Culture as a domain of local government policy and practice in Australia


Australian local governments’ investment in cultural infrastructure and activity

Cultural development is a growing area of focus for local government across Australia, with councils increasingly investing in cultural infrastructure, staff and programs over the last decades. In 2014, the eight Australian capital cities alone owned more than $1.5 billion worth of cultural facilities, invested more than $7 million employing artists and distributed almost $32 million in grants and sponsorship for cultural development programs for their communities. The 79 Victorian councils employed almost 600 dedicated cultural development staff and owned or managed an average of 14 facilities each (Dunphy & Smithies, 2015). Over the last decade, this investment by local government has been growing at a faster rate than state and Commonwealth investment. In Western Australia, the 140 local government authorities invested $155M into cultural development activity over the year 12/13, which is considerably more than the $128M invested by the state government (Chamber of Arts and Culture WA, 2015).

Cultural development planning at the local level

The local level of cultural policy is increasingly recognised as important by scholars, politicians and practitioners (Blomkamp, 2014; Craik, 1997; UCLG, 2004; Murray, 2005; Choudharey, 2009). Blomkamp (2014) documents trends in cultural planning, especially in Australia (Mills, 2003; Stevenson, 2010), and international research that shows that the ‘most well-developed and practical’ policy initiatives with participatory strategies are at the local level (Murray, 2005, p. 48).

Practices of cultural development planning vary widely between councils in Australia, because there is as yet no specific training, agreed professional standards or government regulation for this work in local government. Nor is there legislation about the requirement to have a plan, as there is increasingly in other areas of local government activity. For example, the Essential Services Review undertaken by the Victorian State Government in 2010 determined that, as activity was so different in each LGA, there was no possibility of positing a regulation structure for planning or service provision of cultural development (Dunphy, 2010). More information about local government legislation in each state and territory is available here.

Nevertheless, councils across Australia are increasingly creating cultural development plans, also named arts strategies, cultural policies or arts plans, to direct and focus their investment. To date there has been no recognised framework or informing principles to underpin these planning processes, contributing to this widely divergent practice. Within individual councils, there has been a lack of integration too, with cultural development plans tending to be unrelated to content, timing and format of other plans produced by councils, including the over-arching Council Plan that is legislated to provide overall direction for the organisation (Dunphy, Metzke & Tavelli, 2013). Existing plans tend to under-utilise data and evidence, and lack application of measurable outcomes and evaluation (Dunphy & Yazgin, 2015). Research in other states indicates similar issues (Chamber of Arts and Culture WA, 2015).

Peak body engagement with local governments’ cultural development activity

Local government’s cultural development work is supported by state-based local government peak bodies with a diversity of arrangements.  In Victoria, the cultural development sector in local government has been supported by the work of CDN since 2000. The Municipal Association of Victoria (state peak body) and LG Pro (local government professional network) both established their first Arts and Culture Committee in 2012 in response to the growing engagement of local government in this area. CDN established the National Local Government Cultural Forum in 2012 to provide the basis for a more national integration of culture in local development. The policy manager of each state and territory’s local government association is a member of the National Local Government Cultural Forum.

More information about state and territory peak body’s arrangements for support of cultural development activity is available here.

The contribution of ALGA, the national peak body

The peak body for local government in Australia, ALGA (the Australian Local Government Association) acknowledges culture as a policy domain and an increasingly important aspect of local government’s work, in a range of ways. ALGA was involved in the promotion of an integrated approach to local development and planning as long ago as 1993: the Integrated Local Area Planning approach recommended ‘a holistic view of local areas, linking related physical, environmental, economic, social and cultural issues rather than treating them separately’ (ALGA, 1993, 5).

ALGA’s involvement in cultural development is based upon principles adopted by the 2004 National General Assembly for Local Government. In 2011, ALGA, as the representative member of UCLG for all Australian local government, endorsed UCLG’s policy statement on Culture: The Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development, that placed culture as a policy area for local government to consider alongside the economic, social and environmental outcomes of their policies.

ALGA is also a leading stakeholder of the National Local Government Cultural Forum, a twice yearly meeting for local government and other stakeholders convened by CDN to support and strengthen cultural development practice in local government across Australia. ALGA is also local government’s representative on the Meeting of Cultural Ministers, an initiative that brings together state and territory ministers and invited observers responsible for arts and culture in Australia to progress priorities of national significance and common interest related to arts and culture in Australia.


ALGA (1993). ILAP in Australia – Making the Connections: Towards Integrated Local Area Planning. Canberra: ALGA. Retrieved from

Blomkamp, Emma (2014). Meanings and Measures of Urban Cultural Policy: Local Government, Art and Community Wellbeing in Australia and New Zealand, unpublished PhD thesis (Auckland and Melbourne: University of Auckland and University of Melbourne).

Chamber of Arts and Culture WA (2015). Arts And Culture In Western Australian Local Government, Perth: Chamber Of Arts And Culture and CANWA .

Choudharey, (2009). Cultural Wellbeing and the Local Government Act 2002: A Hamilton Case Study,. MPhil, Institute of Public Policy, Auckland University of Technology.

Craik, J. (ed) (1997). Cultural Policy Case Studies. Griffith, QLD: Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy.

Dunphy, K. (2010). Arts indicators for local government: valuing, planning for and measuring the contribution of the arts in local government in Australia, literature review and framework of indicators, Melbourne: Cultural Development Network.

Dunphy, K., Metzke, L. & Tavelli, L. (2013).Cultural Planning Practices in Local Government in Victoria Proceedings of the 3rd National Local Government Researchers’ Forum. Retrieved from

Dunphy, K. & Smithies, J. (2015). Findings of 2014 survey of Victorian councils’ cultural development activity, Melbourne: Cultural Development Network.

Dunphy, K. & Yazgin, L. (2015). Analysis of Victorian Local Government Cultural Development Plans. Melbourne: Cultural Development Network.

Mills, D. (2003). Cultural Planning: Policy Task, Not Tool. Artwork Magazine, June: 7-11.

Murray, C. (2005). Cultural Participation: A Fuzzy Cultural Policy Paradigm. In Accounting for Culture: Thinking Through Cultural Citizenship, In Caroline Andrew, Monica Gattinger, M. Sharon Jeannotte, and Will Straw, (eds). Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

State Government of Victoria (1989). Local Government Act. Melbourne: State Government of Victoria.

Stevenson, D. (2010). Cultural Policy in Australia: Institutions, Audiences and CommunitiesOn Line Opinion: Australia’s E-journal of Social and Political Debate. November 22.

UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments) Committee for Culture (2004). Agenda 21 for Culture,. UCLG and Ajuntament de Barcelona Institut de Cultura. Accessed 8 November 2010.
Published by the Committee on Culture of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), international peak body for local government) Agenda 21 for Culture is a reference document for local governments to draft their cultural policies- the first of its kind. The Agenda 21 for culture was agreed by cities and local governments from all over the world to enshrine their commitment to human rights, cultural diversity, sustainability, participatory democracy and creating conditions for peace.

UCLG Commission for Culture (2010). Policy Statement on Culture. Barcelona: UCLG and Ajuntament de Barcelona Institut de Cultura.
This document was developed by the Executive Bureau of the UCLG’s Committee on Culture at its meeting in Chicago in April 2010. The Policy Statement sets out guiding principles and action for local governments across the world, acknowledging culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development.

Annotated resource list

This list provides an extensive bibliography of resources consulted in the development of this Framework, including toolkits and policy articles, with annotations offering information for readers.

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