What We Do

What we do and how we do it

Cultural Development Network (CDN) addresses its goal of a culturally rich and vibrant Australian society by working to increase the expression of culture through the platform of the arts, libraries and heritage. We do this by building the capacity of local government across Australia to support artists and local communities and work towards integrated planning across all levels of government.

CDN carries out significant research and development into what matters to communities, their elected representatives, artists and arts managers. Understanding better planning principles, how to evaluate and provide meaningful measurement of outcomes, particularly the understanding of connection of cultural outcomes to economic, social, environmental and civic outcomes of engagement in cultural development activities.

CDN acknowledges five domains of public policy: civic, cultural, economic, environmental and social, which are all important and interconnected for a good quality of life. CDN’s work is sited within the cultural domain and at the same time, acknowledges that cultural development activities impact on, and are impacted by, all policy domains.

CDN advocates for a stronger role for cultural expression to build a healthier, more engaged, sustainable and creative society. The organisation stresses the importance of local government in nurturing cultural vitality and sees the arts, within culture, as central to this vision. These ideas have been reflected in a number of publications, beginning with the Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: culture’s essential role in public planning (Hawkes, 2001). This publication has been very influential internationally, including underpinning the work of the international peak body, United Cities and Local Government’s Committee for Culture. In 2015 the organisation partnered with the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Cultural Partnerships to produce the edited collection Making Culture Count: the politics of cultural measurement (MacDowall, Badham, Blomkamp & Dunphy, Palgrave, 2015)

The organisation has gradually moved from a state-based to a national role, catalysed by its establishment of the National Local Government Cultural Forum  (2013-2018). The group comprised of representatives from federal government arts agencies, every capital city, and local government peak bodies from each state and territory across Australia, who collaborated to develop culture’s role in local government policy and practice. CDN also has strong partnerships internationally, particularly through United Cities and Local Governments in the ASPAC (Asia-Pacific) region.


Through this website, our projects, published research, participation in public programs and our monthly e-bulletins, we provide opportunities for people interested in the cultural vitality of local communities to exchange information and ideas.

Discourse and Debate

Since our establishment in 2000, we have initiated or contributed to more than 150 public events. These have been designed to stimulate productive dialogue between sectors as diverse as refugee and youth services, academia, school and community education, disability, housing, environmental sustainability, juvenile justice, local government culture development, and community services. We have also run seven major conferences: Making Culture Count in 2012, Culture: A New Way of Thinking for Local Government in 2011, Regenerating Community in 2009, Expanding Cultures in 2007, The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability in 2004, Beyond Cultural Policy Symposium in 2003, and The Art of Dissent in 2002.

Our activities have brought thousands of people together to meet, inspire and challenge each other toward the common goal of the development of culturally vital community life. Events tackling new topics and audiences are being developed all the time.

Projects and Partnerships

We initiate and run a range of projects that focus on cultural development in communities, with partners including local and state government, arts organisations and universities. Through this work, we aim to expand the knowledge and experience of participants, especially artists,  communities and local government staff, and provide information to shape development of public policy. All our major projects include elements of evaluation or research to ensure that the knowledge gained from the project is documented and disseminated.


We advocate for the inclusion of cultural vitality to the accepted ‘triple bottom line’ planning goals of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Our main tool in this endeavour is Jon Hawkes’ monograph, The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability (pdf summary), that we commissioned in 2001. The ideas expressed in this publication inform our approach to the role of culture in society, as they influence communities, planners and policy makers all over Australia and overseas. The international peak body for local government, UCLG, has recently adopted a policy statement acknowledging “culture as the fourth pillar of development“. We represent the perspective of the cultural dimension on government and other decision making panels through our projects, public discourse and publications.