ARTS OUTWEST (CENTRAL WEST) REGIONAL SNAPSHOT 2017
The Central West area serviced by Arts OutWest covers an area of 40,777 square kilometres and has a total population of around 182,000. The area features agricultural land and bushland including national parks. Major rivers include the Lachlan and the Macquarie. The region extends from the Central Tablelands starting immediately west of the Blue Mountains to the Western Plains.
Economic drivers include agriculture, mining, health services, education and to some extent manufacturing although recent years has seen the close of some major employers such as Electrolux in Orange. The region’s proximity to Sydney and Canberra is an asset. Parts of the region are known for wine and food. Almost all of the area is recognised as Wiradjuri land. The region is also associated with early inland settlement and gold rush heritage areas.
The region includes eleven Local Government Areas (LGAs) – Bathurst, Blayney, Cabonne, Cowra, Forbes, Lachlan, Lithgow, Oberon, Orange, Parkes and Weddin. The two major centres of the region are Orange and Bathurst. Each of these two centres has a population of around 42,000, although the figure for Bathurst includes the surrounding villages. These two centres are 40 minutes apart by road. Lithgow is also a substantial centre of over 21,000 people where the proximity to Sydney and a history as a manufacturing and coal mining centre mean that it is transitioning from an identity that has been more industrial than other towns in the region such as Cowra, Forbes or Parkes.
According to the Regional Institute of Australia’s Insight tool, the Central West area (defined by the area covered by Regional Development Australia Central West’s footprint) ranks quite well on scores of innovation (15th out of 60 regions in Australia including the capital cities) and infrastructure and essential services (17th out of 60), but the region scores more poorly on measurements of business sophistication and economic fundamentals (36th in both these ranking). The ranking of 38th in terms of human capital shows a population that on average is not particularly well qualified in terms of education and workforce skill in spite of the presence of professionals in the university and health sectors.
The Central West region continues to be actively engaged in the arts, with local practitioners working across many art forms. Numerous towns from across the region have active arts communities and groups working to support, foster and present the arts.
- Orange is the main health service centre for the region and has extensive services.
- The region includes two campuses of Charles Sturt University (CSU) at Orange and Bathurst.
- In addition to the state schools throughout the region, there are many independent schools including boarding schools in Bathurst, Orange and Forbes.
- The Central West has a number of correctional centres – Lithgow and Bathurst as well as some smaller services.
- Organisations such as Headspace, Centacare, Neighbourhood Centres and a range of disability services are all active in the region.
- NDIS is being rolled out in some areas but at this stage is proving problematic.
Arts and Cultural Practice in the region
- All art forms are represented, with visual arts being very prevalent.
- Arts and Health practice is strong in the region, particularly in Bathurst, Orange, Forbes and Parkes.
- Bathurst, Orange and Cowra all have regional art galleries and the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery manages an artist residency program in Hill End.
- Bathurst is strong in theatre and circus due to the influence of the Theatre Media course at Charles Sturt University’s Bathurst campus and the Local Stages program based at Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre.
- There are professional theatres at Bathurst and Orange, with the Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre active in supporting and producing local work. Lithgow, Parkes and Cowra have theatre venues.
- There are two regional conservatoriums: Orange Conservatorium and Mitchell Conservatorium which covers Bathurst, Lithgow, Forbes and Parkes
- There are few commercial art galleries in the region – most notable are Jayes Gallery in Molong, the new Gang Gang Gallery in Lithgow, Corner Store in Orange and various spaces in Canowindra including River Bank Gallery, space in Finns Store and David Isbester Gallery, as well as the council-run Grenfell Art Gallery. Artist run galleries include Platypus Gallery in Forbes and T.Arts gallery in Bathurst and at The Barracks in Orange which operates as an artist-run space which includes studio spaces for members of Colour City Creatives. Aboriginal art is represented at the Kew-Y-Ahn Gallery in the historic village of Hartley in space run by National Parks and Wildlife Services. There is also art space at the Wiradjuri Study Centre in Condobolin.
- Much of the cultural infrastructure is council owned and managed.
- Creative industries are quite strong. In addition to the standard art forms: filmmakers, magazines, TV and radio, advertising and public relations, electronic games and design are all represented. Lithgow has done work to actively support the town’s creative industries but most councils do not see it as a priority area.
- The region has a number of major festivals – Elvis Festival (Parkes), Ironfest (Lithgow), Vanfest (Forbes), Kalari Lachlan River Arts Festival (Forbes), Inland Sea of Sound (Bathurst), Bathurst Winter Festival, Orange food and wine festivals and numerous smaller festivals throughout the region from the Abba Festival in Trundle to the Halloween festival in Lithgow or music at The End festival in Hill End. Bathurst has hosted the national young people’s circus skills festival Catapult for many years which usually happens every two years.
- Arts organisations active in the arts include Forbes Art Group, Western Plains Regional Development, CORRIDOR project as well as other organisations that link to the arts such as Taste Orange and Cowra Japanese Gardens.
- Several centres have active arts councils – Oberon, Lithgow, Bathurst, Hill End and Lachlan (Condobolin).
- Aboriginal groups include Mingaan Aboriginal Corporation (Lithgow area) and Condobolin Wiradjuri Aboriginal Corporation. Land Councils operate in Bathurst, Orange, Condobolin, Lake Cargelligo and Cowra, and there are Aboriginal working parties in Parkes and Peak Hill and Elders groups in centres such as Bathurst and Orange.
- Museums include the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum (Bathurst), Age of Fishes Museum (Devonian fossils in Canowindra), Ben Chifley’s House (Bathurst), Eskbank House (Lithgow), Small Arms Museum (Lithgow), Henry Parkes Centre (Parkes) The ‘Dish’ (Parkes) and car museums in Bathurst, Forbes and Parkes. In 2016 the new Orange Regional Museum opened which operates as a consortium of many small museums in the area. Historical Societies are well represented in small museums throughout the region.
- Aboriginal arts practice is active throughout most of the region including dance, visual arts and weaving.
- A new conservatorium building and planetarium proposed for Orange
- A new railway museum developing in Bathurst
- Proposed developments at Parkes Library, Orange Regional Art Gallery, Lithgow’s Union Theatre and others
KEY ISSUES AND TRENDS
The Central West offers a range of venues for touring shows. Bathurst and Orange theatres present professional touring shows in music, dance and theatre and can be hired as a professional venue. Other opportunities can be found at smaller theatres in Cowra, Parkes and Lithgow, usually by working with the arts council or the Musical and Dramatic Society. Music venues include the conservatoriums, wineries, hotels, bars and clubs. Arts OutWest does not engage in touring programs because of the existing avenues available in the region but has lists of venues that do present music or theatre.
Much of the region’s cultural infrastructure is council owned and managed. There are some privately owned venues which experience the commercial pressures of operating in an area without a critical mass of people.
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) and Aboriginal Activity
The region has a mixture of cultural diversity, but CaLD practice tends to be ad hoc, largely due to the lack of representation of any single ethnic group. The Orange Culture Hub is active in this area. There are Migrant Support Workers based in Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange while Cowra engages through its Festival of Understanding.
There are areas of significant Aboriginal population such as Peak Hill, Condobolin and Lake Cargelligo and Cowra. As an area of early inland white settlement there was a destruction of culture and knowledge which means that many people in the Aboriginal communities are working to re-establish their connection to culture. Aboriginal arts practice is extensive, and Arts OutWest’s full-time Aboriginal Arts Development Officer position is assisting this growth. A permanent gallery space for the region’s Aboriginal artwork opened in 2013 in a space with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Hartley.
There are limited opportunities for young people to pursue arts careers within the region, although the presence of Charles Sturt University does offer quality opportunities in theatre and media. Apart from this, it is generally accepted that many young people will need to leave the area in order to train and to develop their careers. On the other hand, there are a significant number of people who come to or return to the region at a later point in their lives, and it is vital that these people are given the support to operate successfully as creative practitioners living in a regional area.
Education and Training
Charles Sturt University (CSU) offers courses through the School of Communication and Creative Industries including theatre media. University of Western Sydney operates in Lithgow. TAFE cuts have meant that the offer of arts training has greatly reduced. Schools offer many opportunities in the arts, but many of the more remote parts of the region find it difficult to attract arts teachers.
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as identified by key sector representatives are as follows:
- Proximity to Sydney and Canberra.
- Infrastructure established in many centres.
- Many active groups and individuals operating in the arts.
- Strong tradition of the arts.
- Presence of Charles Sturt University.
- Strong heritage of the region.
- Some outstanding creative practitioners.
- Successful arts and health practice and projects.
- Excellence in practice at major institutions such as theatre and regional galleries.
- Insufficient population to create critical mass for commercial ventures, i.e. not enough audience.
- Under-performing cultural tourism sector starting to gain more momentum, particularly in and around Orange.
- Difficulty in retaining young people in region.
- Need stronger identity of region.
- Lack of innovation in some arts practice.
- Loss of affordable training opportunities through TAFE cuts.
- Broadband issues with NBN not established in some towns and many rural areas having very poor connection.
- Links with the University.
- Supportive bodies such as Central NSW Councils (CENTROC) and Regional Development Australia.
- Developing Aboriginal arts industry.
- Creative practitioners and artists willing to engage.
- Cultural tourism opportunities in the region
- Loss of commercial venues.
- Being ‘left behind’, due to lack of connection and broadband.
- Loss of population in some areas.
- Arts and culture being given low priority in a tight financial environment.
- Ageing populations and volunteer bases in many arts groups.
- Burn out of participants in activities that are reliant on volunteers.
- Increased impact of weather events including droughts, floods and bushfires.
Aboriginal Population and Language Groups This area cuts across the RAB areas of Arts Outwest, South West Arts, Outback Arts, Orana Arts, Arts North West and Murray Arts. The Arts Outwest region is all Wiradjuri country.
- 9,000 Aboriginal people live in the region (6% of the general area population). Highest concentration of Aboriginal people live in The Lachlan Valley and Wellington Shires
- Wiradjuri Nation (largest in the region and possibly in NSW)
- Paakantji Nation (sometimes spelt ‘Barkindji’ or ‘Parkinji)
- Ngiyampaa Nation (sometimes spelt ‘Ngemba’)
Arts OutWest Aboriginal Arts Development
- An Aboriginal Arts Development Officer has been employed at AOW since 2010 through funding from the Australian government’s Office for the Arts’ Visual Arts Industry Support (IVAIS) and Indigenous Cultural Support (ICS) programs. This position and the Aboriginal arts development program across the Central West is supported by a steering committee which includes elders and staff from aboriginal organisations. The program builds on the considerable activity across Wellington, Cowra, Kelso, Condobolin and Bathurst in 2008 and addresses one of the four key focus areas in AOW’s 2009 strategic plan.
- Major highlights of the program include: the coordination of two regional events (the ‘Marramarra’ projects) which showcased Aboriginal visual arts, performance and culture from the region, the first held in Bathurst in 2011 and the second in Parkes in 2012; curating and organising a series of Aboriginal arts exhibitions in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Department of Environment and Heritage at the Kew-Y-Ahn Aboriginal Art Gallery which opened in 2013 at the Hartley Historic Site near Lithgow; incorporation of Aboriginal arts into AOW’s arts and health program; and an Aboriginal contemporary dance project in Condobolin and Cowra which has led to dancers selected for the NAISDA full-time training program.
- 2007 River Dreaming Festival, Bathurst
- 2011 Marramarra, Bathurst
- 2102 Marramarra Bulla, Parkes
Aboriginal Arts Organisations and Programs