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‘Arts-based community development: rural remote realities and challenges’ enables communities and development workers to access data and analyse current challenges and opportunities for rural communities, particularly using the arts in engaging issues of justice, society and culture. By using information gleaned from key stakeholders, the article presents opinions to measure the perception of the importance of the arts and how rural communities have engaged with the arts. It seeks to give insights on key ways communities have succeeded or experienced difficulty in the past when implementing arts-based initiatives and opens the conversation for communities and their key partnerships to improve the success of community development in the future by using the arts to engage, educate and grow economy.
This article addresses how the arts can play a part in bringing renewed cultural identity and growth through Community development, Social cohesion and Economic development initiatives. Researchers conducted surveys and interviews to establish relevant data on how stakeholders in rural communities perceived the arts as effective engagement and progress generators. Evidently, the majority of key community leaders and participants acknowledged the arts as an important strategy to harness economic, social and cultural potential. However, there was a large percentage of community members who felt the arts weren’t as effective as sport or didn’t generate any significant socioeconomic benefit. Essentially, five insights were identified from the research which were indicators for future directions for the arts in rural communities. Effective engagement of community youth was noted as important for the next generation of local artists as well as a way to engage an age group seeking relevant entertainment and work in urban settings. Community leadership in the arts recognized the importance of supporting creators and teachers in the arts and providing opportunities for leaders to be involved in wider community issues. Supporting local artists promoted more incentives for talented artists to stay in rural communities as opposed to moving to larger cities for either education or career prospects. The need for fresh thinking and new ideas was put forward to encourage creative ways to engage the community in all aspects of rural life and attract interest in business and housing to promote revitalisation and innovation. Finally, the need for longer-term more strategic approaches to using the arts as a way to maintain cultural identity, meaning and expression revealed the pitfalls of short-term events and programs as well as a necessity for lasting and meaningful outcomes.
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These five Insights are the basis for further action in the areas of community development, social cohesion and economic development. The article recognised the struggle rural communities face as population numbers decline due to political, social, economic and commerce reasons. Unfortunately, this ‘cycle of decline’ contributes to the sense of community being eroded and feeds into other community problems such as disengaged youth and a loss of history. Stakeholders in rural communities understand that revitalisation of community means increased revenue but they have few ideas to employ creative solutions. A Community Development worker or advocate could empower rural communities to analyse and respond to this data with an outside perspective and bring fresh eyes to the needs of eroding community cohesion. The skills, resources, abilities and attitudes which already exist in communities are integral to providing a platform for growth and renewal. By resourcing, educating, inspiring and equipping leaders and stakeholders, the arts could be used to connect with the values, products and services which already reside within a rural community. Long term plans can be developed with input from government, media and corporate supporters to prioritise the arts and promote creative problem solving, decision making, collaboration and teamwork, as well as innovation and quality. It is obvious from the responses included in the article that members of the community know what they want to achieve and prevent but are unsure how to approach these issues with effective solutions, particularly after they have tried arts initiatives in the past which have not been supported, appreciated or have not accomplished their desired goals. The article offers no comments on how the arts can address issues of social justice and concludes that while the arts are important to society and culture, they may not be the most effective way to build community engagement.
4. Personal Comments
While many of the issues rural communities face are unique to their location and socioeconomic environments, all Australian communities face justice, societal and cultural conflicts. Art in varying forms has proven to be effective in engaging with these issues; however, in the past, art-based initiatives have been employed for the sake of art. Conversely, communities who seek to be relevant and effective should equip their leaders and stakeholders to employ creativity and planning to develop solutions across all areas of community development. Using art as a mode of engaging a diverse group of people including youth, supporting emerging leaders, encouraging local talent to stay in their community, building economic activity and planning for long term strategic development should be seen as a means to an end instead of the end itself. In collaboration with Community Development workers, different disciplines could be combined to bring greater economic and community interest, prevent conflict and allow the arts and rural communities to become more accessible to tourists, young people, local talent and investors. For example, communities could plan to embrace team pride throughout the football season and engage young people and leaders to develop art in collaboration with sport which could then be promoted using social media. This plan might aim to bring about conversations about supporting the football team and local artists while allowing the younger generations to explore participating in community life and shaping the future of their town. Initiatives like this have been successful in the past because they have a wide scope and seek to develop communities not just develop the arts, as can be seen in the rural football exhibition at The Art Vault in Mildura (Henry, 2016).
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Rural communities obviously find the arts an important part of community life and recognise the benefits of employing art as a positive and effective means of improving engagement, education and economy. Ultimately, communities have struggled to successfully implement art-based programs for several reasons including planning short-term events which don’t spark interest from currently successful artists, financial partners or youth. Because of this, communities suffer by not supporting their leadership and wider community voices. Prioritising diversity, accessibility and broad development values will ensure rural communities find greater success in terms of Community development, Social cohesion and Economic development as well as discovering the added benefits of addressing justice, societal and cultural conflicts.
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