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Arts Mid North Coast

Arts Mid North Coast
Moorland NSW 2443 Australia
PO Box 4007
Moorland NSW 2443
Phone 02 6658 9400

RADO Directors

Rob Turner
Susan Jenvey
Debbie Sommers
John Arkan
Donna Ballard
Mark Baxter
Steve Klipin
Lorrae O'Brien
Shelley O’Keefe
Claire Pontin
Stephanie Sims

Regional Snapshot


The 22,000 square kilometres of the Mid North Coast region embraces the six local government areas of MidCoast, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Kempsey, Nambucca, Bellingen and Coffs Harbour Councils and the lands associated with the Woromi, Biripi, Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr Nations. The MidCoast Council was created in 2016 with the merger of the former Greater Taree and Great Lakes Councils which were already members of Arts Mid North Coast and Gloucester Council which was formerly a member of Arts Upper Hunter. With nearly 304,000 residents the Mid North Coast is the most populated region of the New South Wales RADO network.

The majority of the population lives on the coastal edge of the region especially within the designated Regional Cities of the North Coast Regional Plan 2036: Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. Their associated local government areas (LGA’s) had populations at the 2016 Census of 78,539 for Port Macquarie Hastings and 72,944 for Coffs Harbour. However the most populated LGA is the new MidCoast Council with a population of 91,958. Its main centres of population are Taree (23,473) and Forster /Tuncurry (20,872). Although all these major centres are areas of growth many other smaller and rural townships in our region are impacted by a static or declining population.

Overall the region is one of the most aged in NSW. Based on the 2016 census data 32 percent of the region’s population is aged over 60 compared to 21.8 percent in NSW and 21.4 percent in Australia. Within the region there are areas of even higher proportions, the MidCoast Council area the figure is 34 percent, making it one of the oldest populations in New South Wales. In terms of this demographic the Mid North Coast is what Australia will be in 10 years, with all the inherent challenges needing to be met now. With such an aged population the proportion of young people is therefore under the State average and this is reflected in the overall programs delivered by Arts Mid North Coast.

The region also has an above the State average of population being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. It again differs to other RADO’s in that a separate arts and culture regional body for Aboriginal culture was formed in 2010 bringing together the 10 Land Councils of the region. The Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance is now the peak regional body for Aboriginal arts and cultural development. This autonomous organisation whose functions include the delivery of the Saltwater Freshwater Festival each Australia Day also delivers a number of learning and cultural programs.

A small but growing population of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people reside in the region. There is a very wide spread of cultural backgrounds, with Coffs Harbour the new home for a significant number of people from a variety of countries on the African continent.

Key economic sectors of the region include manufacturing, health services, tourism, construction and retail services. The expanding health sector reflects the many people retiring to the area for its climate and lifestyle. This provides the potential for Arts Mid North Coast to encourage the development of creative ageing programs while the strong tourism sector provides the potential for cultural tourism initiatives and ventures. The region receives more than 10 million visitor nights a year plus has a growing daytrip market.

The main transport artery of the region is the Pacific Highway. Its continuing upgrade to a four lane highway is reducing the time taken to the travel through the region, a positive for enhancing access to cultural resources and venues, although there is minimal intra-regional public transport in the area. To travel the 400 kilometre length of the region now takes under five hours. There are major regional airports at Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour with flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and a smaller airport at Taree with flights to Sydney and Grafton. These transport links ensure improved opportunities for regional touring up the North Coast.

Visual Arts
There are three regional galleries on the Mid North Coast– Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, Glasshouse Regional Gallery (Port Macquarie) and Manning Regional Gallery (Taree). A new and larger Coffs Regional Gallery is being developed in association with a new library with the complex part of a major plan to revitalise the city centre of Coffs Harbour with a major cultural heart.

In total there are over fifty galleries in the region. Significant galleries, mainly community run, can be found in Gloucester, Gladstone, Macksville, Bellingen, Dorrigo and Sawtell while many others are commercial operations. The region has Australia’s most comprehensive cartoon gallery in the Bunker Gallery at Coffs Harbour. There are also a number of Aboriginal galleries and centres across the region including Dunghutti–Ngaku Aboriginal Arts Gallery (Kempsey), Deep Water Shark Gallery (Taree) and the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre north of Coffs Harbour.

There are now numerous examples of Public Art found throughout the region and a large scale outdoor sculpture competition and exhibition, Sculpture in the Gaol, is held each year at Trial Bay Gaol (South West Rocks). Street Art is also increasing both in extent and sophistication and style.

Theatre and Performing Arts
There is strong interest in theatre and the performing arts in Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Taree with a number of community companies staging regular performances in each of these locations. The main venues are the Manning Entertainment Centre, the Glasshouse and the Jetty Theatre all of which also provide regional venues for touring performances across theatre, dance and music. Smaller active community theatre groups are found at Stuarts Point and Upper Lansdowne. All local companies rely heavily on volunteers and very few of these productions are sufficiently resourced to tour within the region. There is little by way of theatre education available outside of secondary schools and private drama teachers.

Mid North Coast communities have a strong history of engagement with music across a very wide spectrum of genres. The region’s many festivals feature jazz, contemporary, acoustic, folk and bluegrass genres and attract broad interest both within and from outside the region. These festivals typically accommodate a mix of local and touring performers and provide opportunities for emerging local talent and community participation. The small township of Kendall hosts the finals of the Kendall National Violin Competition, Australia’s pre-eminent contest for young violinists. There is a very active and strong Conservatorium of Music at Coffs Harbour providing formal music training and strong music education opportunities within many primary and secondary schools. Another Conservatorium is in the development stage for the MidCoast and Port Macquarie region.

Film and Digital Arts
Engagement with film and the digital arts has increased dramatically in the last three years. This has been led by Screenwave in Coffs Harbour and its very successful International Film Festival (SWIFF) held in Coffs Harbour and Bellingen over summer and its Rec Ya Shorts Youth Film Festival which focuses on the development of young film makers through high schools in the region. Screenwave has also developed a local Film Industry Group. Arts Mid North Coast has strongly supported all three projects and in 2017 added a major screen and film component to its own website, Touring film festivals to the region are also strongly supported by the local population as is support for events at a number of historic cinemas still operating in the region.

The region has several literary festivals with the most established being the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival. In recent years the Grassroots Writers Festival which began in Dorrigo in 2014 has also travelled to Coffs Harbour, Nambucca and Port Macquarie. These events all recognise the large number of writers groups in the region. This interest is also reflected in the active role local libraries now play in staging events throughout the year and for younger people in school holiday periods. While the focus of many of the events is literature they now also reflect a broader range of art forms.

Local Heritage
There are more than twenty museums in the region. Most are local museums showcasing their local history but there are several specialist museums ranging from the Mid Coast Maritime Museum in Port Macquarie to the National Motorcycle Museum in Nabiac. All of the local museums with the exception of the Coffs Regional Museum are managed and staffed by volunteers, many of them members of local historical societies or groups. The multi award winning Port Macquarie Museum leads the Mid Coast Chapter of Museums Australia which provides training and sharing opportunities across the museums from MidCoast to Kempsey. A similar body for the northern part of the region in the future would greatly enhance and improve museum practice and the experiences offered in a number of smaller local museums.

Cultural Infrastructure
The region’s two purpose built facilities hosting performances and concerts by touring and local companies are the Manning Entertainment Centre (Taree) and the Glasshouse (Port Macquarie). In Coffs Harbour the 250 seat Jetty Memorial Theatre remains the major theatre space for local and touring productions. Planning is however well under way for the assessment and development of an alternative larger venue.

In other parts of the region local halls and converted theatres provide the major facility for smaller towns. Some such as those at Wauchope, Bowraville and Bellingen are very well utilised both locally and by touring groups while others such as at Tuncurry and Nambucca Heads have seen increased use in the last two to three years. Many of the smaller halls across the region have considerable potential to be more extensively used and the recent Regional Cultural Fund of the NSW Government has seen local communities begin to develop refurbishment and upgrade proposals to increase further cultural and community use of these facilities.

The Mid North Coast has a strong record of successful arts related events with some such as Camp Creative dating back 20 years. Today they range across all genres of music, art, sculpture, Aboriginal culture, street art, literature and even busking and opera. What is common to all is that they are managed by passionate local volunteers and herein lays the challenge, for there is a limit to that passion over time without proper succession planning. The challenges facing these events and volunteers include a limited sponsorship base in the region, increased legislative requirements and protocols and increased competition from sports events which seem to have a higher priority with Councils. Nevertheless the potential remains for arts based events to be a major showcase of the region’s creative talent plus bring outside talent to the region. This will require closer relationships with the tourism industry, local business and all levels of government.

Career Pathways
Career pathways and employment opportunities for artists, arts workers and creative industries professionals in the region are limited. There is currently little investment in the strategic development of the creative industries in the region other than in Coffs Harbour. The Incidence of collaboration throughout the industry is limited. Community Art Networks and Councils tend to work in ‘silos’ that negate opportunities for collaboration in marketing, resource sharing, skill development and information sharing. This presents a challenge and role for Arts Mid North Coast into the future.

Education and Training
The last three years has seen major changes in the availability of education opportunities in arts and culture on the Mid North Coast. In addition to the traditional provider of TAFE NSW there are now tertiary courses offered by both Southern Cross University at Coffs Harbour and Charles Sturt University at Port Macquarie. To showcase the range of courses and opportunities Arts Mid North Coast now has through its Creative Pathways website a one stop online guide for all opportunities and campuses in the region.

Local Government
The last few years has seen considerable changes to how local government approaches strategic planning for arts and culture and the relevant resourcing of funds and staffing. While both Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie Hastings have current Arts & Culture Plans they and other Councils in the region also reflects such matters in their Economic Development and Destination Management Plans. Arts Mid North Coast has and will continue to play an active role in encouraging all such strategic planning. The one negative is the lack of recognition for arts and culture in the Integrated Planning processes of Councils and their 10 Year Community Strategic Plans. Until such time as this occurs it is doubtful that the region will overcome the shortfall in funding contributions from local government compared to the agreed guidelines that form the basis of the partnership between local government and Create NSW for the funding and operation of Regional Arts Development Organisations.


  • In general, the region suffers from a paucity of medium to large performance spaces. Major facilities hosting performances and concerts by touring and local companies are located at the Manning Entertainment Centre (Taree) and the Glasshouse (Port Macquarie).
  • Coffs Harbour, the region’s largest hub, has no large-scale performing arts centre and no agreed timeline or location for such a venue. Funding of such a facility also remains a major issue. The Jetty Memorial Theatre (capacity 200 people) remains the sole theatre space for local and touring productions. It is complemented by the Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium, which hosts concerts within very limited space.
  • A performing arts centre has been designed and proposed for construction at Bellingen, but without funding remains at planning stage only.
  • Resources for museum facilities are limited and are in most cases managed and staffed by volunteer members of local historical societies.
  • Many small halls in towns across the region are in need of significant repair or renovation to make them suitable for use as arts venues, but have considerable potential to be used as such. Also relevant is the related issue of commercial charges by Council’s.


  • The lack of medium to large performance spaces in the north of the region limits the capacity to host touring productions and acts.
  • The Mid North Coast’s festivals continue to provide an indispensable platform for bringing touring performances and artists to regional audiences. Most of these festivals are volunteer run and rely upon significant funding from all tiers of government for their continued existence.
  • The establishment of a touring framework across regional borders is essential to growing opportunity. The region would benefit from scheduling of tours together with the Northern Rivers.10
  • The touring of professionally mounted local productions to neighbouring localities/regions is rare due to cost and requires greater support.

CaLD and Aboriginal

  • The Mid North Coast region has the highest Aboriginal population of any region in the state.
  • Together with ten regional Aboriginal land councils, Arts Mid North Coast was a partner in the establishment of the Saltwater Freshwater Aboriginal Arts Alliance, the peak regional body for Aboriginal arts and cultural development. This is now an autonomous organisation whose functions include the delivery of the Saltwater Freshwater Festival each Australia Day in rotating locations around the region. Saltwater Freshwater also delivers a number of learning and cultural programs.
  • A growing population of culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) people reside in the region. There is a very wide spread of cultural backgrounds, with Coffs Harbour the new home for a significant number of people from a variety of countries on the African continent. Community groups and councils across the region support and deliver activity in this sector. International Women’s Day and Harmony Day are a platform for many CaLD arts events across the region, along with festivals such as Curryfest (Woolgoolga), Africa Festival (Taree) and Women of the World (Coffs Harbour).

Career Pathways

  • Career pathways and employment opportunities for artists, arts workers and creative industries professionals in the region are limited.
  • There is currently little investment in the strategic development of the creative industries in the region other than Coffs Harbour.
  • Employment in creative industries is concentrated in the larger centres of Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie. There is also a lack of industry clusters, with screen arts professionals around the Coffs Coast being the only strong cluster in the region.
  • Incidence of collaboration throughout the industry is limited. Community Art Networks and Councils tend to work in ‘silos’ that negate opportunities for collaboration in marketing, resource sharing, skill development and information sharing.

Education and Training

  • The removal of State Government subsidies from TAFE Fine Arts courses has severely impacted the education and training opportunities available to emerging regional artists. It is unlikely that these will be replaced in the short to medium term by other formal training options, particularly in the visual arts. This will also impact upon the employment of professional local artists such as teachers and tutors, meaning that there could be potential skills losses to the region as they seek employment opportunity elsewhere.
  • TAFE offerings differ widely across the region and it is not generally practicable or economically viable for students to travel large distances for specific Certificate and Diploma courses.
  • Students with professional aspirations generally need to travel outside the region to further their development.

Local Government Engagement

Only two of seven local councils have a dedicated cultural development officer (Coffs Harbour and Kempsey) and only four have cultural plans. Arts and cultural planning is now largely subsumed in community plans. Coffs Harbour City Council also has a current Creative Industries Action Plan and Economic Strategy developed in consultation with Arts Mid North Coast and other community organisations. All councils have small community grants schemes supporting arts activity to varying levels. The impact of potential local government amalgamations on cultural development resources and priorities is unknown.


Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as identified by key sector representatives are as follows:


  • Diverse arts activity across the region in multiplicity of art forms.
  • Numerous strong festivals growing audiences from within and outside region.
  • Community support for arts and cultural events.
  • Attractive environment for artists and creative industry professionals from outside the region to live in.
  • Good pool of professional knowledge in major centres.
  • Success rate in obtaining Australian Government regional arts fund support.
  • ‘Can do’ approach, with a low reliance on external funding.
  • Increased cultural tourism development through project partnerships between Arts Mid North Coast and regional tourism organisation (North Coast Destination Network).
  • Opportunities for increased youth digital arts development through Genwire Artspace and partnerships with ABC Open.


  • Declining arts education and employment opportunity due to TAFE subsidy cuts, course reduction and limited tertiary offerings.
  • Lack of medium to large scale performing arts facilities outside of Port Macquarie and Taree is of concern to the community.
  • Lack of regular high quality touring performances (outside of Taree and Port Macquarie) due to distance and absence of appropriate infrastructure.
  • Lack of skills and training opportunities in performing arts production.
  • Lack of a regional theatre/performing arts company (such as Northern Rivers Performing Arts).
  • Lack of designated arts and cultural development officers at local council level.
  • Lack of focus on cultural tourism and creative industries driven economic development strategies and plans.


  • Focus on cultural tourism through partnerships with North Coast Destination Network/Destination NSW.
  •  Opportunities for working with Destination Management Plans and local tourism industry.
  • Roll out of National Broadband Network in regions may mean increased opportunity for artists and creative industries nationally and internationally.
  • Potential to utilise unused commercial and local government infrastructure for arts activity, installations, performance and exhibitions.
  • Increased level of public art across the region.
  • Opportunities could broaden with developing economic impact indicators and studies regarding arts and cultural activity.
  • Repurposing visitor information centres as community arts centres/galleries.


  • Financial support within a tight financial environment.
  • Further erosion of arts education and employment opportunities offered through TAFEs and universities.
  • Human resources attrition – most volunteers are in the 50+ age bracket and there is a much lower rate of volunteer participation among younger age brackets.
  • Uncertainty of the impact of local government amalgamations on resources and the maintenance of the cultural identity of smaller towns/communities.
  • Decline in regional economic conditions and unemployment in some areas of the region.
  • Ageing population and limited incomes

Aboriginal Arts

Aboriginal Population / Language Groups

  • 12,534 Aboriginal people live in the region representing (approximately 4.5% of the total population.)
  • Highest concentration of population is in the Kempsey Shire.
  • 12 Aboriginal Land Councils in the region.

Arts Mid North Coast Aboriginal Arts Development

  • In 2007/2008 Arts Mid North Coast developed Foundations of Our Future a five-year strategic plan formed in consultation with 300 artists and cultural practitioners across the region. The plan aimed at building regional and community structures around arts and cultural practices to assist in overcoming the barriers to individual and community development. It led to the establishment of an Alliance of 9 Local Aboriginal Land Councils, the employment of a Regional Aboriginal Cultural Development Officer through the Australian Government’s Indigenous Cultural Support program, the development of Arts Centres in Kempsey, Forster and Coffs Harbour and the development of Aboriginal Design courses through North Coast TAFE.
  • In 2010, the Alliance became incorporated as Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance Aboriginal Corporation, using the Saltwater Freshwater brand name to reflect the cultural identity and uniqueness of the area and covering the four language areas of the Worimi, Birpai, Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr.  This organisation also manages the annual Saltwater Freshwater Festival held on Australia Day of each year in rotating locations around the region (Kempsey in 2014).


  • Saltwater Freshwater Festival is an annual Aboriginal cultural festival held on Australia Day
  • National Indigenous Vibe 3on3 Basketball and Hip Hop Challenge

Aboriginal Arts Organisations

Aboriginal Arts Training Institutions