Growth, Advocacy and the essential role of the arts in Western Sydney

I exhale as my working week comes to an end. Tall buildings are replaced by trees; the concrete jungle transitions to suburbia as I get closer to home. In a physical sense, my home is a vast multi-centred region that spans from Lithgow to Bankstown, Hawkesbury to Camden and everything in between. Home is the political construct referred to by many as western Sydney. The political significance emphasised when the administered boundaries were recently redefined by the Greater Sydney Commission (alas, I digress).

The suburban identity of western Sydney has a rich history in Post World War Two migration. As the growth area not just for New South Wales, but Australia, we are seeing conversations from some thirty years ago repeating themselves. These conversations encapsulate best design for a liveable city – health, education, infrastructure and recreation. The exponential growth forecasted for the next two decades can be considered a process of post-suburbanisation. [2] We are seeing the gentrification of areas designated for public housing into mixed-residential suburbs, tensions are high between the agricultural historical roots and the need to develop up and out for the future.
SYDNEY PARRAMATTA CBD

Sydney, March 2, 2004. Aerial view of the Parramatta Central Business District in the western suburbs of Sydney. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Art and cultural plays a fundamental role as the fourth pillar of sustainability in our communities.[1] In western Sydney this is multifaceted as art organisations are at the frontier of bridging cultural and generational gaps, to name but two. Many artists across western Sydney, such as the Wedderburn artists in Campbelltown and the Lewers in Penrith are embedded in the cultural legacy of the region’s cultural infrastructure. I don’t have time to step you through the whole history, but it is worth learning especially if you are interested in modern and contemporary arts practice in Australia.
A report by Deloitte (it should be noted that it was commissioned by the River councils) revealed that despite having 10% of Australia’s population (some 2 million people), Western Sydney art organisations only receive 1% of Federal funding. Further to this, as home to 30% of NSW’s population the region only attracts 5.5% of arts funding.[3] If our art and culture has the privilege to hold a mirror up to society, what is being reflected?
Sourced from ‘Building Western Sydney's Cultural Arts  Economy — a key to Sydney’s success’ Deloitte (2015)SLXLM
It is not my intention to perpetuate the binary argument of east versus west, instead State Of The Arts as a platform is aiming to demonstrate the true multi-centred diversity of the arts sector and to speak to its greater relevance in society. Whilst the advocacy for increased investment in Western Sydney (and Regional NSW, another priority area for State Of The Arts) is an ongoing one, the gaping hole in critical writing is one we can start filling now. Written by localised creative contributors, this fluid archive will promote the nuances of innovation and community engaged practice that is rooted in western Sydney. State Of The Arts is complementing the work of historian Katherine Knight, to contribute to the foundational  essential knowledge of the next generation of cultural leaders. [4]
[1] Jon Hawkes (2001) ‘The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability’

[2] Natalie Wadwell (2015) Cultural Activation in West and South West Sydney[3] Deloitte (2015) ‘Building Western Sydney’s Cultural Arts Economy — a key to Sydney’s success’
[4] Katherine Knight (2013) Passion Purpose Meaning: Arts Activism in Western Sydney
First published 14th October, 2016