The City of Albany and the Shire of Denmark, approximately a 45-minute drive apart, are located in Western Australia’s Great Southern region. The region covers 39,000 square kilometres along a stretch of coastline adjacent to the Southern Ocean and is bordered by the South West region, the Wheatbelt region to the north, and the Goldfields-Esperance region to the east.
With an estimated residential population of 38,053 in 2019, the City of Albany is one of the largest regional cities in WA. A port city, Albany is the services hub for the Great Southern region. In 2020, Albany’s Gross Regional Product (GRP) was $2.15 billion, representing 0.7 per cent of WA’s Gross State Product (GSP) (.id 2020a). In comparison, Denmark is a small rural town — a satellite, and a former milling, town — with its local government area containing a population of just over 6,000 people. In 2020, the Shire’s GRP was $0.26 billion, roughly one tenth of Albany’s GRP, and representing 0.1 per cent of the state’s GSP (.id 2020c).
Creative practitioners are drawn to both Albany and Denmark for a sea and/or tree-change and a country lifestyle away from the city, the region’s natural beauty, and other intangibles such as the intrinsic value of creative inspiration. Environmental sustainability and a community of like-minded creatives are also important factors in attracting practitioners to Denmark. Creatives in Denmark experience difficulties in securing full-time employment. Interviewees felt as though they could earn more income if they lived elsewhere but choose to live in the region for lifestyle reasons.
Albany is the centre for the creative economy in the Great Southern. Most of the creative practitioners living and working in the region are based in Albany. As a regional services hub, Albany has a robust creative services presence. The city has a legacy media sector that functions as a hub for public and commercial media organisations broadcasting or circulating local news throughout the Great Southern and the Wheatbelt. Denmark, a much smaller town, has a higher creative intensity — a measure of creative occupations as a portion of the overall workforce — than Albany and the shire is renowned nationally as an enclave for locally, nationally, and internationally acclaimed artists and creatives.
Creative occupations and creative activities in Albany and Denmark are predominantly cultural production. Many creatives in the region have portfolio careers with multiple creative and non-creative roles. Albany and Denmark have, to an extent, hidden creative workforces that are not fully captured by Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census data. Census counts only record employment in respondents’ main source of income but fails to capture people relying on work in other industries to support their practice, nor is the large amount of volunteer activity in the region.
The creative industries ecosystem in Denmark relies on and are to an extent supported by the services and cultural amenities of Albany. Indeed, it could be argued that Denmark’s creative industries ecosystem may not be as vibrant if Albany were not a 40-minute drive away. For professional writers and film and television professionals living in Denmark, full-time employment in the media sector is concentrated in Albany. Albany offers larger-scale cultural infrastructure, and performance and rehearsal spaces, that professional performance artists from Denmark require to maintain the standards of their practice. Indeed, high-profile practitioners from Denmark produce works for the Albany Entertainment Centre, while other practitioners stay up to date with national and international trends in their field by attending the latest touring theatre and live music performances at the centre. As Denmark is home to high-profile and successful creatives, some of these professionals rely on the Albany Regional Airport for interstate, national, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, international travel (Carmichael 2019).
Many of the creative practitioners who reside in Denmark have come from elsewhere in WA, some have come from across Australia, while others have come from overseas.
Creative activity in Denmark is largely cultural production—visual arts and sculpture, performance and theatre, and live music among others—rather than employment in creative services such as design, advertising, or architecture.
There is an unusually high number of established creative practitioners who are highly acclaimed— receiving national and in some cases international recognition for their work—living and working in Denmark. For some, Denmark is a local
base for artists who work nationally and internationally. Conversely, other artists reach a point in their careers when they must leave Denmark to be closer to the centres of their industry. Some high-profile creatives in Denmark produce large-scale
work that involve large teams of performers, and in some cases this work is toured or exhibited state-wide and nationally.
The arts/creative ecosystem is experimental and underpinned by an ethos of ‘art for art’s sake’. Artists produce works for commercial markets. Yet overall, the creative ecosystem in Denmark is strongly focussed on experimental, collaborative, and community-based creative activity. There is a strong culture of community arts participation among retirees, people who have just moved to town, and mothers.
For some practitioners, the Shire’s isolation is a double-edged sword: some feel as though they are more competitive for funding due to a lack of competition and because they are regional artists, but they also feel disconnected from national networks and funding bodies.
There is a perception among creatives that the Shire of Denmark (the Shire) does not do enough to support local artists. The creative industries receive public support from the Shire and Denmark Arts. Creative industries are a strategic priority for the Shire and ‘creativity’ is central to how the local community views itself in the Shire’s forward-looking Denmark 2027 strategy document. The Shire directly funds Denmark Arts, the primary development agency for arts in the area, as well as two major festivals and several smaller arts markets supporting the local creative ecology. Notwithstanding, a relatively small amount of public money — coming from Local, State, and Federal Governments — is invested in the arts/creative industries in Denmark annually.
There is also limited cultural infrastructure to support the level of professional and community-arts cultural production occurring in Denmark. Interviewees observe a lack of professional performance and exhibition spaces in Denmark and some established practitioners are forced to hire rehearsal and performance facilities in Albany.
Albany’s creative industries ecosystem is characterised by:
The creative industries in Albany are a combination of established commercial creative industries, and vibrant, largely grassroots, experimental and community arts and performance activities. Key creative sectors in Albany, include visual arts and crafts, photography, music, theatre, filmmaking and television news production, and creative writing and publishing. Although most of these occupations are based in cultural production, Albany’s much larger population and status as a services hub means there is also strong employment in creative services. At the 2016 Census, Albany had higher proportions of architects, graphic and web designers, photographers, software and application programmers, creative and performing
artists and writers than the average across the rest of regional WA (Appendix A.6).
Although ABS Census employment counts do not fully capture the extent of creative employment, they show that creative employment in Albany is growing. Employment in business-to-business creative services industries grew at rates at least 50 per cent higher than that in other industries, while in consumer-oriented cultural production, it grew by as much as three times the rate of other industries (Figure 8, Appendix A.1).
There is an active Aboriginal creative community in Albany supported by the City, the regional museum and an Aboriginal-run gallery selling local artwork.
In Albany, the festival economy is not central to fuelling commercial activity in the local creative ecosystem and is not as focussed on the tourism market as it is in the City of Busselton, for example. While some festivals showcase the local creative industries or target the tourism market, most of the events run by the City throughout the year are chiefly focussed on encouraging community participation in the arts and social cohesion.
As a hub for creative industries in the region, the City of Albany supports a diverse range of cultural infrastructure and amenities, including: the renovation of the heritage listed Town Hall to create an exhibition space capable of holding Class A exhibitions and a multi-purpose performance space; The Vancouver Arts Centre; the contribution of operational funding as a civic partner of the Albany Entertainment Centre; and maintaining the facilities of the National Anzac Centre and several community-arts theatres and performance spaces.
There are plentiful rehearsal and performance spaces for live performance artists, and studio spaces for community-arts and craft groups in Albany. The large number of local community-arts groups and their activity is to an extent influenced by the availability of affordable spaces in heritage buildings owned by the City of Albany.
Some interviewees indicated that there is a disconnect between the scale and aspirations of local performance groups and producers, and the size and commercial focus of the Albany Entertainment Centre. Regional creative practitioners perceive that while the Albany Entertainment Centre is a high-quality performance facility, and is sorely needed in the region, it prioritises attracting touring acts, commercial performances, or commercial events such as conferences, rather than supporting local grassroots production and performance. Its facilities were also viewed as too expensive for local performers to hire or use.
Until recently, a major barrier to professionalisation for visual artists has been the lack of a Class A regional exhibition space. Although Albany’s visual arts community has a reputation for being innovative and experimental, there is a perception that opportunities for professional artists and artists attempting to professionalise had in past been stymied by a lack of a high-quality exhibition space. The creation of a new exhibition space in the Town Hall is aimed at addressing this issue.
In comparison to Denmark, creativity or the creative industries are less central to the City of Albany’s overarching strategies and how the locals view themselves. This is not to suggest that the City of Albany does not value the creative industries. The City financially supports numerous large cultural facilities and institutions; it renovated the City’s Town Hall to address critical exhibition and live entertainment infrastructure needs; and it commissioned the scoping report 'Creative Industries: Analysis and Potential Strategic Directions for the City of Albany' (SC Lennon and Associates 2014) to audit the local creative workforce. Yet, although Albany is currently developing a cultural heritage and broader creative industries strategy, the City did not have specific strategies for either at the time of writing.
Interviewees, in a criticism of support for the creative industries, suggested that policy-making impacting the creatives industries regionally can be too Perth-centric and is often led by people and institutions based in Perth. Interviewees argued that more policy development and decision-making needs to be made by people living in the Great Southern.
There is a significant opportunity for Albany to develop a heritage and cultural tourism strategy that capitalises on Albany’s Victorian-style built environment, its significant history, and its local place identity.
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