Regional Arts was not exactly front and centre in the new NSW policy for arts, culture and creative industries released yesterday (12 Dec 2023). On the other hand, the policy does state that a new strategy for regional NSW will be developed to be completed by late 2024. It seems that we will have to pin any hopes on that and make sure that we engage with the process if we are to see the regional arts sector in NSW recognised and supported by the NSW Government.

Policy has not been a feature of the Australian arts and culture sector, so in many ways, even having an articulated policy to which the NSW Government has committed is a step forward. The last NSW policy was launched in 2014, interestingly by an Arts Minister from the National Party, Troy Grant; arts policy has tended to be entirely the domain of the Labor Party in Australia through their three national policies under Paul Keating, Julia Gillard, and most recently, through the launch of Revive this year. Given that NSW does not have a strong history of arts policy, maybe we need to cut some slack on the fact that our new policy is big on motherhood statements but lacking on some tangible outcomes in certain areas.

The new NSW document Creative Communities articulates some values and makes some commitments, but clearly, it will be in the accompanying strategies to follow that any detail might emerge. Nevertheless, I did find myself a little shocked by how little the needs of regional NSW were acknowledged. In fact, many of the times that regional was mentioned, it was within the phrase “Western Sydney and regional NSW”, even though the needs of those two geographic areas are very different. And while I applaud the Government’s recognition that Western Sydney is a vibrant arts area that needs greater government support and focus, I was a bit shocked that regional NSW was almost overlooked. There is a commitment in the policy to three areas of action regionally: removal of council red tape, support of a regional touring network and the development of four new regional creative or artists’ workspace hubs. Given the extensive consultation that was undertaken at Town Hall sessions in regional NSW, as well as the submissions and online consultation, the policy seems to have decided on three areas of regional development that would not be considered as the leading issues within those regions.

I want to look for the positives, so it seems that we must now focus on the next process of feeding into the development of the new NSW regional arts strategy in 2024. This is so important to the Regional Arts Development Organisations (RADOs) that support the sector on the ground in the regions, to our regional artists and creative practitioners, to our organisations that deliver work in the regions, to the Council who, are vital in providing much of the regional infrastructure in arts and culture, to the regional businesses that function within the creative industries. It is also vital for our own organisation, Regional Arts NSW, as we continue to reshape and program and our relationship with the NSW Government to ensure that the state’s regional arts sector is well served.