ARTS MID NORTH COAST REGIONAL SNAPSHOT 2017
The 22.000 square kilometres of the Mid North Coast region embraces the six local government areas of MidCoast, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Kempsey, Nambucca, Bellingen and Coffs Harbour Councils and the lands associated with the Woromi, Biripi, Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr Nations. The MidCoast Council was created in 2016 with the merger of the former Greater Taree and Great Lakes Councils which were already members of Arts Mid North Coast and Gloucester Council which was formerly a member of Arts Upper Hunter. With nearly 304,000 residents the Mid North Coast is the most populated region of the New South Wales RADO network.
1. Key Demographic Characteristics
The majority of the population lives on the coastal edge of the region especially within the designated Regional Cities of the North Coast Regional Plan 2036: Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. Their associated local government areas (LGA’s) had populations at the 2016 Census of 78,539 for Port Macquarie Hastings and 72,944 for Coffs Harbour. However, the most populated LGA is the new MidCoast Council with a population of 91,958. Its main centres of population are Taree (23,473) and Forster /Tuncurry (20,872). Although all these major centres are areas of growth many other smaller and rural townships in our region are impacted by a static or declining population.
Overall the region is one of the most aged in NSW. Based on the 2016 census data 32 percent of the region’s population is aged over 60 compared to 21.8 percent in NSW and 21.4 percent in Australia. Within the region there are areas of even higher proportions, e.g.in the MidCoast Council area the figure is 34 percent, making it one of the oldest populations in New South Wales. In terms of this demographic, the Mid North Coast is what Australia will be in 10 years, with all the inherent challenges needing to be met now. With such an aged population the proportion of young people is therefore under the State average and this is reflected in the overall programs delivered by Arts Mid North Coast.
The region also has an above the State average of population being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. It again differs to other RADO’s in that a separate arts and culture regional body for Aboriginal culture was formed in 2010 bringing together the 10 Land Councils of the region. The Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance is now the peak regional body for Aboriginal arts and cultural development. This autonomous organisation whose functions include the delivery of the Saltwater Freshwater Festival each Australia Day also delivers a number of learning and cultural programs.
A small but growing population of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people reside in the region. There is a very wide spread of cultural backgrounds, with Coffs Harbour the new home for a significant number of people from a variety of countries on the African continent.
2. The Economic Framework
Key economic sectors of the region include manufacturing, health services, tourism, construction and retail services. The expanding health sector reflects the many people retiring to the area for its climate and lifestyle. This provides the potential for Arts Mid North Coast to encourage the development of creative ageing programs while the strong tourism sector provides the potential for cultural tourism initiatives and ventures. The region receives more than 10 million visitor nights a year plus has a growing day trip market.
The main transport artery of the region is the Pacific Highway. Its continuing upgrade to a four-lane highway is reducing the time taken to the travel through the region, a positive for enhancing access to cultural resources and venues, although there is minimal intra-regional public transport in the area. To travel the 400 kilometre length of the region now takes under five hours. There are major regional airports at Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour with flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and a smaller airport at Taree with flights to Sydney and Grafton. These transport links ensure improved opportunities for regional touring up the North Coast.
3. The Cultural Landscape
There are three regional galleries on the Mid North Coast– Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, Glasshouse Regional Gallery (Port Macquarie) and Manning Regional Gallery (Taree). A new and larger Coffs Regional Gallery is being developed in association with a new library with the complex part of a major plan to revitalize the city centre of Coffs Harbour with a major cultural heart.
In total there are over fifty galleries in the region. Significant galleries, mainly community run, can be found in Gloucester, Gladstone, Macksville, Bellingen, Dorrigo and Sawtell while many others are commercial operations. The region has Australia’s most comprehensive cartoon gallery in the Bunker Gallery at Coffs Harbour. There are also a number of Aboriginal galleries and centres across the region including Dunghutti–Ngaku Aboriginal Arts Gallery (Kempsey), Deep Water Shark Gallery (Taree) and the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre north of Coffs Harbour.
There are now numerous examples of Public Art found throughout the region and a large scale outdoor sculpture competition and exhibition, Sculpture in the Gaol, is held each year at Trial Bay Gaol (South West Rocks). Street Art is also increasing both in extent and sophistication and style.
Theatre and Performing Arts
There is strong interest in theatre and the performing arts in Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Taree with a number of community companies staging regular performances in each of these locations. The main venues are the Manning Entertainment Centre, the Glasshouse and the Jetty Theatre all of which also provide regional venues for touring performances across theatre, dance and music. Smaller active community theatre groups are found at Stuarts Point and Upper Lansdowne. All local companies rely heavily on volunteers and very few of these productions are sufficiently resourced to tour within the region. There is little by way of theatre education available outside of secondary schools and private drama teachers.
Mid North Coast communities have a strong history of engagement with music across a very wide spectrum of genres. The region’s many festivals feature jazz, contemporary, acoustic, folk and bluegrass genres and attract broad interest both within and from outside the region. These festivals typically accommodate a mix of local and touring performers and provide opportunities for emerging local talent and community participation. The small township of Kendall hosts the finals of the Kendall National Violin Competition, Australia’s pre-eminent contest for young violinists. There is a very active and strong Conservatorium of Music at Coffs Harbour providing formal music training and strong music education opportunities within many primary and secondary schools. Another Conservatorium is in the development stage for the MidCoast and Port Macquarie region.
Film and Digital Arts
Engagement with film and the digital arts has increased dramatically in the last three years. This has been led by Screenwave in Coffs Harbour and its very successful International Film Festival (SWIFF) held in Coffs Harbour and Bellingen over summer and its Rec Ya Shorts Youth Film Festival which focuses on the development of young film makers through high schools in the region. Screenwave has also developed a local Film Industry Group. Arts Mid North Coast has strongly supported all three projects and in 2017 added a major screen and film component to its own website. www.screenmidnorthcoasy.com.au Touring film festivals to the region are also strongly supported by the local population as is support for events at a number of historic cinemas still operating in the region.
The region has several literary festivals with the most established being the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival. In recent years the Grassroots Writers Festival which began in Dorrigo in 2014 has also travelled to Coffs Harbour, Nambucca and Port Macquarie. These events all recognise the large number of writers groups in the region. This interest is also reflected in the active role local libraries now play in staging events throughout the year and for younger people in school holiday periods. While the focus of many of the events is literature they now also reflect a broader range of art forms.
There are more than twenty museums in the region. Most are local museums showcasing their local history but there are several specialist museums ranging from the Mid Coast Maritime Museum in Port Macquarie to the National Motorcycle Museum in Nabiac. All of the local museums with the exception of the Coffs Regional Museum are managed and staffed by volunteers, many of them members of local historical societies or groups. The multi award winning Port Macquarie Museum leads the Mid Coast Chapter of Museums Australia which provides training and sharing opportunities across the museums from MidCoast to Kempsey. A similar body for the northern part of the region in the future would greatly enhance and improve museum practice and the experiences offered in a number of smaller local museums.
The region’s two purpose built facilities hosting performances and concerts by touring and local companies are the Manning Entertainment Centre (Taree) and the Glasshouse (Port Macquarie). In Coffs Harbour the 250 seat Jetty Memorial Theatre remains the major theatre space for local and touring productions. Planning is however well under way for the assessment and development of an alternative larger venue.
In other parts of the region local halls and converted theatres provide the major facility for smaller towns. Some such as those at Wauchope, Bowraville and Bellingen are very well utilised both locally and by touring groups while others such as at Tuncurry and Nambucca Heads have seen increased use in the last two to three years. Many of the smaller halls across the region have considerable potential to be more extensively used and the recent Regional Cultural Fund of the NSW Government has seen local communities begin to develop refurbishment and upgrade proposals to increase further cultural and community use of these facilities.
The Mid North Coast has a strong record of successful arts related events with some such as Camp Creative dating back 20 years. Today they range across all genres of music, art, sculpture, Aboriginal culture, street art, literature and even busking and opera. What is common to all is that they are managed by passionate local volunteers and herein lays the challenge, for there is a limit to that passion over time without proper succession planning. The challenges facing these events and volunteers include a limited sponsorship base in the region, increased legislative requirements and protocols and increased competition from sports events which seem to have a higher priority with Councils. Nevertheless the potential remains for arts based events to be a major showcase of the region’s creative talent plus bring outside talent to the region. This will require closer relationships with the tourism industry, local business and all levels of government.
Career pathways and employment opportunities for artists, arts workers and creative industries professionals in the region are limited. There is currently little investment in the strategic development of the creative industries in the region other than in Coffs Harbour. The Incidence of collaboration throughout the industry is limited. Community Art Networks and Councils tend to work in ‘silos’ that negate opportunities for collaboration in marketing, resource sharing, skill development and information sharing. This presents a challenge and role for Arts Mid North Coast into the future.
Education and Training
The last three years has seen major changes in the availability of education opportunities in arts and culture on the Mid North Coast. In addition to the traditional provider of TAFE NSW there are now tertiary courses offered by both Southern Cross University at Coffs Harbour and Charles Sturt University at Port Macquarie. To showcase the range of courses and opportunities Arts Mid North Coast now has through its Creative Pathways website a one stop online guide for all opportunities and campuses in the region.
The last few years has seen considerable changes to how local government approaches strategic planning for arts and culture and the relevant resourcing of funds and staffing. While both Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie Hastings have current Arts & Culture Plans they and other Councils in the region also reflects such matters in their Economic Development and Destination Management Plans. Arts Mid North Coast has and will continue to play an active role in encouraging all such strategic planning. The one negative is the lack of recognition for arts and culture in the Integrated Planning processes of Councils and their 10 Year Community Strategic Plans. Until such time as this occurs it is doubtful that the region will overcome the shortfall in funding contributions from local government compared to the agreed guidelines that form the basis of the partnership between local government and Create NSW for the funding and operation of Regional Arts Development Organisations.