Study finds Western Sydney artists resilient and hopeful in the face of change

CuriousWorks Stories Project. (2014). Photograph Courtesy of CuriousWorksA new study tracking cultural activity across Greater Western Sydney has found artists and cultural practitioners in the region are resilient and optimistic about their professions, despite a relative lack of funding and resources.

Titled Recalibrating Culture: Production, Consumption, Policy, the research was led by Chief Investigators, Professors Deborah Stevenson and David Rowe from the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) at Western Sydney University.

It surveyed over 200 artists and cultural practitioners living and/or working across metropolitan Sydney. Semi-structured interviews with 21 research participants were also undertaken over a two-month period.

“Previous research has found Western Sydney represents 1 in 10 Australians, yet attracts only 1% of Commonwealth arts program funding, and 5.5 % of New South Wales’ cultural arts, heritage and events funding,” says Professor Stevenson.

The study found most artists and cultural practitioners identify strongly with the region. A sense of community and of being outside ‘mainstream’ culture offers relative artistic freedom to many, and supports both aesthetic risk-taking and diverse cultural expression.

This widespread positive sense of belonging and professional pride endured despite a degree of financial insecurity, with most respondents forced to seek additional employment to supplement their limited artistic and cultural income.

“This research indicates that cultural workers in western Sydney are a highly adaptable group of people who are able to combine their commitment to creative practice with a range of alternative employment activities and economic resources,” says Professor Rowe.

“The survey also maps where survey respondents live and work. It reveals that there is a flow and exchange of arts and cultural activity across metropolitan Sydney. These spatial and cultural relationships should be encouraged in the interests of information sharing and mutual support,” he says.

To help overcome a lack of funding, the study recommends a greater investment in permanent arts and cultural working spaces to help nurture and value creative practice in the region, rather than programs to fund individual artists.

“The participants in our research were well aware that they had chosen a relatively precarious lifestyle in order to pursue their creative interests,” says Professor Stevenson. “This research highlights the immediate need for accessible and flexible spaces for cultural practice.”

Dr Josephine Caust of JoCaust Arts and Ms Cecelia Cmielewski of ICS were the other members of the research team, and are joint authors of the report. The report is dedicated to the memory of Dr Michael Volkerling, who had been intimately involved in the development and conduct of the research prior to his untimely death in 2014.

The Recalibrating Culture: Production, Consumption, Policy study will be launched on Saturday 10 June at 1.00pm at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. For information on the launch, visit: www.westernsydney.edu.au for details.

Image: CuriousWorks Stories Project, (2014) – photograph courtesy of CuriousWorks

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