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5 December, 2013
Bendigo Art Gallery one of the four galleries documented - Photo: John Gollings
Australian Art Galleries could be missing out on an opportunity to showcase their contribution to society as a whole by not thinking about, or measuring the impact they have, researchers from Deakin University and the Melbourne Business School warn.
In a report - Demonstrating Impact – Four case studies of Public Art Museums – researchers Associate Professor Jody Evans and Dr Kerrie Bridson document the journeys and the impacts the Bendigo Art Gallery, Shepparton Art Museum (SAM), Linden Centre for Contemporary Art, St Kilda and Arts Project Australia, Northcote have made in their local communities.
“In today’s tough funding climate, public art galleries are expected to demonstrate their worth socially and economically to their community, “ Dr Bridson said.
“However to many organisations, measurement may seem impossible or at least incredibly difficult, so they become paralysed and assume it’s not worth thinking about at all.
“However our study of the four galleries shows this view can be short sighted.”
Dr Bridson said the four museum studies demonstrated the tremendous benefits the galleries had on their communities.
“Each of the organisations has followed their own path to economic and social impact,” she said.
“They have provided substantial personal and collective outcomes for members of their communities, ranging from improvements in self-confidence and self-esteem, social contact, arts inclusion and skill acquisition to tourism, new opportunities for artists and personal economic outcomes.
“The visual arts program at each of the institutions has a significant intrinsic impact, particularly in terms of creative stimulation, social bonding and critical thinking.”
Dr Bridson said the economic impact of the Bendigo Art Gallery had been well documented, but other institutions like SAM and Linden also contributed enormously to the economic growth and health of their communities.
“All four institutions play important roles in community identity, civic pride and social cohesion,” she said.
Associate Professor Jody Evans said despite their different histories, all four galleries share a common trait – strong and inspiring leadership.
“These four remarkable leaders have been able to bring together a wide range of stakeholders and engage others in their vision which enables them to deepen and broaden their impact,” she said
Impacts its community in four significant areas: community identity and civic pride, regional development, economic growth and intrinsic impact.
Key to its activities in recent times has been the large recognisable international exhibitions, several from within the art and design arena, and photography exhibitions attracting an international audiences to the region.
Providing activities for connecting with the local community is a key driver of the gallery’s social impact.
The art museum has a large volunteer program. This program enables people who may experience a degree of social isolation when family members move out of the area, to connect with other members of the Bendigo community.
The gallery influences the perceptions of the city in terms of liveability, which, in turn, influences its attractiveness.
Co-production of exhibitions and connecting with the local community are key drivers in SAM's social impact.
SAM's activities result in a boost to tourism in the region, new opportunities for local artists, increased social contact and improvements in health, confidence and self-esteem for members of the Greater Shepparton community.
A significant outcome from the community development programs is the improvement in mental health, confidence and self-esteem for the indigenous community in the Greater Shepparton region.
The community in the Greater Shepparton region is multi –cultural and it would be easy for different ethnic groups to feel quite marginalised and isolated. In terms of social impact, SAM is a major facilitator of social cohesion, community identity and civic pride among the different ethnic groups who form part of the community in Shepparton.
Linden engages in a number of core activities with the findings in this project highlighting the importance of four activities: programs, exhibitions and prizes, studio residencies and professional development.
Its programming is noted to be often risky by its very nature, challenging the role and purpose of a community art museum.
The contemporary nature of Linden‟s artists and their work organically leads to more challenging and stimulating conversations, makes art accessible and invites new audiences to experience the power of art.
The project has a tremendous impact on its immediate community and society more broadly.
This includes the intrinsic impact of the visual arts in terms of creative stimulation; increasing understanding and tolerance, which influences community identity; and a decrease in the social isolation of people with disabilities.
Social isolation is a problem experienced by many diverse communities and those with a disability are not spared from the negative effects of social exclusion.
Arts Project Australia is able to directly play a role in decreasing this community’s sense of social isolation.