ARTS UPPER HUNTER REGIONAL SNAPSHOT 2014
The LGAs in the Upper Hunter region are Dungog, Gloucester, Muswellbrook, Singleton and Upper Hunter. They cover an area of 21,609 square kilometres with a total population of approximately 68,910.
The lines between the Upper and Lower Hunter can be blurred but what all 11 Hunter LGAs, Upper or Lower, have in common is the Hunter River and the tributaries which feed it – the Hunter Water Catchment. The Upper Hunter part of the catchment supports a diversity of landscapes, from high mountain ranges to broad fertile floodplains and extensive estuarine areas. There are large areas of wilderness and national park including the Barrington Tops World Heritage Site from which the Hunter River emanates.
The main economic drivers in the Upper Hunter are open cut coal mining, some underground coal mining, coal driven power generation, agriculture, grazing, viticulture, thoroughbred horse breeding and tourism.
- Strong culture of painting, exhibition and prizes throughout the region.
- Art societies/groups in each LGA (degree of activity varies).
- Murrurundi (in Upper Hunter Shire) and Gloucester are visual arts hotspots.
- A small number of visual artists embracing 3D/sculpture
- Pockets of textile art/craft activity.
- Muswellbrook Amateur Theatre Society (annual musical or play).
- Singleton Amateur Theatre Society (annual musical).
- Gloucester Arts and Cultural Council Players (annual play during Shakespeare In Gloucester Festival).
- Scone Community Amateur Dramatic Society (usually one production per year).
- Broken Leg Theatre (intermittent youth theatre group based at Singleton Youth Venue).
- Warrah Writers (Warrah Creek)
- Poets’ Corner (Murrurundi)
- Singleton Writers Group
- Singleton Bush Poets
- Riverside Writers (Gloucester)
- Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre (Muswellbrook Shire Council).
- Upper Hunter Conservatorium of Music (based in Muswellbrook).
- Gloucester Gallery (has a part-time director).
- Michael Reid Murrurundi (small, high end commercial gallery, open weekends).
- Haydon Hall (small commercial gallery/restaurant in Murrurundi, open half the week).
- Council libraries across the region (often include arts activities in their programs).
- Singleton Youth Venue (includes medium-sized auditorium with full three phase lighting).
- Singleton Civic Centre (large, well-equipped hall used for annual musical and annual Singleton Arts Prize).
- Old Court Theatre (small, old theatre in Scone now owned by Upper Hunter Shire Council.
- Scone Arts and Crafts Society (has a sizeable, well-equipped gallery).
- Historical museums (seven in total, housed in historical buildings of various shapes and sizes).
- James Theatre (owned by Dungog Shire Council, run by volunteers, hosts film and performance).
- The Pothouse (small pottery workshop in Muswellbrook).
- Dungog Arts Society (has a small workshop/gallery space).
- Murrurundi Arts Council (has a small workshop/gallery space).
- 74 George Street (workshop space for craft and arts groups in Singleton).
- The Convent (convent space in Singleton used for musical performances).
Muswellbrook Council is currently at the planning/concept stage of the development of a Cultural Centre. It is expected to house the Upper Hunter Conservatorium of Music, a theatre and provide office/storage space for various arts/cultural groups.
Upper Hunter Shire Council is starting renovation of its Old Court Theatre building in Scone with the aim of retaining the small theatre and expanding use of the whole building to the wider community.
KEY ISSUES AND TRENDS
The following issues and trends were identified during discussions with key sector representatives.
Coal contributes money to the arts and/or culture (among other things). It supports some Aboriginal arts activity, often via NAIDOC Week, and provides money for several art prizes. It has subsidised some bricks and mortar infrastructure that could be described as cultural (e.g. Singleton Youth Venue). It also supports various festivals and events across the region. The apparent end of the coal boom may affect this support.
Recently opened, the expressway will cut off some 25 minutes travel between Newcastle and the Upper Hunter.
- Annual extant musicals/plays in each LGA except Dungog; however new, locally written/devised performance is almost non-existent.
- Little touring theatre product into the region.
- The Upper Hunter theatre scene provides limited development opportunities for young people serious about theatre. For many, Newcastle is the best option but travel remains a barrier.
- Some touring product into the region (through Singleton Arts and Music Society and Friends of The James Theatre as presenters).
- Not a strong culture of local bands (rock, pop etc.).
- While there are dance teachers and small dance schools throughout the region, dance is not well developed.
Tertiary Arts Education
There are currently no tertiary arts courses in the Upper Hunter. The one or two TAFE visual arts courses that did exist have ceased with the changes to TAFE funding.
Possible Council Amalgamation
The effects of possible council amalgamation are hard to predict.
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as identified by key sector representatives are as follows:
- Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre.
- Gloucester Gallery.
- Upper Hunter Conservatorium of Music.
- Singleton Youth Venue.
- A range of festivals, some with an arts focus.
- Coal companies spend money on the arts or culture.
- No tertiary arts education.
- Travel between east and west of region is lengthy by virtue of the Barrington Tops.
- Lack of locally written or devised performance work.
- Lack of arts opportunities for young people (apart from school).
- Coal money.
- Newcastle, with its range of cultural infrastructure and arts activity, is closer via new Hunter Expressway.
- Building on festivals.
- Growing population.
- Growing sense of community identity/history.
- Artists relocating from metropolitan areas.
- Museums are under-utilised infrastructure.
- Effects of possible council amalgamation hard to predict.
- Volunteer base is shrinking (e.g. historical museums)
Aboriginal Population and Language Groups
- Just over 3,000 Aboriginal people live in the region (approximately 3.3% of the general area population)
- Highest concentration of Aboriginal people live in Muswellbrook Shire (twice the national average at 4%)
- Muswellbrook is home to the Wanaruah Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Hunter Valley Aboriginal Corporation and St Heliers Correctional Centre
- Traditionally the lands of the Upper Hunter were where the Kamilaroi, Wanaruah and Wiradjuri people’s lands met. Today the area is predominately Wanaruah.
Aboriginal Arts Organisations