Expanding Cultures

Expanding Cultures Conference 2007

This two day conference was held at Chapel Off Chapel Arts and Leisure Complex in late July 2007. 'Expanding Cultures' was hosted by the City of Stonnington and supported by the Cities of Yarra, Melbourne, Moreland, Maribyrnong, Moonee Valley, Boroondara and Port Phillip and the Cultural Development Network. The conference focussed on the contribution of arts and cultural development to the strength and well-being of local communities.

Conference themes explored included:

  • the changing shape of community cultures and their impact on local government in Victoria, Australia and overseas
  • arts as a vehicle for strengthening communities and facilitating social inclusion
  • the impact of arts activities on health, education and economic development
  • local government’s engagement with Indigenous art and culture
  • improving evaluation of arts activities and cultural development programs
  • innovative partnerships

Conference attendance
The conference audience was diverse, with attendees coming mostly from local government, especially from the arts and culture sector. Others included artists and artsworkers from non-government organisations, cultural facility workers, academics and federal and state government workers from a variety of sectors, from all levels, officers, managers, CEOs and elected representatives. Over the three days, almost 300 people from all around Australia and New Zealand attended the conference and associated activities, including tours and visits to host councils and the conference dinner. A further forty, including local government CEOs, senior managers and councillors, state politicians and state government staff were addressed by keynote speaker Jordi Pascual about Agenda 21 for Culture in Local Government, at VIP sponsor function hosted by Stonnington Council. This reception was intended to be an opportunity for the messages of the conference to reach decision makers and resource holders who would have been unlikely to attend, and given the excellent attendance and the well received speech by Jordi, was considered very successful.

Conference program
Conference delegates listened to keynote speakers and panel presentations, participated in debates and discussions and enjoyed networking through formal and informal activities. The three international keynote speakers were well received; independent researcher from the UK Jude Bloomfield on Intercultural Dialogue - creating the new, Jordi Pascual, Coordinator of the Working Group on Culture, of United Cities for Local Governments on Global Community and Local Government: Agenda 21 for Culture and the Hon Nanaia Mahuta from New Zealand on Cultural Well-Being: Linking local and central government to promote cultural well-being. These three presentations received overwhelmingly positive feedback, in comments such as ‘I learnt an enormous amount from keynote speakers’, ‘Jordi - fantastic. Challenging, relevant, universal’, ‘Jude Bloomfield was amazing & inspirational and very topical’, ‘Ms. Mahuta was an absolute inspiration. Her speech was moving, insightful practical and based on an extraordinary amount of common sense. Our MPs should take lessons from her!’

Local keynote speakers Professor John Wiseman from Melbourne University’s McCaughey Centre on The contribution of cultural development to community well-being: key trends and emerging ideas’and RMIT’s Dr Martin Mulligan on Arts and democratic participation in Australia: how can the arts be more strategically important to local government? were also very well received. Comments included, ‘University presenters (John Wiseman & Martin Mulligan) gave the Australian contingent professionalism and something to aspire to - quality and well prepared’, ‘the McCaughey Centre was a revelation’, ‘Globalism Institute speaker stimulated my thoughts and gave me hope for future change and support in CCD practices’.

Seven of the host councils hosted visits and tours for delegates, with diverse facilities visited including Abbotsford Convent, the Jewish Museum, Incinerator Arts Centre and Braybrook Buddhist Temple. Between ten and twenty visitors attended each of these, and informal and formal feedback from hosts and visitors was overwhelmingly positive, despite some challenges with transport for visitors.

Overall, the conference rated highly with respondents, with more than 80% commenting in the evaluation survey that the overall event quality was ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’, and that presentations were ‘Extremely useful’ or ‘Very useful’ in prompting new thinking about delegates' own work. There were also suggestions for areas of improvements. Most frequently mentioned issues were problems with technology, the challenges with fitting everything in and lunch running out!.

Overall, our sense was the conference was well-received and valuable for those that participated. Possible areas of improvement, ideas and positive and critical feedback will be noted in planning of future activities.

To the future!
A strong sense of the value of the professional development opportunity of the conference was evident, with many delegates calling for more regular events. A modest financial surplus will provide support for the gestation of future conferences. The conference organising committee encourages other networks of cultural development workers to consider taking the baton.

Enquiries to Kim Dunphy on 9659 9976 or kim.dunphy@culturaldevelopment.net.au

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Conference media partner: Arts Hub

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