A new report by Western Sydney University’s Centre for Western Sydney has addressed the inequities in funding, infrastructure and resources that have restricted the success of Western Sydney’s arts sector, in comparison to Eastern Sydney.
The report, that involved consultation with key stakeholders from the region, revealed Western Sydney represents 10 per cent of Australians today, yet despite the figure, the region only received 3.4 per cent of federal funds between 2015-2023, while Eastern Sydney received 23 per cent comparatively.
Throughout the same period, 36.6 per cent of state cultural infrastructure funding was allocated to the Western Sydney region, while 66.4 per cent was allocated to the city of Sydney.
Lead researcher Dr Rhonda Itaoui, from the Centre for Western Sydney, acknowledged that the distribution of state and federal funding has prioritised Eastern Sydney despite Western Sydney being the hardest hit by COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Western Sydney received $22.3 million in COVID-19 relief funding awarded by the state government through Create NSW, compared with $161 million awarded to Eastern Sydney. At a federal level, the west received $3.4 million of the total funds allocated to economic recovery funding, Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE), while Eastern Sydney received $49.6 million,” said Dr Itaoui.
The findings also revealed that Western Sydney households spend a higher percentage of their income on recreation and culture than the rest of Sydney, signalling that residents have an appetite for recreational and cultural activities and are willing to spend the money.
“It is a common misconception that Western Sydney residents have no interest in the arts. The limited transport connectivity between the people of Western Sydney and cultural institutions that we know are concentrated in Eastern Sydney, creates disparities in attendance and participation rates, amongst other factors such as skills shortages and education offerings in the sector,” said Dr Itaoui.
“The combined cost of tolls, fuel and parking can reach up to $105 a day for those travelling between Oran Park to the Sydney Theatre Company in Barangaroo. Alternatively, they could utilise public transport at a reduced cost of $16.80 on a weekday, requiring four hours of travel time.”
The arts sector, particularly in Western Sydney, continues to be challenged by the ongoing, profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report draws on an analysis of the funding, policy and lived experience of arts and cultural workers from 2015-2022 to provide a post-Covid roadmap of key priorities and initiatives for the long-term sustainability of the arts.
Recommendations to address the disparity between Eastern and Western Sydney’s art sectors include advocating for better support in funding, transport connectivity, skills shortages, and tertiary education offerings for creative and performing arts in the Western Sydney region. This includes investment in creative infrastructure such as cultural, rehearsal and studio spaces, as well as supporting the extensive operational costs required to sustain and build capacity in small to medium arts organisations.
Recent recognition of the connection between arts and improved night-time economies in areas such as Parramatta, underscores the role arts and culture plays in placemaking and community, said David Borger, Executive Director of Business Western Sydney.
“People in Western Sydney pay taxes and very little of their tax dollar comes back to them when it comes to the arts. This report shows that very little has changed in 10 years. Western Sydney residents are second class citizens when it comes to cultural opportunities. This must change,” said Mr Borger.
“We fought tooth and nail for a world class museum to finally be placed outside of the 2km radius of the Sydney CBD and Western Sydney cannot wait for the Powerhouse Parramatta to open – but that shouldn’t be the be all and end all of arts and cultural funding in the West.
“No matter who is successful after the state election, they need to engage with the arts and culture sector in Western Sydney. They are at the coal face. They are best placed to address the needs of the local community.”
The report suggests that in addition to addressing funding as a critical barrier to participation in the arts, socioeconomic and sociocultural factors also disproportionately impacting communities in the region including Indigenous Australians, migrant communities, women, and young people also need to be addressed.
“Without equitable funding and support, the sector will miss out on the authentic voices and deeply rich stories of the diverse communities residing in the region that are deeply rooted in the local community, including those of one of the largest Indigenous communities in the nation, while also limiting the access of these communities to attend and enjoy the arts,” said Dr Itaoui.
“The Western Sydney arts sector is a culture deeply rooted in the local community, valuing collaboration over competition. As revealed in our consultations with stakeholders, addressing the needs of a growing region, expected to reach a population of 3.4 million people by 2041, including through representation in decision making, fair funding, infrastructure and operational support, the Western Sydney arts sector can reach its full potential.”
The project was funded by the Centre for Western Sydney, Western Sydney Creative and Business Western Sydney.