The rise of the regional bohemians
There is a prevailing, metro-centric view of arts in Australia; that artists have to go to metropolitan areas if they are to succeed. This is a central proposition in Lindy Hume’s recent Platform Paper Restless Giant: Changing cultural values in regional Australia. In fact, Hume argues, many artists make a conscious effort to move to regional places because of the various benefits regional communities have to offer: creative inspiration, affordability, quiet working environment, and community values.
The arts are an important part of regional economies. In 2013, regional Australia produced $2.8 billion in arts and cultural industry output (Gross Value Added, or ‘GVA’); approximately 24 per cent of the national arts and cultural output. Metropolitan cities, by contrast, produced $9.1 billion GVA from arts and culture, or 76 per cent of national output.
Metropolitan areas are, by nature, more populated, technically-driven and economically robust. As such, they would be expected to have a higher GVA in creative industries than regional areas. Still, with 1/3 of the population living in Australia, but only 1/4 of national GVA, regional areas may seem to be underperforming in the creative space.
However, in terms of the average annual growth rate from arts and culture, metropolitan and regional Australia are very similar. For metropolitan areas, the average growth rate in GVA from arts and culture was 3.3 per cent per annum. In regional areas, it was 3.0 per cent per annum. Between 2013 and 2031, these average growth rates are forecast to increase to 3.6 per cent in metro areas and 3.1 per cent in regions per annum.
Beyond the arts sector itself, creative people play a vital role in economic development. The Regional Australia Institute’s (RAI) Innovation index now tracks the strengths of a region’s entrepreneurial business engine, along with the traditional measures of research and development. The business engine component includes trademark applications, a measure which joins creative and commercial business development, and the Institute’s mapping finds many regions with high levels of outright and per capita trademark applications.
Clearly, regional Australia includes many creative hubs that will continue to see economic benefit from arts and culture in years to come.
This optimistic reimagining of regional arts and culture underlies Lindy Hume’s paper. In highlighting the excitement and enthusiasm around regional arts, Hume dispels the misconception that regional communities lack the creative fervour or cultural clout of metropolitan cities. Hume finds world-class artists thriving in regional areas, and is troubled that touring arts funding is almost exclusively aimed at supporting visits to regional areas by metropolitan artists, rather than fostering a two-way flow.
Hume notes the imbalance of resources directed to regional Australian arts and culture compared with metropolitan cities (for instance, for major performing arts company tours, regional Australia only receive 3 per cent of the national funding budget). Hume argues that this imbalance contributes to a lack of connection between the major metro-based performing companies and their regional counterparts, and limits the work produced in regional Australia for tours to metro cities.
Despite such funding discrepancies, Hume stresses how residents of regional communities are nonetheless building up their arts and cultural presence as a way to express themselves creatively and attract outside business.
A vibrant regional arts and culture scene not only services a local community, it also creates local vitality. Moreover, it adds to the experiences of visitors and arts appreciators from others places.
In the words of Martin Foley (Victorian Minister for Creative Industries): ‘Arts, culture and creativity have a powerful role to play in our communities, socially and economically. This is as true in a small town as it is in a regional centre or city.’
At the Regional Australia Institute, we see the valuable contributions to regional life that arts and culture makes and we are starting to understand the links with broader economic and social vitality. We have also looked specifically into the scale of creative capability in our regional cities.
In assessing how 36 different Australian cities compare on the Bohemian Index, a measure of the number of producers of cultural and creative work, we have found that regional Australia fares quite well. Places like Gold Coast-Tweed, Hobart, and the Sunshine Coast score relatively high on the Bohemian Index, indicating that regional Australian cities are indeed creative hotspots.
As Figure 1 demonstrates, Australia’s cultural and creative hubs are reasonably widespread. Although metropolitan cities like Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane score most highly on the Bohemian Index, overall there is no statistical difference between the scores for regional and metropolitan cities.
Figure 1. Bohemian Index across 36 metropolitan and regional cities in Australia
Note: Circle size represents the value of the Bohemian Index; the bigger the circle, the higher the Bohemian Index and, hence, the more producers of cultural and creative work.
The presence of a rich regional arts culture can help enhance the identity and liveability of our great small cities. This is true not just for existing community members, but also for any new residents and businesses that they attract. Look out for more comparisons on measures of city liveability and performance in our upcoming Great Small City reports.
The City of Greater Bendigo is just one example of a regional city that has successfully re-energised itself through arts and culture. By working with the Bendigo Art Gallery, the City has been able to bring in internationally-recognised exhibitions and, in turn, new tourists. This influx of art enthusiasts has helped fuel the City’s creative growth and draw more cultural and creative producers to the region. It has also encouraged the development of new businesses and a flourishing festival scene.
As part of its revitalisation, the City has even converted its old jail into a theatre and developed a new boutique art-themed hotel that provides direct access to the local art precinct.
Undoubtedly, Greater Bendigo is asserting itself as a hot new destination for arts and culture.
Like the residents of Greater Bendigo, people throughout regional Australia have been busy building their own arts communities – some through facilities, others through events, networks and collaborations.
Evidently, despite the entrenched metro-centric mindset that great arts can only be found in the metropolitan cities, for many artists, regional Australia is the place to be.
What drives the creative spirit in your regional community?
What do your local artists and cultural icons value about living in regional Australia?
How do your local businesses support creative industries and reap the benefits of cultural activity?
The Regional Australia Institute would love to hear your stories and thoughts on this topic. We have a research interest in the role of arts and creativity in regional economies, and are keen to include stories showcasing particular strengths in particular places, people and events that regional towns and cities are proud of, and the impacts that a vibrant local arts scene can have. To contact us, tweet us at #regionalarts or email us at [email protected]
 The arts and culture industry is based on the ANZSIC 2006 division R – arts and recreation services. This division includes heritage activities, creative and performing arts activities, sports and recreation activities, and gambling activities.