Fostering Creativity: Arts and Music Education Initiatives in Rural South Australia

Providing children with the time and space for unstructured, self-directed imaginative play is one of the most important ingredients for fostering creativity. This needs to be combined with adequate supervision, guidance and resources.

Despite research showing the life changing benefits of music education, 63 percent of Australian schools offer no classroom music. Thankfully, the Limestone Coast region is rapidly becoming a lighthouse for quality music learning.


If you’ve spent any time on the topic of arts education, you’ve probably heard that students need it to succeed in a wide range of subjects and career paths. This is because the creative skills that students learn from a strong arts education—abstract visualization, problem-solving, collaboration, and management, among others—are critical to success in any field. The good news is that these skills can be learned in the arts and applied to other subjects, including math, science, history, and social studies.

However, funding for the arts is scarce in rural schools. A new grant program, ARTSsmart, is intended to change that, but it faces many hurdles as it tries to take off. For example, educators still haven’t figured out exactly how to apply for the grants, and they may be skeptical that the program will be successful.

But if the ARTSsmart program is successful, it could revolutionize the way that schools in rural communities teach the arts. The initiative aims to give teachers the resources they need to foster creativity in their classrooms. It also provides a platform to share their work and ideas with others. In addition, the ARTSsmart program encourages schools to partner with local artists and community organizations.

The program is funded by the State Department of Education and allows educators in rural schools to receive supplemental funding of up to $15,000 for their arts programs. These funds can be used for dance, theater, music or visual arts (which includes folk art, painting, sculpture and photography). Teachers are encouraged to tailor the program to their school’s specific needs.

For example, a teacher at Westside Global Awareness K-8 Magnet School in Los Angeles used her ARTSsmart grant to purchase an iPad and digital recording software. This allowed her students to learn about the technical aspects of music production while developing leadership skills. The ARTSsmart program also provides students with access to professional artist instructors and enrichment opportunities.

These kinds of partnerships and initiatives can make a big difference in the lives of students. In fact, repeated research has shown that investing in arts education leads to higher critical thinking and less intolerance, and better attendance and disciplinary infractions. In addition, students with a musical background have better reading and writing skills.


In addition to the well-documented links between arts education and academic achievement, research has found that students who participate in music activities experience a range of social-emotional benefits. In California, where a new mandate has been launched to include music in the curriculum for all K-8 students, there are a number of programs that aim to support schools with arts instruction. The programs range from professional development for teachers to online courses and workshops for parents. The initiatives also offer scholarships to help families afford tuition, which is critical for many low-income students.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of many cultural and creative sector firms and professionals. The sector is a complex ecosystem of micro-firms and non-profit organisations that are on the edge of financial sustainability, and which depend on the work of freelancers and self-employed creatives. The official statistics do not adequately capture this, as they exclude second jobs and volunteer work, which are common in the sector (see box).

There is a risk that the COVID-19 crisis will continue to reduce consumer demand for the sectors’ products and services. This will be especially the case for visitor-based parts of the sector, such as theatres and operas, and for arts festivals and events. The impact on the wider creative economy will also be felt by other business sectors that rely on these creatives to develop innovative goods and services, such as advertising and marketing.

Many governments have stepped in to provide short-term relief for artists and the sector. In some cases, this has involved extending government grant funding to bolster performance targets for venues and events during the pandemic, as well as providing direct employment to freelancers in the sector. Other governments have taken more comprehensive measures, such as allowing cultural organisations to suspend contractual delivery targets during the pandemic, and offering funding programmes like Pay to Train, which provides professional development opportunities for creative workers in vulnerable sub-sectors of the industry.

Among the most important interventions has been a focus on music and other creative activities as a tool for social inclusion and resilience. These initiatives are being backed by a range of community partners, including private philanthropy. For example, the Lewis Prize for Music directs millions of dollars to organizations that work with young people in high-need communities. These groups partner with local schools to bolster English-learner programs through music, bring music to juvenile court schools, and provide culturally rooted musical instruction to diverse youth.

Regional Conservatoriums

Regional Conservatoriums are hubs for schools, music education and performance. They’ve never been busier or more challenged to meet their communities’ needs and acquit funding. But their mission is a noble one and worth wholeheartedly supporting, writes Graham Sattler in The Adelaide Review.

The latest evaluation of regional conservatoriums by the ANSWRC (Association of NSW regional Conservatoriums) revealed high levels of satisfaction among teachers, students and their parents. But it also highlighted a number of areas that need attention to improve the value and quality of their services. A focus on improving communications and certain operational aspects could see them better meet the needs of their stakeholders, especially schools.

For example, NECOM in Armidale is a thriving regional conservatorium that serves government schools, teachers and students across the 53,000 sq km northern tablelands region. Its annual stats are impressive: 18,000 attendances at community concerts and events; 2,638 hours of classroom music curriculum delivered; engagement with 57 schools, 13,000 students and teachers; 70 instrumental and choral ensemble rehearsals; and 7,085 hours of music tuition.

These numbers are impressive, but they don’t tell the full story. The real story is about the commitment and hard work of a dedicated team of staff and volunteers at the YMC who believe in their vision: that every person should have access to the transformative power of music. They know that this will only happen if they are fully supported by the community.

Despite the challenges, they’re not giving up on their dream and they’re making sure that young people in rural New South Wales have access to a wide range of musical opportunities. They’re doing it with the help of a group of passionate and committed patrons who are supporting this great initiative.

From billeting young music teachers with local families every fortnight in the 1980s, to becoming an integral part of Deniliquin and its surrounds, the YMC has made it their mission to inspire and enrich lives through the power of music. They’re now doing that at a massive scale, with their talented students playing at concerts around the state and in the city.

Wonthaggi Citizens Band

The Wonthaggi Citizens Band will delight audiences again at their annual concert this October at the Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre. The band is made up of 35 brass and percussion players, from students at Bass Coast College to retirees in their sixties. The band has been playing at the Wonthaggi Arts Centre since the 1980s. This year the band will perform a range of popular songs, including Bridge Over Troubled Water and Greatest Show.

Founded in 1910, the band is one of Wonthaggi’s oldest community organisations and is known for their regular performances at indoor and outdoor concerts, nursing homes, local ANZAC Day celebrations and other public events. The band has also been a fixture at the Croydon Carols by Candlelight, Lilydale Festival and the Mooroolbark Carnival. In addition to a busy performance schedule the band supports community projects through fundraising activities such as cent auctions, trivia nights and fashion parades.

In rural communities where schools often have limited resources, incorporating music education into children’s learning is not always easy. Research shows that integrating music and the arts into a child’s education improves their literacy, numeracy and self-esteem. However, 63 percent of primary schools in Australia do not offer classroom music. In rural Victorian schools, this figure is even higher.

The Song Room, an organisation that provides integrated music and art programs in schools, has partnered with Merrigum Primary School to run a program for the kids. The program was able to be delivered thanks to a REAPing Rewards grant. Students enjoyed the program and looked forward to their lessons.

Hilary Rigg, the coordinator of CRASHENDO! Bairnsdale, explained that while online delivery reduced their participant numbers, it expanded their geographic reach. It allowed them to expand their pool of highly skilled tutors from across the Gippsland region and even Melbourne, and to introduce new instruments to the program.

This year, the 104-year old Wonthaggi Ladies’ Auxiliary is celebrating its centenary and hopes to raise $100,000 for hospital equipment through a series of events, such as fashion parades, cent auctions, markets and sausage sizzles. The Auxiliary is dedicated to ensuring that the town’s community band can continue to provide an important social outlet for young people and that their efforts do not go unnoticed.