This page offers definitions that may be useful when using our Framework. These have been discussed with local government stakeholders throughout Australia and agreed as useful definitions.

About culture, cultural development and the arts

Culture:  There are many ways of considering the term culture and its meaning. These include:

The inclusive:

that in its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs; that it is culture that gives man the ability to reflect upon himself. It is culture that makes us specifically human, rational beings, endowed with a critical judgement and a sense of moral commitment. It is through culture that we discern values and make choices. It is through culture that man expresses himself, becomes aware of himself, recognizes his incompleteness, questions his own achievements, seeks untiringly for new meanings and creates works through which he transcends his limitations (UNESCO, 1982, p. 41).

the social production and transmission of identities, knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes and understanding; as well as, the way of life, including customs, codes and manners, dress, cuisine, language, arts, technology, religion and rituals; norms and regulations of behaviour, traditions and institutions. Therefore, culture is both the medium and the message – the inherent values, means and the results of social expression (Hawkes, 2001, p. 3).

Hawkes also articulates culture as three interlinked aspects:

  • our values and aspirations;
  • the processes and mediums through which we develop, receive and transmit these values and aspirations;
  • the tangible and intangible manifestations of these values and aspirations in the real world (2001, p. 4).

The aesthetic:

… the arts, museums, libraries and heritage that receive public funding (Holden, 2006).

memory, creativity, critical knowledge, rituality, excellence, beauty, diversity and maybe others (Jordi Pascual, Expanding Cultures conference keynote address, 2007)

heritage, creativity, cultural industries, crafts, cultural tourism (UCLG, Policy Statement on Culture, 2010)

The sociological:

the way we do things around here (Paul James, 2013, personal communication)

where we’ve come from, where we are and where we are going (cultural development officer, Victoria, 2014).

In this resource, we are informed by all of these ways of thinking about culture.

Arts:  We distinguish arts from culture, with the two not being interchangeable, but art being a manifestation of culture. Through the arts we can express ourselves and therefore make, or manifest, our culture.

We define art as a form of intentional expression that includes creative, symbolic and aesthetic elements. Influential American scholar Ellen Dissanayake conceptualises art as a “universal and intrinsic human behavioural endowment” (1995, p. 397) that involves things being taken out of their everyday use and context, “the behavior of making things special and appreciating that some things are special” (p. 402).  In Homo Aestheticus (1995), Dissanayake argues that art was central to the emergence, adaptation and survival of the human species, that aesthetic ability is innate in every human being, and that art is a need as fundamental to our species as food, warmth or shelter.

The arts can be categorised into three main forms:

  • Performing arts: including music, dance, comedy, circus, puppetry, drama, etc.
  • Literary arts: including creative writing, poetry, play and script writing, etc.
  • Visual arts: including painting, drawing, pottery, sculpture, sewing, other crafts, video and film-making, etc.

It can occur as a single artform, or with one or more forms together, sometimes known as multi-disciplinary or inter-art forms.

A further definition of participatory arts is offered by arts researchers Brown and Novak-Leonard:

arts programs and activities in which the participant is involved in artistic production by making, doing or creating something, or contributing ideas to a work of art, regardless of skill level.  The expressive nature of the activity is what makes it participatory, whether or not original work is created (2011, p. 6).

Cultural engagement and participation:  We identify a range of types of engagement, which includes participation, but also the engagement of those who have not necessarily formed an intention to participate:

  • ambient participants: those who have not made a deliberate decision to participate but have been engaged by walking past or into a cultural experience, such as music playing in a cafe, or public art on the street;
  • receptive participants (audiences): attendees at a cultural activity, including audience members, exhibition attendees, book readers; also includes
  • active participants (enablers): people involved in support roles outside a directly creative role. This includes roles such as organiser, facilitator, teacher, tutor, guide, board member and others that enable cultural activity;
  • creative participants (creators): participants involved in the creative process, making something new, using creativity and involving self-expression. This includes participants in interpretive (interpreting or representing an artwork created by someone else), curatorial (a curator or creative organiser) or inventive (creating new artwork/s) roles. This term can refer to participation at all levels of expertise, from those who are participating creatively for the first time to those who identify as highly skilled and experienced artists.

Cultural development:  We encourage the use of the term cultural development, rather than arts or the commonly used arts and culture because we argue that the development of culture is the purpose of the work, with arts being the activity. Taking an outcome focus, as we are recommending, rather than an activity focus, as many teams are used to doing, we are best identifying our work with the outcome we are aiming for (cultural development) rather than the activity we are undertaking to get there (arts). Therefore, departments and their staff would be better entitled Cultural Development teams, managers and officers.

Thus, we define cultural development as the process of enabling cultural activities, including the arts, towards the realisation of a desired future, particularly of a culturally rich and vibrant community.

We distinguish this area of work from that undertaken by council staff known as Multicultural or Diversity officers, also sometimes known as Cultural Development Officers. Those staff members are usually working to ensure that people from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds) have equal access to council, and other, services. Thus, their work has outcomes that are aligned better with the social domain (such as equality of access for all people in the community and bridging social capital- positive connection between unlike others), than the cultural, which is more about how that diversity is expressed. Sometimes the two areas of work overlap, in activities such as community festivals, where the desired outcome is the opportunity for people of diverse cultural backgrounds to express their own culture.  Thus a social outcome is reached in the equal opportunity for those who might not otherwise have it, and the cultural outcome is reached in the expression of that group’s own culture.

Cultural development planning:  We use the term cultural development planning rather than cultural planning, because culture exists, with or without local government’s intervention. So we are not seeking to plan culture, but rather to plan the development of culture, through the activities of local government.

Therefore, we posit that cultural development planning is a strategic process of:

  • planning of cultural activities to assist the realisation of a desired future
  • planning for a desired future of a culturally and rich vibrant community. 

Cultural development plan: is the strategic document that guides the work of council staff whose job it is to promote and support the cultural richness and vibrancy of the LGA. This documents are currently known by many other names, including Arts Policy, Arts Plan, Arts and Culture Strategy, etc. We recommend the term Cultural Development Plan, with its implication that it is a plan for local government staff’s contribution to development of the culture of a particular community.


Brown, A., & Novak- Leonard, J. (2011). Getting In on the act. San Francisco: Wolf Brown/James Irvine Foundation.  Retrieved from

Dissinyake, E. (1995). Homo aestheticus. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Hawkes, J. (2001). The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability, Melbourne: Cultural Development Network.

Holden, J. (2006). Cultural value and the crisis of legitimacy. London: Demos.

Novak-Leonard, J. & Brown, A. (2011). Beyond attendance: a multi-modal understanding of arts participation. Washington: National Endowment for the Arts.

Pascual, J. (2007).  Cultural policies, human development and institutional innovation: or why we need an Agenda 21 for Culture, keynote address, Expanding Cultures conference, Melbourne.

UCLG (2010). Policy Statement on Culture Barcelona: UCLG.

UNESCO (1982). Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies, World Conference on Cultural Policies. UNESCO: Mexico City. Retrieved 20 May 2022 from: