Back in 2012, I was asked to write a blog for Arts Queensland based on my experience working with the Creative Generators program when with my former company, Creative Regions. I recently found the article again and thought I would share. There are always learning from looking back at past experiences. Have things changed in working regionally in community arts?
In 2008, Jude Pippen , Sylvia Langford , Rod Ainsworth and I formed Creative Regions, a regionally-based arts production company that aims to build the capacity of artists, arts workers and organisations and, ultimately, develop and deliver successful arts projects in partnership with regional communities.
Within eight months of operation we successfully tendered to become the ‘Creative Generator’ organisation (funded through Arts Queensland and the Australia Council for the Arts) for 17 local government areas in Central and South West Queensland. Creative Generators trials new models of regional arts service delivery and Creative Regions was funded because we offered a project-driven and outcomes-based model that meant little investment in overheads.
Through trialing our model of service delivery, we have observed five key factors for successfully engaging with regional communities:
1. Building trusting relationships
Building a trusting relationship is vital and this takes time.
Scoping workshops held throughout the first two years of the Creative Generators program helped us to meet key players in regional areas and map important issues and ideas being generated by communities. Many projects have been created through this process. We offer networking events and targeted forums that enable conversations within communities, across regions and sectors. The focus of these initiatives is building relationships and inviting meaningful conversation.
Working in 17 local government areas over the past three and a half years has allowed us to build strong relationships with Councils, artists, arts organisations and community drivers through services. Some communities have engaged in a deeper way than others and this is also dependent on one or two local drivers and their passions and networks within the community.
2. Delivering and communicating outcomes
Regional communities are often feeling over-consulted by outsiders who "eat, burp and leave". It’s important to prove yourself through achieving fairly immediate outcomes.
However, it is through the successful delivery of projects that we feel the most meaningful relationships can be established between our company and a community. One of the best ways we have found to communicate our impact is through digital stories, including via our Vimeo page. Successful project delivery builds trust by demonstrating that strong outcomes can be achieved by working together.
3. Travel for face-to-face contact
You have to be willing to get into a car and travel to people rather than expecting them to come to you. Our biggest challenges as a regionally-based arts company are distance, cost of travel and time. Servicing a region as large as ours, as well as connecting with the nationa arts sector is very resource intensive. This investment of time and resources is essential in establishing relationships and effectively working in a regional setting.
4. Individual needs of community
Each community has different assets, needs and capacities so time needs to be taken to get to know the community.
Our initial engagement with communities is usually through Culture ClinicsTM (free advisory services), workshops or networking events. Through these activities we are able to support individuals and organisations to develop their projects whilst mapping the key issues and needs of each region. From there we support communities to deliver their projects or propose projects to them that address key needs.
Our intervention is targeted and aimed at building relationships that lead to project outcomes.
5. Linking others to regional communities
We’re able to assist non-regional organisations to develop meaningful partnerships. We do this by brokering connections with communities to address key issues and needs identified through our work in those communities.
We routinely evaluate the success of Creative Regions and set key performance indicators for each of our programs and projects. The indicators are measured through client feedback, surveys and by compiling statistics on a regular basis. Whilst much has been said about the challenges of working regionally in the arts, I find it to be a blessing. I get to live in a town that I love and grew up in, have a successful career as an artsworker and work with communities who relish the opportunity to engage in the arts – who knew?