“Oh, the places you’ll go”: An editorial exploration of regional art, culture and places we call home

You’ll look up and down streets.

Look ’em over with care.

About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”

With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,

You’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any you’ll want to go down.

In that case, of course,You’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there

In the wide open air.

Out there things can happen

And frequently do

To people as brainy

And footsy as you.

 

One of the most prolific doctoral minds of the last century – Dr Suess – wrote in 1990 a book most apt in exploring the importance of decentalising our perspectives of arts and cultural life in this state. Ok, maybe it isn’t that specific, however the wonderful text “Oh the places you’ll go” is an important reminder of just how our sector and mindset is changing and why this change is significant.

Regional arts, which in the minds of many is sadly synonymous with craft (a problematic discourse for another time) conjure idyllic scenes of rolling paddocks, weekend wine getaways, an assortment of animals and people which ‘look just like the Sydney Easter Show!’’. And, sometimes it is acknowledged that regional areas have the cultural highlights of both kinds of music, country AND western!

But this isn’t what I see on my streets, and the streets I have lived and loved from all over regional NSW.  What I saw on my streets were murals being painted all over town, I saw theatre in the performing arts centre and in the courtyard, I heard the live jazz fill the main street, with exhibitions in the city gallery and in the smaller, independent spaces across town. I saw the art and cultural life that made the community come together. Why didn’t others?

The most common response I received from my urban born, raised and educated counterparts at university was primarily that innovative, contemporary art may be happening everywhere, but it was more intense and vibrant in their cramped inner city spaces. I heard about the tyranny of distance and how urban centres had the population to support cultural booms. Surely this couldn’t be true?

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Innovation is bred by needs and means – regional area have these, they have solutions, they have artist run initiatives, just like Sydney (shocking, I know!), they have a community with arms wide open embracing their cultural activities, state over.

With 4.856 million Australians living in regional NSW, and the 2015 Arts Nation findings indicating that Australians who attend the arts, by region saw engagement in ‘inner regional’ areas at 69%, ‘outer regional’ as 65% and remote being at 67%, what I had heard didn’t stand up to much scrutiny. But this brought on another thought. If we knew that there was such  reception, engagement and innovation in regional areas, why then could I not read about this? Where was the discourse to follow it?

This motivating factor, to record and bring to greater light the diverse, vibrant cultural life on regional streets is central to the creation and growth of this platform. It in on these streets that change is happening. And the change is significant, our sector is diversifying and regional arts is (rightfully) playing a greater role. The shift in discourse challenges the preconception of not only what regional art is, but its ongoing significance for cultural engagement and sustainability in this state.
This platform invites all readers to look at their streets, and streets they may never have known, to come into our regional towns, in the wide open air. And ultimately it is these streets, which we have looked over with care, where we actively choose that we want to remain there. These are the streets we can see art take hold, and these are the streets that we’ve always called home.