The Federal Government has announced $550,000 in grants to 20 regional arts projects around Australia as part of its annual $1.2 million Festivals Australia funding package. This program excludes major city festivals, which are supported by other funding streams, and it specifically targets inner regional, outer regional and remote locations – these being geographically defined by the ASGC-RA statistical framework.
Three of the recipients in the current round are the Desert Song Festival (NT), Upstream (Albury-Wodonga, NSW/VIC), and Mount Gambier Fringe (SA).
Desert Song Festival, which happens again on 11-20 September, is centred in Alice Springs and brings together musicians from Central Australia and beyond. Two events are of particular note this year. From the Desert to the Arafura Sea is a major performance project that involves the Djari Project, which is itself a collaboration between Guwanbal Gurriwiwi and Netanela Mizrahi together with chamber musicians and the Aurora choir. It celebrates the oral traditions of Yolngu culture. Joining them will be the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir and Darwin’s Arafura Music Collective.
Also on the program is Anne Boyd’s new work, Olive Pink Opera, which pays tribute to Aboriginal activist and botanical illustrator Olive Muriel Pink (1884-1975), who founded the botanic garden in Alice Springs that is named after her.
Upstream in Albury-Wodonga is a new event sees these two neighbouring cities join together for the first time in a varied community-based arts and culture festival. It runs 6-9 March and includes local singer-songwriters, blues and jazz. One of the prominent events is Catch the Boat of Faith, which honours the work of Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig through image and music.
In its fourth year, the annual Mount Gambier Fringe claims to be the South Australia’s largest regional open-access arts festival, and it runs again on 20-29 March. The 2020 program has not been released at the time of writing, but last year the line-up of musicians was deep and included country music and cabaret artists, electronic musician Matt Virgona, and students from the local James Morrison Jazz Academy.
Survivability is a key issue for these and similar events. A 2009 paper entitled ‘Cultural Festivals and Economic Development in Nonmetropolitan Australia’ in the Journal of Planning Education and Research identified what it described as an ‘urban bias’ in Australia’s cultural festivals. While operating on obviously far more limited resources, cultural events in regional and remote Australia serve an equally significant role in their particular communities, and the economic returns can be significant too. “Despite cultural festivals being mostly small-scale, economically modest affairs, geared around community goals, the regional proliferation of cultural festivals produces enormous direct and indirect economic benefits,” the paper observes.