ARTS NORTHERN RIVERS REGIONAL SNAPSHOT 2017
Situated on the far north coast of NSW, the Northern Rivers covers an area of 20,895 square kilometres, extending south from the Queensland border along 300 kilometres of coastline and inland from the Pacific to the Great Dividing Range. The region is renowned for its beaches and rainforests, its warm sub-tropical climate, and its communities, such as Byron Bay, Lismore, Murwillumbah, Nimbin and Yamba. The Bundjalung, Yaegl and Gumbaynggirr heritage influence the culture of the region.
The Northern Rivers is crossed by three major river systems – the Clarence, the Richmond and the Tweed – and is home to 14 World Heritage listed areas and many more National Parks and State Conservation Areas. The seven LGAs include: Tweed Valley, Kyogle, Byron Shire, Lismore, Ballina Shire, Richmond Valley and Clarence Valley. The major centres in the region are Ballina, Byron Bay, Casino, Grafton, Lismore, Kyogle, Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads, plus there are numerous coastal settlements, rural towns and villages.
The Northern Rivers is home to a population of 296,531 people, with a median age of 45.4 years. It is also one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting more than 4.7 million visitors a year. Some characteristics of the region (in comparison to NSW as a whole) are:
- A large migration away from the region by those aged 20 to 34
- A higher proportion of older persons compared with New South Wales and Australia
- • Low labour force participation rates compared with NSW and Australia (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 2012)
However, research conducted by Arts Northern Rivers for the development of a Regional Creative Industries Strategy showed that the population of the region included more creative practitioners than any other regional area of Australia. The region has a high concentration of creative professionals with a growth rate that surpasses that of other regional areas. Between 2001 and 2006, the creative industries were one of the region’s top four growth industries, particularly in the fields of visual arts, design, literature, publishing, screen and digital content.
In the same period, the Northern Rivers recorded the highest creative industries employment growth in the state, more than double the Sydney growth rate, and the highest concentration of creative industry workers outside Sydney.
A total of 192 facilities used for arts and cultural purposes have been identified in a survey undertaken by Arts Northern Rivers. The three regional galleries – in Tweed, Lismore and Grafton – are a significant component in the cultural infrastructure of the Region, not only providing exhibition space but also nurturing local artists and stimulating audience development through their programs.
In 2017 Lismore Regional Gallery opened a new gallery in the heart of Lismore – funded through Federal, state, local, philanthropic and community sources. The new gallery is a re-development of an existing building that was once part Lismore High School. It sits as part of a cultural hub including the Northern Rivers Conservatorium and Lismore Library.
The region is also home to the Margret Olley Arts Centre (MOAC) at the Tweed Regional Gallery. MOAC is an award-winning arts centre that features the late artist’s work and contents of her Sydney home and studio. It is regarded as one of the major tourism assets for the region.
There are no major purpose-built performing arts centres in the region. Public venues for theatre include:
- Lismore City Hall, home to the Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA) – which has been adapted into a mutli-purpose and performing arts space and recently refurbished to include improved fly tower, foyer, rehearsal areas and seating
- The Byron Community Cultural Centre’s small purpose-built performing arts space
- Tweed’s two multi-purpose Civic Centres at Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads
- The Saraton Theatre, an historic cinema in Grafton, which has also been adapted into a performing arts space
There are more than 20 volunteer-run community museums and historical societies across the seven LGAs in the region. The Tweed Regional Museum is the only professionally run museum in the region and re-opened in late 2014 after the completion of a new extension and refurbishment of the current premises in Murwillumbah.
There are excellent media (digital video and music) facilities at SAE – Byron Bay (School of Audio Engineering) as well as at Southern Cross University (SCU), Lismore (including the professional production house – Studio one29) and Grafton TAFE (Music and Digital Media Studios).
Festivals are a significant and high-profile component of the life of the region. Key arts and cultural festivals include:
- Byron Writers’ Festival
- Byron Bluesfest
- Mullum Music Festival
- Lismore Lantern Parade
- Splendour in the Grass (Byron)
- Falls Festival (Byron)
- Byron Film Festival
- Plunge Festival (Clarence Valley)
- Jacaranda Festival (Clarence Valley)
The region benefits from a number of industry associations and other professional bodies including:
- Arts Northern Rivers
- Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA)
- Byron Writers Festival (formerly, Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre)
- Northern Rivers Conservatorium
- Clarence Valley Conservatorium
- North Coast Entertainment Industry Association (NCEIA)
- Creative Lismore
- Creative Mullumbimby
- Creative Caldera
KEY ISSUES AND TRENDS
- Touring throughout the region is limited due to the lack of large-scale purpose-built performing arts centres.
- Lismore City Hall completed a significant redevelopment in 2013 and the venue continues to be managed and programmed by NORPA – whose program includes touring productions.
- The Byron Community Centre offers a small purpose built space, which is programmed by the Centre and primarily used for small touring productions and events
- The region has a strong festival and events sector that present a significant touring program, predominately in the music sector crossing contemporary, classical and independent genres
- While the region enjoys significant tourism, hotspot areas such as Byron Bay struggle with sustainability issues – balancing the need of tourism generated income with infrastructure and resource demands
- The region is home to a significant number of professional musicians who tour extensively throughout the region’s pubs and clubs
- NORPA programs an annual season comprised of touring companies as well as locally generated production
In 2008, Arts Northern Rivers conducted an audit of cultural infrastructure in the region as part of the development of the Northern Rivers Creative Industries Strategy. The audit provided a snapshot of available infrastructure in the region including 192 facilities used for arts and cultural purposes.
Key infrastructure issues included:
- Lack of a large-scale purpose-built performing arts centre
- Lack of accessible studios giving access to space and equipment for less established practitioners (although SAE, SCU and TAFE make space and equipment available when possible)
- There has been a significant increase in incubator facilities designed to encourage start-ups and business acceleration for creative businesses – most notably in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate area
- While the region continues to deal with ongoing mobile ‘blackspots’ – access to broadband is slowly improving with the roll out of the NBN – although region-wide reliable coverage will remain an issue for the Northern Rivers
CaLD, Aboriginal and Disability Sectors
In June 2005, Arts Northern Rivers worked with local Aboriginal artists to establish the Indigenous Artists Advisory group, which has provided a regional voice for Aboriginal artists and worked with Arts Northern Rivers to secure funding for an Indigenous Arts Development Officer (IADO).
All LGA’s have Indigenous advisory committees or groups that consult regularly with councils.
The region is home to a strong Italian community who provide cultural expression for this community through the New Italy Community Gallery. Local Radio station Bay FM offers a significant multicultural broadcast program. A growing community of African refugees have settled in the Lismore LGA. CaLD programs are growing with government and NGO agencies such as the Northern Rivers Social Development Council administering most activity and services.
The Northern Rivers has numerous disability support organisations and peak organisations such as R.E.D (Realise Every Dream) play a significant role in providing arts and cultural services for this sector.
Education and Training
The region’s well-developed educational facilities include two centres of Southern Cross University, six TAFE campuses and nearly 30 cultural educational institutions with specialist training in the arts, crafts, theatre and film.
- Highest concentration of creative industry practitioners in regional Australia
- Natural resources of the region are vast and are a key attractor
- Established and well functioning peak cultural bodies (Screenworks, Arts Northern Rivers, NORPA)
- Home to one of only three performing arts presenting companies in NSW (NORPA)
- Strong and growing regional gallery network
- Significant capital works underway or completed (Lismore City Hall, Lismore Regional Gallery, Margret Olley Centre, Tweed Regional Museum)
- Aboriginal people have maintained the integrity of much of their culture and language.
- Financial support for the Regional Arts Board (Arts Northern Rivers) remains committed from all seven LGAs
- Collaboration across institutions and organisations
- Key tourism destination, with high levels of international tourist visitation.
- Skill-base is strong in the creative and knowledge based sectors
- High youth unemployment levels.
- Population decreases (especially in 20–35 year age group).
- Poor public transport options
- Significant digital black spots across the region
- NBN rollout not uniform across the region
- Distant from state capital
- Tourism demands on infrastructure and resources
- Highest proportion of residents on the lowest incomes in the State
- A region of small businesses, with less than 1% of businesses employing over 100 people. This limits access to philanthropy, sponsorship and corporate expertise
- Unique location to test, model and pilot new programs and innovative approaches.
- Exploring the linkages between new technologies and new industries could be a means to keep young people in the region
- Vast reserves of creative industry professionals available to support projects and creative iniatives
- ‘Sea/tree changers’ bring skills and expertise to the region to be tapped
- LGAs under financial pressure.
- Climate change – coastal erosion, flooding impacting on tourism economy
- Proximity to the Gold Coast and the risk of urban sprawl
Aboriginal Population and Language Groups
- Over 10,000 Aboriginal people live in the region (4% of the general area population)
- Highest concentration of Aboriginal people live in the Clarence Valley and Tweed Shires
- Region is populated by the Bundjalung, Yaegl and Gumbaynggirr people
Arts Northern Rivers Aboriginal Arts Development
- In 2005, Bundjalung artist Albert Digby Moran convened a regional forum of approximately 30 Indigenous artists which led to the establishment of a regional Indigenous Artists Advisory Group (IAAG). The group worked with ANR to establish a sustainable Aboriginal visual arts industry in the region.
- In 2008 ANR employed an Indigenous Arts Development Officer (IADO) through funding from the Department of Communications Information and Technology (DCITA, then Department of Environment Water Heritage and the Arts, DEHWA) and the Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). This position assisted artists to develop their professional art practice and provide outreach support for artists in remote communities and continues to be supported by the Australian Government through the Office for the Arts.
- In April 2010, the IAAG became incorporated under the Aboriginal Corporation Act as the Rivers of Art Corporation (RoAAC) with continued support from ANR and the 3 Rivers Aboriginal Arts Space as the Indigenous Business Arts Centre with exhibition, studio and workshop space. This Centre no longer operates and the Indigenous Arts Development Officer has adopted an outreach role across the region, working in partnership with local Indigenous artists and organisations to build capacity and become artistically and commercially more competitive.
- Recent highlights of the ANR Indigenous arts development program include the production of four Artists’ books by four Indigenous artists in the Northern Rivers region, each unique and featuring a different artistic medium and the Bundjalang project tracing traditional mark-making in the region.
- Boomerang Festival, Byron Bay
Aboriginal Arts Organisations