Study finds acclaimed arts organisation ‘underfunded’

August 23, 2016

Associate Professor Peter WrightA three year study led by Murdoch University researchers into the work of participatory arts organisation BIG hART has highlighted that such groups are chronically underfunded.

Associate Professor Peter Wright from the School of Education and his collaborators praised the transformative experiences BIG hART provides for communities and individuals at the margins of Australian society, but said the organisation suffered from a ‘lack of security’.

“The absence of long term income means that such groups are simply unable to plan for times of deficit, their work is intermittent and project-based, and they depend on the good will of arts workers and others to survive,” said Professor Wright.

“BIG hART estimates that it spends up to 65 per cent of its time chasing resources to support its work rather than working with and supporting communities in need.

“We found BIG hART makes a demonstrable contribution, not only to individuals but to communities and the nation, but to achieve long term success more sustainable funding support is required.”

Funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant, the researchers visited three communities where BIG hART projects were located and interviewed participants, arts workers and artists, community members and funders to understand the project impacts.

They found the projects helped to promote individual and community growth and wellbeing, develop skills and grow confidence among participants, and contribute to social cohesion, arguably preventing pathways into criminal activity for some participants.

Professor Wright and the researchers said the BIG hART programs also resulted in more tangible gains like participants gaining employment, returning to education or entering into further education, or pursuing their own artistic ventures.

“As an example of its impact, BIG hART worked with a group of young single mothers in Tasmania between 2005-09 on a number of projects, transforming their skill sets and self-confidence,” said Professor Wright. “Not only did the women gain experience in artistic practices, they were empowered to draft and present a policy document outlining their ideas for social policy reform to the Federal Minister for Justice at the time, Senator Chris Ellison.

“In another of the BIG hART projects we studied, we found the work helped to maintain and bolster the Indigenous Pitjantjatjara language, spoken across the Anangu, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands in central Australia. This had a positive impact on Indigenous culture in the region and contributed to the development of Indigenous languages policy.”

But comments made about some of the projects indicated that over the long term, the positive impacts of these programs did not always outlast the duration.

Professor Wright recommends similar organisations adopt BIG hART’s practice of extending projects over a minimum of 150 weeks to ensure any change is sustainable. But he admitted it is difficult for arts organisations faced with funding cuts and a less buoyant economic climate in Australia to embark on such long term programs.

Professor Wright also recommended arts organisations engage with and bring together groups of people who would not normally interact.

Professor Wright et al’s report for the ARC on BIG hART is available on request.

Print This Post Print This Post

Leave a comment

You can use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

We read every comment and will make every effort to approve each new comment within one working day. To ensure speedy posting, please keep your comments relevant to the topic of discussion, free of inappropriate language and in-line with the editorial integrity of this newsroom. If not, your comments may not be published.

Thanks for commenting!