Our mission here at Regional Arts Victoria is to inspire art across the state. Small Town Transformations, as one part of this mission, has already fulfilled this in a significant way – and the six selected towns are yet to embark on delivering their projects!
The state was once again ignited by the profound question How can art transform your town? It is a question that can challenge, that is open to diverse interpretation. But what it most definitely does is stimulate. It presents the possibility of change and vitally, it places art at the centre of that conversation.
In the current political climate around the arts and society, it is worth reminding ourselves that there is much compelling data to demonstrate the very real value that the arts can contribute to our lives. Significant measurable benefits can be found in education; health and wellbeing; economic development; tourism; and broader societal relationships. These are the transformative ambitions of Small Town Transformations.
In asking this question of individual communities across the state, Small Town Transformations has already succeeded in engaging communities with an alternative agenda; enabling a plan for cultural change in order to create better communities to live in; stimulating ideas of what a creative economy can be; connecting communities with each other, with local business and local government; and thinking about creating art for its own intrinsic worth.
We received 73 Expressions of Interest from 71 towns – the very definition of a state-wide program! Each applicant was asked to look closely at their town, to identify its needs; to imagine and develop creative projects to address that need; how their community might participate in delivering their ideas; how their town and its visitors might participate, develop skills, and have experiences previously unavailable; and to plan the legacy of their project.
The significant job of assessment and selection was then undertaken by the program’s independent panel. A shortlist of 14 towns were invited to submit a more detailed application. Finally, six projects were selected – and what an extraordinary group they are. The diversity, innovation and ambition of regional Victoria is contained in all of these projects – the next two years will be truly transformative for these towns, to the benefit of us all.
Those towns not selected have reported that the extensive process they have undertaken to answer the question ‘How can art transform your town?’ has already produced significant benefits. New relationships have been formed and existing ones strengthened. The momentum to realise discrete parts of larger projects via alternative pathways is there. Relationships with Regional Arts Victoria and the wider arts community will continue to grow with our ongoing support, expertise and advice.
At the end of this iteration of Small Town Transformations, eleven towns will have undergone a significant cultural change – five from the previous program plus the current six. This represents an extraordinary investment in the cultural health of our state and we are very happy to be able to manage this on behalf of the State Government.
Small Town Transformations is just one of the pathways for Regional Arts Victoria to inspire art across the state – and what a wonderful process it has been so far.