Bringing creative change to addressing social inequality

Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre’s Sing to Beat Parkinson’s Project Performance

Can music really change the world? Griffith University’s Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet intends to find out with her new research project.

The 2020 Fulbright Scholar and Director of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre will investigate whether community music can help drive positive change as part of larger place-based efforts to address social inequalities in Australia.


Professor Bartleet and Warumungu Elder and collaborator Rosemary Plummer during the Creative Barkly ARC Linkage project

Professor Bartleet says there are growing calls for approaches which bring together diverse sectors to help leverage community strengths.

“While sectors providing essential services like health, education and human services are routinely part of these collective, place-based efforts, the music sector is rarely integrated into the backbone of these approaches.

“I find this particularly striking considering the mounting evidence base that documents the social, emotional, physiological, cognitive, cultural, and economic benefits that can come from participating in music.”

She said this could be due to the major gaps in our understanding about how the kinds of creative methods used by community musicians can be integrated into the design of social change approaches.

Professor Bartleet will also map the Australian arts organisations involved in social change initiatives to build the first database of its kind and undertake in-depth case studies with five music initiatives in communities across the country.

“Australia doesn’t have a large-scale sector map of this kind yet. Our goal is to record the kinds of music processes being used, the social outcomes targeted and to evaluate if, and how, they are mitigating the negative consequences of inequality.

“This will help develop our theoretical understanding but also inform stakeholders on the best ways to build cross-sector collaboration, policies and approaches.”

She said the project aims to build a framework which encourages communities to utilise their creative assets.

“This is not about grand sweeping transformation, but the gradual turns of thought and feeling one experiences from participating in community music that can add up to significant change.”

“This is not about grand sweeping transformation, but the gradual turns of thought and feeling one experiences from participating in community music that can add up to significant change.”

Professor Bartleet said the research specifically focused on people’s strengths, cultural assets, and resources, rather than their lack and problems, and acknowledged a community’s right to control their music making.

“This shifts the emphasis from community musicians ‘fixing’ social problems, to a strengths-based approach where musicians can work with the cultural assets that exist within communities.”

Professor Bartleet has been awarded $1,062,982 for an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship titled ‘The role of community music in addressing social inequalities in Australia’.

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