EASTERN RIVERINA ARTS REGIONAL SNAPSHOT 2014
The Eastern Riverina covers an area of 19,999 square kilometres and a total population of approximately 126,341. The region’s population has decreased, in contrast to an overall increase in population across the state. The Aboriginal population is higher than the State average with significant communities in the Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Wagga Wagga, Junee, Bland and Tumut.
The region covers thirteen LGAs – Bland, Coolamon, Cootamundra, Harden, Junee, Lockhart, Temora, Tumbarumba, Tumut, Urana, Wagga Wagga and Young. Major centres include Wagga Wagga, Young and Tumut. It is a diverse region ranging from the Snowy Mountains in the East to the Murrumbidgee River in the West.
The economy is driven primarily by agriculture, transport and logistics. Defence force bases and Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga Wagga provide significant contributions to the economy.
Arts and Cultural Practice
The region exhibits professional cultural infrastructure with Wagga Wagga City Council operating the Civic Theatre, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, and Museum of the Riverina in Wagga Wagga.
Cootamundra’s volunteer run Arts Centre contains a 120 seat theatre, rehearsal rooms, gallery and artists’ studios. The art deco Montreal Theatre in Tumut is also volunteer run, seats over 400 and regularly stages commercial, professional and community productions. The town of Morundah contains the Palladium Paradise Theatre, a unique structure consisting of a shed and agricultural pig shelter that has hosted performances by Oz Opera and Victorian Opera since 2006. A feasibility study, business plan and fundraising have been completed for the development of a more permanent performing arts venue in Morundah.
Music is strongly represented in the region with the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, the Riverina Chamber Orchestra, the Young School of Music and music associations in Young, Temora and West Wyalong. A new opera company has been established in Young.
Across the region there are approximately 20 regular festivals including: ‘Spirit of the Land’ in Lockhart and ‘Tumbafest’ in Tumbarumba attracting significant visitation.
A strong respect for heritage and traditional arts and craft practice is evident in the over 30 volunteer museums and historic societies, three local Art Councils, numerous arts societies and craft associations. There are a number of private studios and galleries, a growing sector of micro-28 businesses specialising in online sales of design and contemporary craft and a small number of artist run initiatives and co-operatives.
Screen culture is building in the region, with Wagga Wagga hosting the Australian International Animation Festival and Tumbarumba hosting the Woodland Film Festival. In addition there are a number of small community run cinemas, including outdoor cinema facilities across the region.
Contemporary arts practice is led in the region by the Muttama based The Wired Lab which explores sound-based arts practice in intersection with science, community and environmental concerns. The CAD Factory, while theoretically situated in the Western Riverina, delivers arts projects throughout this region, often in partnership with the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. The new company Ifinc are now in their third year of practice in Wagga Wagga combining music, film, history and performance.
Wagga Wagga City Council has an extremely progressive public arts policy allowing for artist initiated projects, including ephemeral works.
CSU offers courses in creative industries including design, television production, theatre design, animation and photography. The campus has a gallery space.
Riverina Institute of TAFE has scaled back its visual arts offerings to its Wagga Wagga campus. However, it is now one of the strongest remaining TAFE art programs in the state. A new gallery and printmaking studio opened in 2012 are being consistently used by both students and artists-in-residence.
There are currently no professional theatre companies in the region, though Gearstick Theatre operates as a structure for independent theatre to be produced in Wagga. The School of Arts Community Theatre (Wagga Wagga) and CADAS (Cootamundra) are the most active amateur theatre groups in the region.
KEY ISSUES AND TRENDS
- Demand for touring throughout the region is growing.
- Wagga Wagga is well serviced for professional performing arts through the Civic Theatre.
- Small towns in the region are working with organisations such as Critical Stages, Musica Viva, Monkey Baa Theatre, the Riverina Conservatorium of Music and Eastern Riverina Arts.
- Small audience capacity in some towns makes tours financially unviable, particularly when all the risk is placed on the presenter. Presenters are reluctant to take risks when new opportunities are presented.
- There is an increasing willingness to work with others to build small independent tours.
- Each LGA has different infrastructure issues and trends.
- Wagga Wagga lacks a small, flexible community performance spaces but opportunities for visual artists exist.
- A number of towns are looking at developing community art spaces, comprising small gallery spaces, studios and performance spaces.
- Larger centres like Young are starting to outgrow their current facilities and will be looking to develop their aging infrastructure.
CaLD and Aboriginal
- Wagga Wagga is the region’s centre with highest percentage of CALD people.
- A new street festival Fusion is entering into its fourth year celebrating the cultural diversity of Wagga Wagga.
- Aboriginal arts activity is happening in the region but could benefit from a co-ordinated development strategy to determine regional priorities.
- CSU have established a Wiradjuri language and cultural heritage recovery group and are introducing a new course in Wiradjuri culture.
- Strategies for the establishment of Wiradjuri cultural centre require developing and support.
- A partnership between Dlux Media, Wagga Wagga City Council and Eastern Riverina Arts is focusing on school retention for Aboriginal and CALD students using digital technology arts and sciences.
- Most graduates from CSU tend to leave for metropolitan centres.
- Space, facilities, cost of living and demand for trained professionals make the region attractive for early career artists.
- Limited traditional employment opportunities for artists and arts workers.
Education and Training
- TAFE closure of arts courses across the region impacts on training, with people required to travel to Wagga Wagga.
- There is a need to explore ways to retain CSU graduates for a short time after graduation.
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as identified by key sector representatives are as follows:
- Willingness by councils, non-government organisations and arts organisations to partner on regional/cross LGA arts and cultural projects.
- Strong community investment in cultural facilities.
- Strong networking and communication between arts organisations, other non-government organisations and councils.
- Excellent facilities and infrastructure.
- Small but passionate market for arts and cultural product in towns outside of Wagga Wagga.
- Aging population and population decline.
- Difficulties in promoting arts and cultural activity outside the region.
- A sense of disconnectedness with broader arts community as only a small pool of artists attempt to engage with the broader arts community.
- Lack of youth arts development.
- Wagga Wagga Base Hospital redevelopment has major potential for public art programs.
- A focus for Wiradjuri cultural development through CSU’s Wiradjuri language and cultural heritage recovery group.
- Development of a volunteer presenter network.
- To encourage graduates of CSU creative industries to remain in the region to develop their artistic practice and work.
- Space is available for studio, exhibition and performance across the region both in established venues and in repurposed spaces.
- Festivals are predominantly volunteer run and subject to burnout.
- Less opportunity for arts training due to TAFE closure.
- Most arts/cultural organisations are volunteer run or reliant on project funding.
- Increased competition within the region for funding.
- Recent disaster level flooding has impacted on economy and Council’s budgets.