GEOFFREY DOBSONThe Gallaugher Bequest Churchill Fellowship to investigate exceptional public and creative learning programs of leading multi-arts centres – United Kingdom, United States of America.
I am the Director of the Burnie Arts & Function Centre, Tasmania’s largest purpose built multi-arts centre. It incorporates theatre, performance and conference spaces as well as a large regional art gallery.
Nationally, the arts are currently battling against decreasing audiences, and the importance of securing audiences into the future is apparent. However, Burnie a city that once relied on industry and port, is transforming into a centre that prides itself on diversity and culture.
The museums, art galleries and theatres I wish to visit in early 2014, all produce unique, innovative programs that successfully engage with their communities. They place an emphasis on public programs and promote participation in the arts. Most focus on youth and young adults – often the most difficult segment of the community to encourage – all with the underlying objective to develop new audiences.
I personally have a background in arts administration, and arts education. I am published playwright, and have enjoyed the success of one of my works having been produced internationally. I live with my lovely wife, and two dogs on the rugged North-West coast of Tasmania.
Art centres can be much more than a building that hangs art on the walls and presents performances on a stage. An art centre can be a focal point for any community, large or small, and provide space to participate and actively contribute to the arts.
The experience I gained on my fellowship proved far broader than the initial research objective, which was to investigate creative learning and public programs of leading multi-art centres, museums and theatres. The opportunity to visit the exceptional and varied organisations on my itinerary in succession, led to a greater understanding of arts programming, as well as an appreciation for tangible resources.
The research objective to investigate creative learning inevitably concentrated on programs for young people and programs facilitated in conjunction with schools. Further to this, I examined intergenerational programs, and programs that responded directly to socio-economic issues. My research defines the variation in programs that are developed for participation and learning, and those that are developed to produce content.
There is great concern from organisations in the United States and United Kingdom regarding the state of the public school arts curriculum and the need for arts organisations to compensate for a lack of school-based arts education.
Reflecting on my research, two key principles underpin my outcomes. Firstly, develop creative learning programs that are in response to the community. Secondly, develop and implement a strategy of engagement versus alienation.
During my research I discovered programs that are celebrated by both the initiating organisation and the community. These programs are supported, sustainable and have proven long-term outcomes. Likewise, developing an overall philosophy of engagement versus alienation, feeds its way into every aspect of the art centre. An organisation that does not focus on engagement, inadvertently supports alienation, and therefore creates an unpleasant environment for creative learning.
My research identifies and describes the following successful public and creative learning initiatives:
• Festival and open door events
• Young member committees
• Creative spaces for participation
• Camp programs and masterclasses
• Artist in resident programs
My limited time at each centre did not allow time for me to witness all the wonderful programs each centre had to offer. However, I returned from my travels inspired and with an abundance of information, marketing materials, documents and reports.
FELLOWSHIP CONCLUSIONS & OUTCOMES
I have had the opportunity to disseminate my findings in a variety of ways. Nationally, I have presented my findings at the Regional Arts Australia Summit, Arts and Edges, in Kalgoorlie, October 2014. I have also offered my findings to the Australian Performing Art Centres Association (APACA) network. Locally, I have conducted formal presentations at my work place, the Burnie Arts & Function Centre, and have been invited to speak on a number of occasions in the community.
Since returning from my fellowship, the Burnie Arts & Function Centre has established an education and creative learning space, in which to implement a number of key initiatives and programs derived from my research.