businesses in the arts and cultural sector.
    • Encourage the incorporation of provisions for local arts and cultural development into councils’ Community Strategic Plans.[4]

An Arts Accord is also being established as part of the National Cultural Policy, which will articulate the respective roles and responsibilities of the Australian, state, territory and local governments in supporting arts and culture. The Arts Accord will be one of the three key ‘pillars’ of the National Cultural Policy.

A National Local Government Cultural Forum will be established in 2013 to give a national voice to the Local Government arts and culture sector. This is critical in light of the National Cultural Policy which will rely on Councils for local delivery. As most councils are under financial stress, they will need to be resourced.

The three spheres of government are planning for arts and culture now, which is a great opportunity for alignment and collaboration in the implementation.


Chloe Beevers is Project Manager Arts and Culture, NSW Local Government and Shires Associations. She has performed on flute for 25 years.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Website: www.lgsa.org.au

[1] Your Council in the Community (PDF), 2011, Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW

[2] National Cultural Policy Discussion Paper, 2011, Commonwealth of Australia

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011

[4] Cultural Accord 4 (PDF), 2010, NSW Government, and the Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW