It’s 6.28pm on a now balmy Spring night in Bendigo. I’m here for Artlands Victoria : five days of intense showcasing, problem solving, sharing and pondering Regional Arts in Australia.
The theme of the day was Creative Tonic- a dose of the arts to help deal with the worlds ills. (apt during Mental Health Week.) I had been feeling a little despondent about the arts in general and our power to change things but this event has been like a gathering of the clan; a meeting of the tribe. From the minute I got off the plane and got on the bus to Bendigo, I have had amazing conversations about the arts and arts projects with colleagues and peers. I am inspired, assured and envigorated.
I have a head full of ideas (sorry team) and notebooks with links to follow up, artists to engage with and projects to be inspired by.
Bendigo aims to be the Regional Arts Capital of Australia. I’m staying in an Arts Hotel, there are arts trams, art laneways, art trails, live music, galleries and theatres abound. Bendigo is wearing its arts cred proudly on its chest with the local Mayor proudly celebrating the arts and arts tree-changers as the source of its revitalisation. However there’s a murmur of dissent in the room when Bendigo is claims the Regional Arts crown..there are many contenders and they are in the house.
The Keynote speakers today were from Creative People and Places in the Uk and Super Slow Way great sessions about cultural democracy and the re-enlivening of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged places in the Uk…through the arts…. albeit with the more than generous support of Arts Council England.
In another session analysing the creative hot spots we got some interesting stats….there are 566,078 creative jobs in Australia and that is 5.8% of all jobs. There are 95,660 creative jobs in Regional areas and that makes up 16.9 % of all creative jobs. The top 15 creative places in Australia were places which were primarily a short distance from major centres.
The push factors driving people out of cities included cost of living and services, cost of accomodation, especially in creative areas. The pull factors were inspiring landscapes or places, being around peers, places with previous creative successes, close to creative customer bases and a regional lifestyle.
There was some discussion about the tipping point when a country town becomes a vibrant regional city and also the tipping point when a once vibrant cultural place becomes gentrified and becomes a socially privileged place to reside where many artists particularly the young and emerging can no longer afford to live.
Someone commented that you could measure a vibrant creative town by its capacity to deliver good coffee and links to food, wine, craft beer and art. That a shift to a country town occurred when transport from major centres was upgraded and there was good telecommunications.
Vibrant communities were developed by the personalities in the communities who build critical mass. People who could write grant applications, were good at communication and could help build skills. The most vibrant towns also had this in common- a good library and had been significant counter culture in the 1970’s…
So that was food for thought .
Final for the day was a session on the healing power of the Arts. Evidence of the arts as apothecary, that painting or sculpting for elderly reduced dementia by 73%!!! That engaging in the arts improves your life and just as you exercise or look after your diet, the cultural pharmacy provides a prescription for mental wellbeing creating social connection, building resilience and the ability to not only bounce back but bounce forward….
Phew! After all that a cocktail party in the Bendigo Gallery awaited for those with more stamina than I.
My head was swimming with facts and examples and pondering what would it take for us to accept that this life is lived better with arts in it and it is not a luxury but as vital as the air we breath.
till another day