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.
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.
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 www.nsfconsulting.com.au) 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.