Australia Day Awards

Representatives from Dookie Arts Committee Alice Tallis, Janie Christophersen and Serana Hunt with their awards

Representatives from Dookie Arts Committee Alice Tallis, Janie Christophersen and Serana Hunt with their awards

Creative collaborations have featured in this year’s Australia Day awards, recognising local leadership and vision that leaves a lasting legacy. Regional Arts Victoria congratulates the Small Town Transformations project teams from Dookie and Ouyen for their awards.

The Dookie Earthed Small Town Transformations project received two Australia Day awards including the ‘Best Event in Dookie’ and the Greater Shepparton City Council Award for ‘Best Event in the Greater Shepparton Area’. Both these awards are nominated by residents of the community, which speaks volumes for the strong local recognition of their excellent collaborations.

Thomas Patching and Tracey Lawson from the Mallee Up In Lights project with their awards.

Thomas Patching and Tracey Lawson from the Mallee Up In Lights project with their awards.

In Ouyen the Mallee Up In Lights Small Town Transformations Project was nominated by the Mallee community and won Community Event Of The Year. Alongside this honour, Project Management Committee participant Thomas Patching received an Ouyen Lions Club Junior Citizenship Award for his contribution to Ouyen over the past year. Thomas has also been selected to participate in Regional Arts Victoria’s Creative Leadership Program, whose participation is almost as highly competitive as Small Town Transformations had been. 

A Lasting Legacy

Dookie Arts planning Dookie Earthed. Photo by Serana Hunt.

Dookie Arts planning Dookie Earthed. Photo by Serana Hunt.

What comes next for Avoca, Dookie, Natimuk, Neerim South and Ouyen? How can art transform a town?

A transformation doesn’t happen with a single event; its beginnings and its ends are hard to define, changing with each new perspective on what inspired the collaboration, what sparked that great idea, and indeed, when it really all began.

While the thinking and dreaming about a Small Town Transformations project began when we first got the word out late in 2012, each of our five towns had been having these kinds of conversations for some time. They were imagining something that was broader than their own creative practice, bigger than an arts project, and beyond the scope of anything they’d imagined before. From the public announcement in May 2013, to the projects’ public culmination in October 2014, each town was in the spotlight, working hard to create new collaborations that would outlive this one project and leave a lasting legacy.

…And now there’s the question of what comes next. There’s some important commitments that each of these collaborators has brought into being: there are the private commitments to sustaining a creative practice as part of an arts town; the personal commitments to sharing their approach with new collaborators; the public commitments to sustaining new public spaces and new artistic opportunities.

Avoca’s Garden of Fire and Water rests quietly awaiting your visit. A garden is a durational artwork which needs the hands of many makers. A garden writes its own story of creative legacy: it grows, it weathers, it requires careful tending. Look out for the special events you can attend at the Garden of Fire and Water, or make your own quiet visit in your town time.

The experience of Dookie Earthed and the majesty of the quarry has marked us indelibly for what the creatives of Dookie can make possible. Dookie Arts are already planning their next projects, which include the book Dookie Behind Closed Doors, as well as programming the Dookie Arts Hub.

Natimuk’s The Verj and The Thing draw you in the closer you approach the town’s centre. Natimuk’s artists will soon be busy planning the next Nati Frinj, to be held on Friday 30 October to Sunday 1 November 2015 – get it in the diary now!

The Neerim South sculpture prize has seen another new sculpture become part of the main street: Tranquillity by Andrew Kasper. And Neerim South’s Bower, soaring seven stories into the air, frames the town beautifully as you drive through. It’s a profound experience.

Ouyen now has an outdoor stage and gathering area to program, as well as a group of talented young filmmakers to foster, keeping the Mallee Up in Lights. The wall garden will need plenty of neighbourly love so that it keeps on overlooking the terrazzo work telling local stories

As you wind down over the summer, choose which of the Small Town Transformations you’ll visit first – and remind yourself what can happen when the commitment to creative practice seizes a whole town.


Mallee up in Lights Manifesto

At the Regional Arts Victoria AGM and Members’ Celebration in May 2014 Tracey Lawson from Ouyen shared their project’s manifesto. It was so wonderful to hear how this town has been coming together to frame their transformation, it is our pleasure to share it with you.


The Mallee Up in Lights Small Town Transformation aims to transform a place, a space and a community through the power of “art”. By building on the assets and aspirations of the community we will create a lasting legacy and ensure that art always has valued place in our community.


Through “rethinking” our community we aspire to the creation of new options by reconsidering old issues and problems with new assumptions.

Community Participation

We acknowledge that every person has a valuable contribution to make, and community members are welcomed and encouraged to join in at any level.

Community Ownership

We will ensure members of the local community are actively involved in decision making and have ownership of the project.

Self Determination

We aspire to a process that values and enhances people’s ability to have control over their lives and their community.

Building Capacity

We will build and support the capacity, personal skills, knowledge, abilities and resilience of the local community, and foster leadership, entrepreneurship and altruism. We will invite external facilitators and to work with us, rather than for us. We believe external resources have a responsibility to challenge and suggest, but we should make our own decisions.


We value the diverse contributions people make, regardless of their background or varying abilities. We will acknowledge and address the needs of individuals and the local community.


We believe that changing attitudes and networks can be as important as material outcomes. We will work to strengthen and grow the “soft” infrastructure of the community. We acknowledge that external networks are essential to ensure the project’s success, sustainability and legacy.

Celebrating Success

Success, no matter how small, will be recognised and celebrated.

Developed and endorsed by the Project Management Committee, March 2014.

Measuring the lasting legacy of Small Town Transformations

Can the arts really transform communities?  There is a growing body of evidence that they can and they do.  In my work as an evaluator of arts-led initiatives, I have seen examples around Australia in which the arts have been used to help communities reconnect and rebuild following natural disasters. I have also seen evidence that arts and culture can improve the quality of life for communities in regional and rural areas.

Pans on Fire. Steel pan band formed in Marysville following the Black Saturday bushfires. The band continues to rehearse and perform throughout Victoria.

Pans on Fire. Steel pan band formed in Marysville following the Black Saturday bushfires. The band continues to rehearse and perform throughout Victoria.

Following the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009, Arts Victoria rolled out an arts-led initiative which was seen to provide an important role in rebuilding bushfire-affected communities.  The outcomes were so clear that the Queensland State Government followed suit and rolled out an arts-led program to help communities reconnect following the natural disasters in that state in early 2011. In both of these programs the arts were seen to create new connections between people after a natural disaster, provide places to commemorate and remember, enable people to share their stories about their changed environment, and bring order from disorder.  More information about the Creative Victoria initiative and the evaluation report can be read by clicking here.

Creative Capricorn is a three-year arts-based program in Rockhampton that involves the integration of artistic and cultural programs into the region. It aims to create opportunities for local and touring artists, whilst creating enduring, long-term benefits for the wider community.  I have seen evidence that after just 14 months this initiative has started to energise the arts community in Rockhampton and provide broader flow-on effects for the general community.  Over time I will get a sense of whether this initiative will leave a lasting legacy in the region.

Creative Capricorn in Rockhampton is bringing people into the street with street art, food and music. (photo: Tom Hearn)

Creative Capricorn in Rockhampton is bringing people into the street with street art, food and music. (photo: Tom Hearn)

My latest exciting challenge is to evaluate the Small Town Transformations project for Regional Arts Victoria.  I will be exploring the extent to which the project provides a catalyst for the transformation of the five chosen towns of less than 1,500 people and whether it leaves a lasting legacy. I will collect data, talk with members of the local communities, run surveys and get to know the project participants and project partners.  I will be measuring what is logical and meaningful. I will be tallying things such as numbers of participants, numbers of new networks created and non-arts organisations involved in the projects. I will also track whether local communities’ participation and engagement in the arts changes over time and whether this can be attributed to the five local projects.  It will be important to find personal stories to add richness to the outcomes, because we all know how powerful and memorable personal stories can be.

The evaluation of Small Town Transformations is important for Regional Arts Victoria.  If evidence can be found that the program transforms regional communities and provide a lasting legacy for the towns, it will help Regional Arts Victoria advocate for further creative place-making projects of this kind. This will ultimately benefit Victoria’s regional communities. It is exciting that the findings from this evaluation will go towards continuing to build a body of evidence to support the important role that arts and culture play in regional Australia.  But I am not here to pre-empt any evaluation findings; my job is to approach this project objectively and dispassionately, but perhaps with just a hint of excitement about the possibilities!

About Natalie Fisher

Natalie Fisher is an experienced program evaluation consultant.  She formed NSF Consulting (hyperlink to in 2004.  She specialises in evaluation of arts-led initiatives in metropolitan, regional and rural Australia.  She is a regular speaker at regional arts conferences around Australia. Natalie is a part-time tutor of Marketing at the University of Sydney, has been a choirster in Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for 17 years and has provided support for their Board of Directors. Natalie is also a textile artist.