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MAV Opinion Editorial - The link between the arts and wellbeing

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Arts and culture are an important part of our physical, mental and social wellbeing. With the close connection councils have to their communities, they know about this indelible link and are integrating arts and culture into areas like business development, early childhood development, mental health and crime prevention.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) recently surveyed a broad range of people and found one of the key things people value about the arts are its intrinsic benefits. Benefits like reducing social isolation, building community connection, boosting self-esteem and the overall improvement to our mental health and general wellbeing.

Arts, culture and the creative industries are also significant heavy hitters when it comes to contributing to the economy. The creative and cultural economy contributes $33.9 billion to our national coffers. Nearly $3 billion more than manufacturing at $30.6 billion, more than mining at $5.2 billion, and almost as much as construction at $34.8 billion. Seeing the creative sector as something to have when we can afford it, is missing the point - and a lot of economic opportunities.

Victorian councils account for almost 30 per cent of total government investment in the arts sector translating into jobs, tourism, education, liveability, social inclusion and mental health. They are custodians and managers for arts and cultural hubs including public libraries, galleries, performing arts centres, community centres and studios. Councils run 39 of our state’s 57 galleries, including 18 in regional Victoria, and 47 of the 51 performing art centres, 28 in regional Victoria.

VicHealth recently funded new community wellbeing and health promotion grants Everyday Creativity and Art of Good Health to connect councils with local arts organisations and co-design ways to integrate the arts into the community to improve health. Projects include a mentorship program in Corangamite Shire, installation of public artworks along the Dandenong Creek Arts Trail, support for regional projects in the YIRRAMBOI First Nations Festival, and an interactive program in Port Phillip to tell stories using a smartphone.

Baw Baw Shire is joining forces with the Baw Baw Arts Alliance to create Live – Well, Come – Share (Stories). Cultural ambassadors will go to West Gippsland to create programs that encourage inclusiveness and community building through collective consultation; and

Brimbank City Council’s new B-Creative initiative that partners with under-represented community members with experienced practitioners to drive new creative projects.

Councils are also using the arts to heal and rebuild lives. Libraries After Dark is utilised by multiple councils including Darebin, Whittlesea and Moreland to combat gambling addiction and encourage socialisation and creativity in a safe environment.

Parents in Maroondah in Melbourne’s outer east are sleeping better after the council engaged local artists to create the Land of Nod for children with sleep issues, using songs, games and other playful activities to explore sleep and get little ones nodding off peacefully.

With COVID-19 taking away much of our face-to-face interaction, local government has got to be creative to reframe how they stay relevant and deliver programs and experiences virtually. They have risen to the challenge with accessible, engaging, relevant, and often free, programs and activities.

Libraries have long been social and cultural centres for communities in the physical world and were early adopters of online delivery. Home-delivering books, conducting online performances – ‘StoryTime’ is even online, and hosting countless interactive exhibitions and eisteddfods. Even the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is online for the first time with MIFF 68 ½. From 6 August, anyone in the world can watch some brilliant cinema and engage with the creatives behind the camera.

The City of Greater Geelong combines arts, technology and history with their Connecting Memory app, telling the region’s story with film, audio and text and first-hand accounts of those who have lived or live in the region.

Corangamite Shire’s We Know Your Name But Not Your Story helps young people develop digital and media stories about connecting with their community. The program’s helped build empathy, inclusion and stronger community connectivity and is now being rolled out in Indigo Shire Council and Maroondah City Council.

The MAV recently released a Position Statement for the Arts, Culture and Creative Industries to shine a light on the tangible investment local government makes to the arts,

On 18 August, I will join a panel moderated by journalist Ashleigh Wilson involving Senator Sarah-Hanson Young, artists Casey Bennetto, Lisa Roet and Jacob Boehme and philanthropist Graeme Wood to discuss Arts and Culture: Whose responsibility is it?. We will explore the role of government, artists, the private sector and the community and how they can collectively deliver a sustainable future for the arts. Contact the MAV to join us.

Cr Coral Ross
MAV President