About Us

What we do and how we do it

The Cultural Development Network was first established in 2000, in Melbourne, Australia. Following a national conference ‘Art and Community: New Century, New Connections’ organised by a group of local governments in Melbourne in 1999, the need for an ongoing structure to support the role of culture in local development was identified. The City of Port Phillip, led by CEO Anne Dunn was an enthusiastic champion for the organisation’s establishment and the City of Melbourne offered working space and organisational support. City of Melbourne employee Judy Spokes began work as the organisation’s first Executive Officer in 2000. By 2003, CDN had become established as an independent non-profit organisation overseen by a board of experts in culture and local governance. Manager Kim Dunphy began work in 2014, and Director John Smithies came on board after Judy’s departure in 2015. The organisation was hosted by the City of Melbourne until 2012, when a re-orientation towards a stronger research focused led to a co-location with the Global Cities Research Institute at RMIT University. CDN now has a formal partnership with the Global Research Centre and Director John Smithies and Research Program Manager Kim Dunphy are Adjunct Principal Research Fellows.

CDN acknowledges five domains of public policy: civic, cultural, economic, ecological and social, which are all important and interconnected for a good quality of life. CDN’s work is sited within the cultural domain and directed towards its primary goal, of a culturally rich and vibrant Australian society. At the same time, CDN acknowledges that cultural development activities impact on, and are impacted by, all policy domains.

CDN’s goal, of a culturally rich and vibrant Australian society, is addressed by three strategic objectives (2015-2017):

  • increased capability of local government to support the cultural development in their local jurisdiction
  • increased leadership role of local communities in making and expressing their own culture through creative participation in the arts
  • increased leadership by artists in cultural development projects in local government

CDN advocates for a stronger role for cultural expression to build a healthier, more engaged, sustainable and creative society. The organisation stresses the importance of local government in nurturing cultural vitality and sees the arts, within culture, as central to this vision. These ideas have been reflected in a number of publications, firstly the Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: culture’s essential role in public planning, written by Jon Hawkes in 2001 to explicate the organisation’s goals. This monograph has been very influential internationally, including underpinning the work of the international peak body, United Cities and Local Government’s Committee for Culture. Most recently the organisation has partnered with the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Cultural Partnerships to produce the edited collection Making Culture Count: the politics of cultural measurement (MacDowall, Badham, Blomkamp & Dunphy, Palgrave, 2015)

The organisation has gradually moved from a state-based to a national role, catalysed by its establishment of the National Local Government Cultural Forum in 2013. The group comprises representatives from federal government arts agencies, every capital city, and local government peak bodies from each state and territory across Australia, who collaborate to develop culture’s role in local government policy and practice. CDN also has strong partnerships internationally, particularly through United Cities and Local Governments in the ASPAC (Asia-Pacific) region.


Through this website, our e-bulletins, public programs and projects, we provide opportunities for people interested in the cultural vitality of local communities to exchange information and ideas.

Discourse and Debate

Since our establishment in 2000, we have initiated or contributed to more than 120 public events. These have been designed to stimulate productive dialogue between sectors as diverse as refugee and youth services, academia, school and community education, disability, housing, environmental sustainability, juvenile justice, local government culture development, and community services. We have also run seven major conferences: Making Culture Count in 2012, Culture: A New Way of Thinking for Local Government in 2011, Regenerating Community in 2009, Expanding Cultures in 2007, The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability in 2004, Beyond Cultural Policy Symposium in 2003, and The Art of Dissent in 2002.

Our activities have brought thousands of people together to meet, inspire and challenge each other toward the common goal of the development of culturally vital community life. Events tackling new topics and audiences are being developed all the time.

Projects and Partnerships

We initiate and run a range of projects that focus on cultural development in communities, with partners including local and state government, arts organisations and universities. Through this work, we aim to expand the knowledge and experience of participants, especially artists,  communities and local government staff, and provide information to shape development of public policy. All our major projects include elements of evaluation or research to ensure that the knowledge gained from the project is documented and disseminated.


We advocate for the inclusion of cultural vitality to the accepted ‘triple bottom line’ planning goals of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Our main tool in this endeavour is Jon Hawkes’ monograph, The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability (pdf summary), that we commissioned in 2001. The ideas expressed in this publication inform our approach to the role of culture in society, as they influence communities, planners and policy makers all over Australia and overseas. The international peak body for local government, UCLG, has recently adopted a policy statement acknowledging “culture as the fourth pillar of development“.

We also publish articles, lead discussions, present at conferences and represent the perspective of the cultural dimension on government and other decision making panels.