Trip Tips: Notes from Newman and the Mid West

Trip Tips: Notes from Newman and the Mid West

Regional Arts WA

Written by Jon Solmundson

The last week of January was a blisteringly fast crash course in the Mid West’s regional arts scene – or at least how things worked in the handful of towns and shires we were able to visit – as myself (Communications Assistant Jon Solmundson) and Investment Officer Tegan Morey travelled from Mullewa to Newman to share advice on arts funding and communications.

Our trip primarily helped people with any queries they might have about the Project Fund (now open until 16 March). There there was heaps to learn, plenty of surprises, and I wanted to share with you the common threads we found people brought up in conversation with us.

Newman, captured from the top of Radio Hill. Picture by Jon Solmundson

“The town runs on Facebook”

One of the things that we try to work out on the Communications team at Country Arts WA is the best way to get the message about our grants and programs out to the people who need to hear it. What that means is changing pretty rapidly though: Just a few years ago the majority of our efforts were directed towards print and radio messages, now it’s all online – specifically Facebook.

While that’s what the numbers have told us, it’s a relief to hear it from community leaders themselves. In both Mount Magnet and Newman someone used the exact words “the town runs on Facebook”. That’s knowledge I think everyone in the sector can take advantage of.

If your town “runs on Facebook” there’s a good chance that one or two pages are followed by almost every social media user in town. Maybe it’s the local noticeboard page, or a local buy and sell. For Mt Magnet it was the local post office “Mt Magnet Post & Lotteries”, for Newman it was the “Newman Community Discussion” group.

Whatever it is, it shouldn’t take you too long asking around to figure it out (you may already use it yourself). Once you’ve got that you’ve got a few good options:

  • Chat to the page administrator – You might just find that the page administrator is a keen supporter of local arts and is happy to give your event a shout-out – maybe it’s even someone you know! If the page makes a post about your event hopefully most people in town will hear about it, and plenty of them will come.
  • Tag the page in your own posts – If the page administrator is proving a little difficult to track down tagging the page is a great way of getting their attention. If you’ve got a good post with some pictures or video, the page might even share it themselves – getting your message out further than just your existing network.
  • Post on the page itself – This can be a tricky one, because popular pages often get lots and lots of visitor posts, but if you’ve tried everything else a little extra promotion never hurts – especially if it brings someone new into your network. Just don’t expect any huge returns on this one.

Newman locals discuss funding and communications strategy with Country Arts WA staff. Picture by Jon Solmundson

The wheels keep on turning

It’s impossible to ignore the transient nature of modern regional life. Almost everyone I talked to had a lament about how a certain staff member at the shire, or volunteers from their local groups, or in many cases a good portion of the town’s actual population had packed up and left (or become FIFO).

This often seemed like an insurmountable challenge because just as things were really getting moving, someone essential to the operation would move on, bringing the whole effort back to zero.

There’s no great, silver-bullet solution for this. It’s an incredible challenge to try and create something when you can’t rely on a stable foundation – but we did have a heartening article from Ravensthorpe Regional Arts Council’s Kirsty Duffy recently that showed the possibility for a remote working model. To take that possibility one step further, it seems like getting the arts flowing in a community isn’t so much about getting the current leaders on board (as they may change on any given week) but rather about finding and banding together the people who really care about the place, as they will continue to care (and continue to provide their time and expertise) even if another place calls them away from the community.

Tegan after the first funding meeting in Mullewa.

Keeping it local

The one thing that the regional artists we met all had consensus on was a desire to see local artists celebrated in local cultural events. While it’s always nice to have a big-name from outside the community come in for a workshop or show, the best outcome is always to inspire the people who make up that town to create incredible works themselves.

The best way to make sure that this inspiration takes place? Ask people what they want, and serve them art they actually care about. We had a fantastic chat with the folks at Martu Mili in Newman about the lengths they go to to ensure their remote artists are able to work in places that resonate with their memories and emotions – and the results show in the incredible quality of work.

It’s something we hear a lot of from the presenting side of things; shows that echo anxieties or experiences in the community do much better than shows that aren’t as relatable. Community arts projects should be drawn out of the desires of the community. That agency, that ability to create or enjoy something that is reflective of their everyday lives, that is what will keep them coming back.

The funding information trip helps to answer a lot of questions about Country Arts WA’s grants, most of them are about the Project Fund – which offers up to $15,000 for individuals and $30,000 for community organisations to create incredible arts projects of all artforms throughout regional WA. The current round is open until 16 March 2018, and you can read more and apply now here.

The Project Fund is supported by Regional Arts Fund, an Australian Government initiative supporting the arts in regional and remote Australia. The Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund is provided through Regional Arts Australia.

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