How We can Harness the Passion of our Subcultures
The term “arts and culture” is thrown around a fair bit, especially when developers and councils are talking about wanting to engage with the local creative practitioners in a community. But I’m wary of it becoming a generalist buzz word that, by the end of it all, loses all its meaning.
Australia’s arts and culture scene is built up around an intertwined complex series of subcultures, each with their own passion and overlapping social circles. These subcultures, are small, integral groups that make up the social fabric of a city. But the important thing to remember is that they’re passionate about what they do. These subcultures might be as broad as a whole city’s music scene, or as specific as a weekly pottery class.
So what does it actually mean to engage with arts and culture within a community? Who or what does this encompass? Is there a way to cater to everyone, is there a blanket solution? And with such a broad spectrum of subcultures, how do we ensure we foster all these creative communities on a deeper level? These are such broad questions which I’m not sure I have all the answers to, but I’ll try and deconstruct them as much as possible.
Generally speaking, arts and culture is made up of the visual arts, theatre, music, writers, poets, and more. You can break down these creative practitioners even further - the visual arts, for example, is made up of painters, ceramicists, cartoonists, sculptors, the list goes on. The same goes for writers, designers, musicians - everyone has their own special interest or area of expertise. It’s important to note here as well, that we shouldn’t be boxing people in. Creative pioneers across the globe, are often multi-disciplined. Musicians can be visual artists or writers as well, an artist might paint as well as sculpt, and an actor may be a keen screenwriters where time permits.
When in the early stages of a development, I’d really urge developers to think about the social and creative makeup of the area in which they’re constructing. Consult with the community about what subcultures are active in the area, and what groups or initiatives are in need of space and resources. With this in mind, it’s important to develop places, assets, and infrastructure around the people that are, or will be, inhabiting it, ensuring its relevance, and subsequent use. I wrote an article about Artscape, an initiative in Canada, which is an amazing case study for the opportunities and communities created when this is taken into account, and a community’s artists are put at the forefront.
I think it’s about time that we refine this all too common generalist approach to arts and culture, completely changing the way we think about it. I feel that it’s often used as an umbrella term, which won’t help foster organic, genuine connections in the community. We need to hone in on the specifics - Art Pharmacy can provide guidance on how to get the best from our local arts community.
There’s a real missed opportunity when there’s a very non-specific, “appropriate for every use” space built, when you know there’s an extremely active group with a specific interest needing space. I would argue that targeting smaller groups of people with a deep, definitive, passion, would be just as useful, if not more useful, than trying to appeal to everyone with a blank, everyman sort of space that isn’t really designed to appeal to any group in particular.
I think a good way of framing it is to look at it like this; where’s the engagement if you’re building a ceramics studio in a community of painters. Or you’ll be leaving a lot of people disappointed if the only music venues that exist in a suburb are pubs or bars, when there’s a large portions of gig goers that are under-age.
Most of the time, local councils have this focus on people, and try to develop public art projects and programs that will benefit both the artists and the community at large. The Inner West Council in Sydney have the EDGE program, “a strategy to fuel creativity by showcasing cutting edge creatives, and supporting artists to not only survive, but thrive.'' We’ve worked closely with EDGE as part of Culture Scouts, so I’ve been on the ground and seen the artists that it’s supporting, and it’s wonderful to see that engagement between artists and council. But I definitely think we can take this further.
One thing to note about these subcultures, is the passion in which they approach things. ARI’s (artist-run initiatives) will often take matters into their own hands, creating spaces specific to the needs of those inhabiting them. There’s 107 Projects, Monster Mouse, and Boomalli Aboriginal Artists’ Co-op in Sydney, and Blak Dot Gallery, School House Studios, and Bus Projects, in Melbourne. These artists have built their own spaces to showcase, and develop their passions for art and music. The incredible coexisting subcultures not only live here, but are absolutely thriving.
I would love to see everyone learning a lesson from these ARI’s - developers, councils, and artists alike, to reassess how we can work together to develop programs, infrastructure, studio spaces, music venues, etc. for the full benefit for all involved. I feel that it’s simply good business, you want to invest in something that’s going to get you the greatest return. So invest in things that are going to help the creative pioneers in your community thrive, listen to their needs, and work together to build better art filled communities.