Important day for the arts and local government

by Alex Masso, 13 November 2012

Today feels like an important day for the arts and local government in Australia.

Today and tomorrow, the NSW Local Government and Shires Associations are holding their Arts & Culture Summit in Sydney. This is the first event of its kind, with an ambitious program and agenda, we hope it becomes a regular feature on the calendar in NSW and that the idea catches on in other states.

Why is it important?

We at the Music Council well understand the importance of awards as an advocacy initiative. By inviting submissions for awards to recognise excellence, we can see the extraordinary diversity and quality of activity in the sector. Our Flame Awards recognise excellence in school music while the Music in Communities Awards highlight exemplars in community-based music making.

LGSA NSW has a well-established program of awards, which recognises excellence in Arts & Culture programs and initiatives in NSW councils. Like our own, their awards highlight excellence and diversity: things that are common but done particularly well, and things that are less common and innovative, or approached from a different perspective. Having seen some of the LGSA nominees, we know that good work being done by NSW councils and that this will be recognised in this week’s awards.

These awards are a mechanism for councillors and council staff to learn from each other. But also, and equally importantly, they raise the status of Arts & Culture programs and initiatives. This is absolutely vital to supporting what is sometimes still a marginal activity of councils despite the best efforts of arts advocates within councils and communities.  The "fourth pillar", as advocated by the United Cities and Local Governments policy document, is still being built in some places.

We have recognised Local Government as a key player in supporting music in communities. Anecdotally we know that local government is the tier of government most able to (and willing to) support community-based music making, or research agenda will look at this in more detail but it’s safe to say that local councils have a lot to offer their communities when it comes to making music.

The Arts & Culture Summit, to be held today and tomorrow in Sydney, will showcase the full range of programs supported by local councils in NSW to support creative communities. The Summit’s value is more than recognising a number of award winners, however worthy they may be.

Here are just a few of the reasons why this event is so valuable:

1) No other state has such a forum. We hope that the success of this event highlights its value to the peak Local Government organisations in each state.

2) The summit has involved sponsors and partners from the arts sector, including government departments and peak bodies such as ours. Such a partnership between a formal Local Government body and arts advocates is very exciting.

3) LGSA NSW has welcomed federal and state policy makers to the summit and, from what we have heard recently this strategy may lead to a much needed national forum for discussing cultural activity and Local Government.

4) Most councils in NSW are required to review their integrated community plans by 1 July 2013; now is the time for getting decision makers together to discuss ways in which local councils can best support the arts in their communities, and hear about what can be achieved.

5) It is fairly difficult for those of us working in arts advocacy to engage with local government, due to the sheer number of councils and different ways in which they operate. Not all have a position for Cultural Services, for example, while some councils have a strong and well integrated program. Unlike federal policy, where there is a single government with relatively easy to identify departments, ministers and structures in place, local councils are many and varied. Therefore, it is extremely valuable for us to hear from and meet councillors and council staff from across NSW.

Many thanks to Local Government and Shires Associations NSW, particularly Chloe Beevers, for organising the Arts & Culture Summit and inviting the Music Council's involvement.  All strength to your arm!

Read more about the Summit:

Read more about our interest in Local Government: