Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Growing New England - how do we overcome local town myopia?

At the moment, I am working on a response to the Sydney Government's draft arts and cultural strategy for NSW. Thinking about access to art and culture, I realised a funny thing about New England's urban dwellers. They are so used to shorter distances that they are wonP1010016't travel unless it's a formal journey.

This is another shot of Uralla's main street. Pretty isn't it?

Uralla lies twenty minutes drive time south of Armidale. Now in Sydney where I am presently living in exile, no body would blink an eye at the thought of travelling thirty minutes one way for coffee, an hour just to go to a function, over an hour to work or to take the kids to sport, three hours to visit another place for the weekend. Yet when your normal driving time around town is less than ten minutes, twenty minutes along a main highway seems such a long way!

It's dumb really, and we lose so much. If more New Englanders consciously explored their own immediate area, then this would increase the marketplace for a whole variety of activities while also adding fun to to life.    

At present, the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) is presenting a number of exhibitions including Herbert Badham's Observing the Everyday. I described this in A morning at NERAM - Flora, Cobcroft and Badham's Observing the Everyday.

Badham was a realist painter of social urban life, renowned for his scenes of Sydney. The exhibition concentrates on the everyday in Sydney mainly during the 1930s, combining Badham with other paintings from the NERAM collection on the same theme. This is a large high quality exhibition that has the potential to attract visitors from a wide area including Sydney. Sadly, NERAM has neither the money for wider promotion, nor for the catalogue that would give visitors the tangible memory of their visit.

If New Englanders could overcome their local myopia, then the Badham exhibition could draw effectively from all those within a two to three hour drive of Armidale. If Armidale people were more prepared to travel and could lift their eyes above the bounds set by the city's urban boundaries, then they could enjoy the events, activities and attractions offered by other centres.

This simple shift in perceptions could actually transform the economics of local activities, allowing for growth beyond the scale dictated by local populations.  

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