Arts tourism key to reviving communities

Music festivals and arts workshops could play a role in restoring bushfire-affected communities.
Music festivals and arts workshops could play a role in restoring bushfire-affected communities.

Music festivals and art workshops are helping to reinvigorate Australia's bushfire-ravaged communities with an increasing number of tourists willing to spend big on cultural experiences, a report says.

The Domestic Arts Tourism report found artistic and cultural offerings attracted more than 13 million intrastate visitors in 2018, particularly to regional and rural areas.

Australians wanting a cultural adventure travelled further, stayed up to two days longer and spent $400 more than the average domestic tourist, the report said.

And though cultural attractions in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane enticed the most day-trippers, regional towns and communities had a greater proportion of art-seeking tourists.

Arts activities - from museum visits to pottery workshops - were the fourth most popular choice in 2018 for tourists staying in an area overnight, behind sightseeing, shopping and going to the beach.

The culture-seekers contributed about $14.3 billion to the tourism sector.

Lead author Wendy Were, the Australian Council for the Arts' director of strategic development and advocacy, said the data confirmed how vital the arts are to domestic tourism.

"People are willing to travel to destinations beyond capital cities to seek new and authentic experiences," Dr Were told AAP.

"More than sporting events or natural attractions, those kind of drivers pale in comparison to cultural activities."

The arts could also play a role in restoring bushfire-affected communities in both the immediate aftermath and the long-term.

"People who specialise in creative recovery will tell you its the coming together, through a cultural project or attending a concert, which acts like a salve to a wound," she said.

Tasmania's premier Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) was a large-scale example "in neon lights" of how cultural investment could boost an areas domestic tourism.

"You could see that happening in these communities on a micro-level," Dr Webb said.

"So at a time when their natural attractions have been destroyed there's a way of other things providing the income stimulus they need."

Eleanor Rigden has seen first-hand the impact of the arts on regional communities in her role as lead producer for Woodfordia's Festival of Small Halls, a series of music tours performed in rural and remote towns across Australia.

Partnering international artists with Australian and local performers, their last tour kicked off in northern NSW at the start of the bushfire season which Ms Rigden says was "hugely stressful" as she was unable to help.

"On the road I was basically refreshing the fire map every hour to see who was at risk of losing everything," she told AAP.

"The people on the ground were incredible, their ability to act when faced with extreme danger, they're just used to being doers."

Until she began working on Small Halls, Ms Rigden says she didn't realise the importance of access to the arts.

"You don't really realise what that means until you go into one of these communities and have families, neighbours, sometimes the whole town sharing this experience. It feels amazing."

"But how do you explain that incredible feeling of connection to someone in terms of funding?"

Dr Were agrees the arts are critically underfunded despite their clear economic benefits.

According to a federal government report published in October 2018, the cultural arts were worth $111.7 billion to the economy, about 6.4 per cent of GDP.

"The report shows that it is clearly a powerful cultural engine," Dr Were said.

"But despite what it's achieving and all the value, economic, financial, cultural, there is a missed opportunity to provide funding that is desperately needed."

Australian Associated Press