Yass Valley Council agrees to support Southern Tablelands Arts

In a win for artists and community groups, councillors have voted against Yass Valley Council's (YVC) recommendation not to renew its membership of Southern Tablelands Arts (STARTS).

Louis, Tilly, George, Jackson, Dougal and Anthony Cathles at Sculpture in the Paddock 2018, one of the events local artists have been able to run with the support of STARTS. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Louis, Tilly, George, Jackson, Dougal and Anthony Cathles at Sculpture in the Paddock 2018, one of the events local artists have been able to run with the support of STARTS. Photo: Hannah Sparks

Instead, an amendment to the recommendation proposed by Cr Jones and Furry - to enter a new memorandum of understanding with STARTS and negotiate the council's contribution - was accepted by all councillors at their April 24 ordinary meeting.

Council currently makes an annual contribution of $6,138 or $0.37 per ratepayer to STARTS.

However, STARTS had begun to ask councils to increase that contribution to $9,977 or $0.60 per ratepayer, making YVC reconsider its membership.

Stakeholders from the local arts community were extremely concerned prior to the meeting. They feared a non-renewal of the council's membership would see a loss of STARTS-assisted activities such as Maisie's Choir, the Irish and Celtic Music Festival in Yass and many artist workshops.

However, the council's report argued that while STARTS ran a range of activities they seemed "to be narrowly focused toward groups and people already in the art business."

Instead, the council wanted to focus on purchasing permanent public art that would act as a legacy for the region.

Explaining the importance of STARTS to the community, chairman of Yass Arts and founder of Sculpture in the Paddock in Yass, Al Phemister, said while STARTS workshops helped with his career development, that in turn provided him with the skills to run events that bring tourism dollars into the region.

"If we buy one artwork it helps one artist, but by investing in a workshop we help many artists," Mr Phemister said.

A community member and supporter of the arts, Sophie Peer, said she believed that people's engagement with the arts led to new ideas and encouraged more young people to pursue art.

A Yass-based clinical psychologist, Lynne Magor-Blatch, argued arts participation benefited mental health.

"If people spend 100 hours a week doing art, they have a significantly better mental well-being than people who don't," she said.

Cr McManus recognised the community's strong support for STARTS and the low cost to ratepayers.

Cr Jones said funding for art needed to be protected.

"The arts are always the first thing that gets cut," she said.

Cr Jones said the new memorandum of understanding would find out what STARTS could offer in-line with the council's arts policy.

"Our arts policy is heavily weighted to permanent public art but it is also inclusive of temporary arts and festivals, which is what STARTS does.

"Maisie's Choir [as an example] addresses the performing arts, mental health and bringing the community together.

"This is a shoestring budget (the council's membership cost) and sometimes public art can cost a lot more than that."

Those who spoke in favour of the council renewing its STARTS membership were pleased with the outcome.