What is regional transformation and how do you measure it?


DSC01907Five small towns across Victoria are gearing up for a big events in the coming weeks. For the past 18 months, they have been on a journey of creative change. Each town received $350,000 for a significant artistic project intended to leave a lasting legacy to transform their town. Small Town Transformations is presented by Regional Arts Victoria on behalf of the Victorian Government.

During October, the small Victorian towns of Ouyen, Dookie, Avoca, Natimuk and Neerim South are launching their five transformative projects. These events have been long in the making and show the promise something special, involving the whole community. Their launch events will be exciting and varied. Here is what is happening:

  • In Ouyen on Friday 3 October the iconic Roxy Theatre will be the centre of the launch event, and has been transformed into a new outdoor performance space, light installation and community garden.
  •  Dookie Earthed will take place on Saturday 4 October. Scores of local and visiting artists are coming to town to create film, projection performance, sculpture, music, food and installations, taking over the streets, shops and the breathtaking quarry.
  •  On Saturday 11 October Avoca will launch its Chinese Garden, designed to acknowledge the significant historical contribution of the many Chinese people who have been part of the community since the 1850s.
  • In Natimuk on Friday 24 October, the Verj project will be launched to enable people to see the redesign of the town’s central median strip and to interact with installations and projects around town.
  •  Then, on Saturday 26 October, in Neerim South, the Neerim Bower:Inspired by Birds project will be launched with a festival. A major public artwork at the entrance to the town be opened and will act as a catalyst for a comprehensive program of events that celebrate the arts.

There is little doubt these five events will be a big deal for these communities. There are likely to be many thousands of visitors who descend on these towns of less than 1500 people on the days of their project launches. The events have attracted considerable media attention and will be attended by a range of dignitaries. But what will determine whether these projects transform the towns? What does transform mean? And how do you measure it? These are the questions I have been exploring as the evaluator of the Small Town Transformations Initiative for Regional Arts Victoria. I have been tracking the progress of these towns in their creative journeys.

Transformation is an intangible concept- it is an idea, rather than something that is easily defined. To determine the extent to which the projects contribute to transforming the small towns involves a number of things including:

  • Discussions with locals about what transformation means to them and whether these projects may deliver it;
  • Gauging feedback from visitors to the launch events;
  • Analysis of program data to determine the extent to which projects have met their intended objectives;
  • Understanding the level of support for transformation from local councils and stakeholders;
  • Discussing with program delivery staff at Regional Arts Victoria the strengths and weaknesses of the model of delivery; and importantly
  • Looking for evidence of tangible positive changes as a direct or indirect results of the projects, long after the launch events. This may include increased visitation, business and leisure activities, and greater community connectedness and involvement.

The transformation of a town must be longer-lasting than a day-long festival. In early 2015-many months after the project launches- I will be visiting the five towns for the third time to look for evidence that these projects are likely to create a lasting legacy. But in the meantime, I’ll be in regional Victoria for much of October enjoying the festivals and invite you to do the same! Details of the events are here.

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