Art, Social Inclusion, and the Sustainable Development Goals

7 July

By Amy Plant-  FORM employee, CQUniversity student and Global Goals Australia Advocate. 

“The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted in September 2015. The Agenda identifies 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide countries, regions, cities, and towns to work towards creating a peaceful, socially inclusive, and environmentally responsible future. The vision for Goal 11 is to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable and features a number of specific targets to guide communities, governments, and development practitioners in achieving this goal.

Arts and culture have an important role to play in creating inclusive and resilient cities. FORM has been working in the nexus of this idea for over a decade in Perth and Western Australia’s regional communities through a range of initiatives including thought leadership, advocacy for culture and the arts, community development programs, and artistic projects.

I’ve been lucky to work at FORM since 2007 (yes, really!) and have participated in a broad range of activities, from PUBLIC in Perth’s urban locales to the West End Markets, an artist market in Port Hedland. What I have seen first hand is the power of art and creativity to foster social inclusion and stimulate a sense of place.

What is it about art that can create social inclusion?

Well, art transcends languages and ages; it’s a platform for exchange between practitioners and community members, and it has the ability to make us think about ourselves, others, and the places in which we live.

An initiative that exemplifies the power of art and culture to foster social inclusion for me is FORM’s work in Port Hedland where I lived and worked throughout 2015. FORM has established a cultural oasis among the striking industrial landscape that characterises the town, which includes upgraded civic amenities, the Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery, and the Visitor Centre. In South Hedland, FORM runs the Spinifex Hill Studios, which is home to Hedland’s only Aboriginal Art collective.

Every exhibition at the Courthouse Gallery brings the community together in celebration and offers different perspectives of the Pilbara through the lens of local artists. Industry workers, executives and CEOs, artists, parents, grandparents, and children share in the experience of an exhibition opening at the Gallery. It’s only since I have left the Pilbara that I understand the scale of goodwill and community spirit that these events created.  Even though FORM surveys community members and asks for event feedback, there will never be way to accurately measure what goodwill feels like.

Artist Joel Moore with FORM Curator Mollie Hewitt, artist Brad Eastman and Amy Plant at the Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery.

Artist Joel Moore with FORM Curator Mollie Hewitt, artist Brad Eastman and Amy Plant at the Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery.

Or, how do you measure what a young boy, no older than ten, was feeling as he sprinted across the Hedland Art Awards to tell me his grandmother had a painting in the exhibition? He asked me to read the artwork story, politely nodding and taking in the details. Later I watched him enthusiastically explain the painting in detail to his friend. The painting was by a senior Aboriginal artist from a Pilbara based art centre. Can we ever really capture what this experience meant and its impact on this young boy? To see his grandmother’s artwork and his culture displayed alongside dozens of other entries?

The SDGs can only be achieved though a shared vision, authentic leadership, and if communities, non-profits, the private sector, and levels of government come together to see them realised. Cities and towns are comprised of a complex social fabric and unique environmental and economic factors. To see Goal 11 achieved, creating policy to promote inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable places will only be possible if policy aligns and partnerships are formed to address the complexities of urban development.

FORM advocates for arts and culture to be central to the way we develop our communities. In Port Hedland, a shared vision has emerged through local and State government, FORM, and their major corporate partner BHP Billiton to create an attractive, viable, and vibrant town. Local and State policy and FORM’s theory of change reference the importance of arts and culture to achieve this shared vision. Additionally, BHP Billiton, as FORM’s principal partner in the Pilbara, recognise the role arts and culture play in supporting their commitment to putting people first in the host communities in which they operate.

Although it cannot always be accurately be measured, arts and culture have a vital role to play in supporting Sustainable Development Goal 11.

FORM’s activities in Port Hedland are evidence that cross-sector partnerships can contribute to achieving an inclusive society.

However without finance, resourcing, and government policy to support long-term commitments by arts organisations to use art and culture as a means of civic development, the potential for arts and culture to contribute to inclusiveness will go unrealised.”

Supported by non-profit Global Voices, Amy is attending the United Nations ECOSOC High Level Political Forum in New York, which will be the first global review and follow up of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.