Western Sydney is hot! Community arts and changing perceptions of the West

Christina Ho


Abstract

Can the arts change how we view cities? How can we evaluate the broad social impacts of arts programs, particularly in elusive areas such as the local image of urban communities? This article examines the cultural renaissance of Western Sydney, long considered a crass, working-class cultural wasteland. In the last two decades, the region has experienced a proliferation of new artistic initiatives, and advocates now hail Sydney’s West as the true face of multicultural Australia’s cultural vitality. This article also documents how community arts and development programs have contributed to these shifting perceptions, analysing these contributions in terms of social impact evaluation. It argues that evaluating social impact expands the parameters of conventional evaluation techniques, which typically focus on program-level outputs and outcomes. It presents a case study of a Western Sydney community organisation, Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE), which, for 20 years, has delivered community cultural development and professional development programs for Western Sydney artists. Engaging with historically disadvantaged communities, the organisation has specialised in art forms that have resonated with the region, including hip hop, digital storytelling, and filmmaking, and in the process has played a key role in re-imagining Western Sydney as a cutting edge, multicultural hub of creative vibrancy.

Keywords: Western Sydney, community arts, evaluation, social impact

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