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Strategic summary

Grassroots arts connected to economy through start-up culture 

Geraldton is a regional centre in Western Australia, with 39,000 people and a stable, diverse economy that includes a working port, mining services, agriculture, and the rock-lobster fishing industry (see Appendix). Tourism, though small, is growing rapidly. The arts and culture ecosystem of Geraldton is notable for three characteristics: 

  • a strong publicly-funded arts and cultural strategy, with clear rationales that integrate social, cultural, and economic objectives
  • a longstanding, extensive ecosystem of pro-am and volunteer arts and cultural workers
  • strong local understanding of arts entrepreneurship, innovative business models for artists, and integrated connection with other small businesses and incubators

The public underwriting of important local arts and cultural institutions comes from a variety of sources, including the City of Greater Geraldton (CGG) and state-funded programs and institutions, notably via Royalties for Regions and other arts and cultural funding mechanisms that are common in that state (Appendix Figures 6 and 7). 

These public funds support arts workers and a number of cultural programs and projects, including: 

  • arts-based community development initiatives
  • local arts and cultural institutions and festivals
  • arts-led architectural redevelopments that have heritage and public art elements, such as the redeveloped foreshore and local laneway program

The ecosystem of arts and culture in Geraldton is incredibly diverse for a regional centre that is not widely known for arts and culture. There is a depth of community engagement, particularly around locally organised festivals, local theatre groups, youth arts opportunities, and two small but impressively-run Aboriginal arts enterprises: Yamaji Art Art Centre and Irra Wangga Language Centre. 

The link between arts and culture and the innovation ecosystem of this regional centre is nationally-leading because of the work of a local incubator called Pollinators—a mixed-sector start-up facilitator that also led the redevelopment of a heritage section of the high street in Geraldton, including the co-working space City Hive. These initiatives helped stimulate different business models and incorporation structures for arts and culture entities (such as the youth theatre Euphorium, formerly-known as ‘Comedy Emporium’). They also helped grow community connections between arts and culture and different sectors of the local economy. One example of this is the increase in Geraldton tourism in general and specific cultural tourism experiences there. In 2018, tourism was about 3% of the local economy (Figure 5), doubling annually before the COVID-19 outbreak, and the importance of arts and culture to tourism is reflected in emerging strategies and projects. 

There are strong local initiatives to increase local cultural amenity, to make that more attractive to tourists, to improve hospitality and accommodation options, and to develop secondary offerings for the primary attractor, which is nature-based tourism focused on the Abrolhos Islands and other Western Australian natural attractions. These secondary offerings include Aboriginal art, silver smithing with pearls, and various festivals such as the recent historical Houtman 400 Festival celebration. The cultural redevelopments in terms of architecture and local cultural amenity are motivated not only by a desire to provide an enhanced tourism experience, but also by an explicit talent-attraction strategy of the local city council and mayor to attract families and workers for the diverse economy of Geraldton. 

It is noteworthy that Geraldton was one of the first Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) sites for the National Broadband Network (NBN) in regional Australia. This was enabled by high-capacity optical fibre backhaul between Perth and Geraldton, installed to supply data capacity to the world-leading Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project 250km to the NE in the Murchison region. The digital strategy for Geraldton and the Mid West is being spearheaded by the Mid West Development Commission and there is a reasonable digital workforce. Local internet service and infrastructure providers, particularly in the agricultural areas of the Midwest, are using support provided by State Government-funded programs to deliver high-speed digital connectivity to farmers that is well beyond what NBN Skymuster satellite is able to provide (for the same monthly costs) and amongst the fastest anywhere in regional Australia with greater than 100mbs download speeds. 

Some of the other challenges for arts and culture in Geraldton include the need to manage generational change in the institutional and leadership structures of this strong community ecosystem, which is currently a work in progress. There is a need to further develop Yamaji Art and recognise its sustained contribution to the region and connection to local Aboriginal communities. 

Download the full report.

Page reviewed 11 September 2023