EASTERN RIVERINA ARTS REGIONAL SNAPSHOT 2017
From the edges of the Snowy Mountains , through the the canola fields of the Riverina to the wide open plains of central NSW, the Eastern Riverina Arts region encompasses the eight local government areas of Bland, Coolamon, Cootamundra-Gundagai, Junee, Lockhart, Temora, Snowy Valleys and Wagga Wagga on the lands associated with the Wiradjuri and Walgalu people.
The region’s boundaries underwent change in 2016 due to Council amalgamations. The LGAs of Harden and Young merged with Boorowa becoming Hilltops Council and shifting to Southern Tablelands Arts. The LGA of Urana merged into Federation and now sits within Murray Arts. Over 110,000 people live in the region.
KEY DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS
Over 110,000 people live in the region with more than half the population of the region residing in the Wagga Wagga LGA. Although the major centres are areas of growth in the region many other smaller and rural townships in our region are impacted by a static or declining population.
Like most regional areas there is a significant drift from the smaller LGAs from people in the twenties, with many of them returning in their thirties. The presence of Charles Sturt University in Wagga provides a significant boost to the number of youth (10-24) in our region. Aside from Wagga Wagga the number of people in the region aged over 60 is significantly higher than the State average, with a number of the LGA at 30 percent or over compared to the NSW average of 21.9 percent.
The region also has an above the State average of population being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent (5.1 percent compared to 2.9% State average) with significant population centres in Wagga Wagga , the Snowy Valleys and Bland Shire.
While our region’s population of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people is lower than the State average. The diversity of the region is growing, particularly in Wagga, which is a major primary and secondary resettlement centrere for refugees.
Key economic sectors of the region include health services, agriculture, transport and logistics. Defence force bases and Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga Wagga provide significant contributions to the economy. Over the last two years a culture of tech and creative start-ups has emerged. Tourism has generally focussed on agri-tourism but there is scope for cultural tourism to feature in destination management planning.
The major regional airport is based in Wagga Wagga, with direct flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Visual arts practice occurs at all levels across the region. There is only one regional gallery in the region – the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, a cultural facility of the Wagga Wagga City Council. Wagga also host two galleries at tertiary institutions, H.R. Gallop Gallery at Charles Sturt University and Gallery 43 at TAFE NSW. Across the region there are dedicated ongoing exhibition spaces in Tumut, Temora, Cootamundra and West Wyalong that exhibit mainly local artists with some visiting exhibitions. Art societies, co-ops and visual arts group exist across the region providing shared studios, workshop programs and art prizes. There is a distinct lack of commercial galleries focussed on the works of the region’s artists.
For the last eight years Wagga Wagga has invested heavily in Public Art through a well-regarded policy of retaining 1% of funds from Council’s capital works program funded from general revenue for Public Art. This policy is about to change capping the amount of money that can be retained each year to $50,000. At the same time smaller communities are investing in Public Art both through Council and community fundraising, with Bland Shire Council commissioning two large works including a silo painting. Lockhart Shire Council is developing a collection of sculptures from the Spirit of the Land Festival’s National Farm Art Prize. Gundagai have just unveiled a bronze statue celebrating the heroics of Wiradjuri man Yarri, who rescued 50 people during the great flood of 1852.
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.
Charles Sturt University has been having great successes with students and graduates from its Photography courses with students regularly being short-listed for major national and international prizes.
Professional Theatre is focussed at the Wagga Wagga City Council’s 480-seat Civic Theatre which hosts professional touring work as well as community based productions. The University operates the 200-seat thrust stage Riverina Playhouse which is the home for the University Theatre Ensemble. It is both a teaching space and available for hire. 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. Over the last five years Eastern Riverina Arts has been working with small presenters to tour professional work developed locally and from visiting productions.
There are currently no professional theatre companies in the region. The School of Arts Community Theatre (Wagga Wagga) and CADAS (Cootamundra) are the most active amateur theatre groups in the region.
Dance schools are strongly attended right across the region. A recent partnership between the Arts Centre Cootamundra and Murmuration Dance Theatre will see the development of integrated dance practice in the region.
Music is strongly represented in the region with the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, who host a concert series as well as support a number of choirs and choral groups.
Screen culture is growing in the region. A number of feature films have been shot in the region over the last five years taking advantage of the regions’ varied landscapes and welcoming communities. The number of filmmakers is growing steadily and a new film festival has started in Temora in addition to 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. Charles Sturt Univeristy in Wagga offers specialisation in animation and TV production and have well resourced facilities for its students.
The region is serviced by the Booranga Writer’s Centre, a state funded partnership with Charles Sturt University. The writer’s centre hosts writers-in-residences, workshops, readings and for the last twenty-five years published an annual anthology of Australian poetry and prose.
All the libraries in our region are members of the Riverina Regional Libraries network and are vital space for not only the promotion of literature through author talks, book clubs and increasingly other art forms.
There are nearly twenty museums in the region. Most are local museums showcasing their local history but there are several specialist museums including the Temora Aviation Museum. All of the local museums with the exception of the Museum of the Riverina, the Temora Rural Museum and the Temora Aviation Museum are managed and staffed by volunteers. The Museum of the Riverina provides outreach support to many of the region’s museums and a number of Councils share a museum advisor. A number of the smaller museums host significant collections including the Pioneer Women’s Hut near Tumbarumba and the Greens Gunyah Museum in Lockhart.
Across the region there are approximately 20 regular festivals including: ‘Spirit of the Land’ in Lockhart and ‘Tumbafest’ in Tumbarumba, Fusion in Wagga Wagga and Lanterns on the Lagoon in Tumut attracting significant visitation and state funding. Illuminute is a new festival in Wagga Wagga focussing on light and sound.
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.
- Eastern Riverina Arts conducted a cultural infrastructure needs survey. Key demands in Wagga Wagga included a small flexible performance space, lack of exhibition space for experimental work or for early career artists, difficulties in obtaining affordable studio space as well as a lack of a ‘hub’ to meet and collaborate with other artists and to undertake workshops or deliver workshops.
- Outside of Wagga Wagga there is growing interest in developing community arts spaces, community cinemas and performance spaces
- Towns that already have the cultural infrastructure are now seeking to find ways to sustain infrastructure, and develop programming.
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 seventh 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.
- Wiradjuri language and cultural studies are available at Charles Sturt University
- Strategies for the establishment of Wiradjuri cultural centre require developing and support
- Weaving continues to be used as both a process of cultural reclamation and of reconciliation locally.
- A dedicated Aboriginal arts officer in the region would be beneficial
- Career pathways and employment opportunities for artists, arts workers and creative industries professionals in the region are limited.
- Growing trend for graduates from CSU to consider staying regionally for a number of years to develop practice before leaving to metropolitan centres. The Young Regional Arts Scholarship has been particularly helpful with this.
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.
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.
- Financial support for the Regional Arts Board (Eastern Riverina Arts) remains committed from all eight LGAs
- Aging population and population decline.
- Difficulties in promoting arts and cultural activity outside the region.
- A sense of disconnectedness and isolation between creative practitioners within our region.
- Lack of youth arts development.
- Huge potential in creative ageing and other arts & health projects.
- 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.
- Repurposing of existing Government infrastructure to make space available for studio, exhibition and performance across the region both in established venues and in repurposed spaces.
- To develop the region as an area of best practice in developing arts practice in CaLD communites in regional NSW.
- 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.
Aboriginal Population and Language Groups
- Approximately 3,500 Aboriginal people live in the region (approximately 3% of the general population)
- Highest concentration of Aboriginal people live in Junee and Wagga Wagga.
Aboriginal Arts Organisations