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Arts indicators for local government
Valuing, planning for and measuring cultural vitality in Australia


This paper presents a set of arts indicators for local government, developed particularly for
Australia. It includes a brief overview of the emerging international literature around arts
and ‘cultural’ indicators, focussing particularly on work that has informed the current project,
especially that of Maria Jackson and colleagues from the USA. This framework has been
developed primarily to measure the contribution of the arts to the cultural vitality of local
communities. It takes as a starting point the values explicated in Hawkes (2001), that
cultural vitality is as important a dimension of sustainable communities as the other
dimensions of economic viability, social equity and environmental sustainability. The
framework has four major categories of indicators; presence of opportunities to participate in
the arts, rates of participation, support arts activity and outcomes of arts activity. The first
such initiative in Australia, this framework is undergoing extensive discussion and
redevelopment throughout 2010.


This paper proposes a set of arts indicators for local government in Victoria, Australia. This
framework is the Cultural Development Network’s response to requests from the local
government cultural development sector for better ways to plan and measure their own
activity in the arts, as well as a way of measuring progress the cultural vitality of their local
government area. This draft framework has been discussed by stakeholders in Australia
during 2010 and a revised version is being presented at the ICCPR Conference.

This framework draws on the international literature around arts, and more broadly, cultural,
indicators, and the Cultural Development Network’s own initiatives including the writings of
Jon Hawkes and public discussions since 2007. This framework operates from the
perspective that arts is one indicator of cultural vitality, and that cultural vitality is one of the
four essential domains of public policy, along with economic viability, social equity and
environmental sustainability (Hawkes 2001). Values underpinning local government’s work in
the arts, and more broadly, cultural development, reflected in this framework are;
encouraging creativity, welcoming diversity and respecting heritage.

Four categories for measures of the arts are proposed;

 Presence of opportunities to participate in the arts
 Rates of participation in the arts
 Support for the arts
 Outcomes of arts participation, on cultural, social, economic and environmental

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A detailed framework around these four categories is presented to assist local government
to work out what aspects of their work in the arts should be measured, how these could be
measured and what impact their activities could make towards desired outcomes.

Definitions of ‘arts’, ‘culture’ and ‘cultural vitality’
There are many and contested definitions of the word culture. Cultural researcher John
Holden, for example, defines culture as, ‘the arts, museums, libraries and heritage that
receive public funding’ (2006). This definition corresponds with the primary concerns of arts
bodies of state and national governments in Australia and in some countries internationally,
particularly England. In the wider government context, and also in local government in
Australia, the terms ‘arts’ and ‘culture’ are often used interchangeably.

This paper applies a much broader definition of culture, based on Jon Hawkes’ description
of culture as 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).

Arts are therefore, one aspect of the wider dimension of culture. In this paper, arts will be
defined as any form of visual, performing, media, literary or interdisciplinary arts, made by or
for any members of any community at any level of skill and intention. However, in the article
to follow, the terminology used by the author of each article is respected, even when the
terms used conflict with this perspective.

This paper will assume Hawkes’ very broad definition of cultural vitality, that it is robust
diversity, tolerant cohesiveness, multi-dimensional egalitarianism, compassionate
inclusivity, energetic creativity, open minded curiousity (2001, p. 23).

Community indicators engagement with culture

Over the past decade, there have been significant developments with indicators of progress,
addressing issues of well-being far beyond the traditional economic measure of the Gross
Domestic Product. The OECD’s 2009 World Forum in Korea, ‘Statistics, Knowledge and
Policy’, discussed the development of paradigms to measure progress considering
economic, social and environmental perspectives ( For
those who consider the cultural dimension an essential aspect of community progress, it is
disappointing to observe that there is little or no focus on the cultural dimension in most of
these indicator sets, reflecting a lack of valuing of all aspects of culture and within it, the arts,
in public planning and policy. Jackson et al (2006) comment on this absence in most sets of
community indicators in the USA, with exceptions including the National Neighbourhood
Indicators Partnership in Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia and other projects in Chicago,
Washington DC and California.

This lack of attention to the cultural dimension also occurs in Australian indicator initiatives.
The inaugural Community Indicators Summit in 2009 attracted 170 delegates, indicating the
significant and growing interest in the topic. Keynote speaker Jon Hall, Manager of the
OECD Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies, discussed a large range of
indicators that participants were agreeing as important to measure. These include well-
being, ecosystem conditions and governance (Hal , 2009). Within Hal ’s presentation the
cultural dimension was considered as a subsection of the social dimension, but otherwise
there was little consideration of the cultural dimension at the conference. No speaker listed
it as a priority, nor was there any intention discussed to move forward with data or
measurements. During discussion about this absence, one major limitation seemed to be the

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challenge of measuring the cultural dimension. The ABS summary, Measures of Australia's
Progress: Summary Indicators, 2009 includes no mention of the cultural dimension . (ABS 2009)

One current community indicator framework from Australia that identifies the value of the
cultural dimension, including arts participation, is Community Indicators Victoria framework
for community well-being in local government.
Community Indicators Victoria’s engagement with culture
The Community Indicators Victoria initiative began in 2005 to facilitate stronger evidence-
based decision making in local government, with a focus on community well-being. It
provides data for the whole state of Victoria right down to a local level, on 75 indicators.
These are divided into five major domains, social, economic, environmental, governance and
cultural, with the cultural dimension delineated as ‘Cultural y Rich and Vibrant Communities’.
This data allows comparisons between councils or regions, and future iterations will also
al ow comparisons over time for individual councils and regions. As CIV’s scope is very
broad, it includes a modest amount of focus on every topic. It does, however, contribute
some valuable data for cultural planning, including questions under the heading of culturally
rich and diverse communities about diversity, (community acceptance of diverse cultures),
leisure and sporting opportunities. It includes data specifically about arts participation:
perceived opportunities for arts participation in communities and the level of individual arts
CIV data about the arts was gathered from responses to two questions in a statewide
telephone survey:

a) Do you agree or disagree that there are enough opportunities in your local area for you to
participate in arts and related activities?

b) In the last month have you done any of the following activities?
1. Painting or drawing
2. Other art or craft activities
3. Playing a musical instrument
4. Singing
5. Other types of performing, for example acting or dancing, or
6. Creative writing
(Community Indicators Victoria, 2006)

There were some challenges with data about the arts gathered through the CIV project,
include the limitations of a phone survey that included a large number of questions on
diverse topics. As well, it is possible that definitions of the arts used may not have been
sufficiently inclusive to cover all possible arts participation experiences. People from
culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Indigenous people, for example, may
not consider culture-based activities that include arts as ‘arts activities’ as described above.
Young people who use computer based programs to make music may not consider that they
are ‘playing a musical instrument’. Therefore it is possible that some respondents who do
participate in the arts may not have answered ‘Yes’ to the questions. Because of the large
scope of the CIV project, its contribution to any one area cannot be comprehensive. There
are many more questions about the arts that specialist practitioners might want to know that
could not be covered in this broad survey.

A second survey to be undertaken in 2010 will include redeveloped questions on the arts.
Improvements such as refined definitions of the ‘arts’ and ‘participation’ are likely to improve
the quality of the data in a number of ways. Alignment of definitions of the arts with those

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used in other data collection strategies, such as ABS and arts funding bodies, should result
in data that is more complementary and comparable with other existing data sets. Definitions
of ‘arts’ that reflect contemporary community experiences, and definitions of ‘participation’
that include all possible participatory roles, may contribute to truly representative responses.

While there has not otherwise been a strong focus on the cultural dimension in community
indicator frameworks, there has been progress regarding cultural indicators nationally and
internationally over the last decade.

Cultural indicators from Agenda 21 for Culture, United Cities for Local Government
Agenda 21 for Culture, the Commission for Culture of United Cities for Local Government,
the international peak body for local government, published a discussion paper on cultural
indicators in 2006. This document, taking the broadest definition of culture, noted that there
is much work to be done on local cultural indicators and that current initiatives lack
consensus. However it posited that development of an indicator framework is essential if
culture is to be consolidated as one of the pillars of development. A framework to help local
government clarify the conceptual bases of cultural policies was proposed to become a first
step in the progress towards local cultural indicators. Topics proposed for consideration

 description of municipality: organisational structure and budget (%) for culture.
 cultural infrastructure and cultural practices
 culture and social inclusion
 culture, territory and public areas
 culture and economy
 governance of cultural policies
(Agenda 21 for Culture, 2006, p. 5).

UCLG’s Committee for Culture has committed to a development of this preliminary
framework into a set of indicators over the next few years, although is, as yet, not able to
report on progress.

Canadian initiatives about cultural indicators in local government

Canadian local government researcher Nancy Duxbury’s 2006 paper provided a
comprehensive international perspective on cultural indicators for local government.
Duxbury addresses an issue that is common with development of indicator frameworks; the
relative prioritisation of inputs, outputs, and outcomes. She comments that inappropriate
emphasis is often placed on the quantity of inputs, with insufficient assessment often made
about the quality of those inputs. The need to measure outputs and assess outcomes
(outputs are short-term only; outcomes relate to the results of providing those outputs) using
both quantitative and qualitative data was discussed. Duxbury advises against developing
too many indicators; a smaller amount of more useful information being more effective for
ongoing success. This article also included a comprehensive report on a national initiative to
develop local level cultural indicators for Canada. While this project generated much interest
in indicators for Canadian local government and a strong direction, as yet no particular
strategy or well developed practice seems to have emerged.

Cultural indicators in New Zealand

Local government in New Zealand has been working with a four pillars approach since 2002;
focussing activities around four aspects of ‘wel -being’; economic, environmental, social and
cultural. A document on Cultural Well-being indicators, (Ministry of Culture and Heritage,
2006) details indicators developed by councils across the nation. This framework takes a

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broad view of culture, with much attention focussed on Maori cultural issues, including
language, heritage and education. Many of these indicators are relevant to the current
discussion and ideas have been included in the framework to be presented below.

New Zealand’s national government has taken a leading role internationally with the release
of its second set of National Cultural Indicators (Ministry of Culture and Heritage, 2009).
This framework identifies the cultural dimension as a vital aspect of all public policy, with
‘cultural aspects of development…(sitting) alongside the economic, social and
environmental dimensions of sustainability’. It also identifies the value of growth and
development in the cultural sector for its own sake, as wel as the ‘positive social and
economic side effects’. These indicators also have a strong focus on culture, in a nexus
between its aesthetic and anthropological definitions, with many indicators reflecting Maori
cultural concerns.

Indicators are organised around outcome themes of;

 engagement
 cultural identity
 diversity
 social cohesion and
 economic development , through the arts

The indicator framework described in this paper aimed to
provide high-level measures of the effectiveness of government policy interventions
in the cultural sector, enable linkages to be made with indicators in other sectors of
the economy, provide measures of the contribution of cultural activity to the social,
environmental and economic well-being of New Zealanders, provide a benchmark
against the ‘status’ of cultural activity in New Zealand which can be monitored over
time and contribute to meaningful debate about the role, value and function of

This 2009 document is a significant development of the first iteration from 2006, as more
data fields are populated and the second phase provides the opportunity for comparison
over time.

While this framework provides some inspiration for Australian local government, the situation
is not directly comparable, particularly because of the emphasis on Maori cultural issues;
Indigenous people comprise a much smal er percentage of Australia’s population than do
Maori in New Zealand, while the population percentage of people from other ‘cultures’
(anthropological) is much higher in Australia, leading to a significant diversity of ‘cultural’
(aesthetic) interests.

Cultural indicators for Australia
In Australia the publication of a set of national cultural indicators is pending. The Statistics
Working Party of the Australian Cultural Ministers Council has been developing a framework
that may be available in 2010. These, however, may not be particularly relevant to local
government, being concerned more with national ‘high-level’ rather than local indicators
(Morton 2009). No other information about this initiative is available publicly at the current
time. There seems to be no other currently accepted and operational indicators frameworks
for the arts within local government in Australia.

Hawkes’ approach to indicators for Australian local government

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Hawkes (2001) investigated international developments in cultural indicators, particularly
those that shared his values around the prioritisation of cultural vitality in public policy and
planning and the importance of citizen participation in the making of culture . Based on this
investigation, he devised a long list of arts indicators ‘to track progress towards a desired
future’ (p. 57). The main focus of these is the connectedness of the arts community to the
wider community and the development of opportunities for active engagement in arts
practice. Hawkes developed these concepts further in 2006, in response to an invitation to
comment on arts indicators being developed for the Community Indicators Victoria well-
being framework. He proposed that indicator frameworks include a grid, of categories;
infrastructure, opportunities and action considered against categories of means of arts
engagement; learning skills, actual making, public presentation and observing others
(Hawkes 2006). Hawkes’ work has strongly informed the framework being presented in this

Jackson’s framework for cultural vitality, USA
A framework of cultural indicators that has much in common with Hawkes’ conceptualisation
is Jackson et al’s Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators (2006). This
developed out of an earlier project, Culture Counts in Communities (2002) by researchers
from the Washington DC based Urban Institute. Jackson et al do not distinguish arts from
culture in their definitions, and consider participation in its broadest sense, in the multiple
ways people participate in arts and cultural activity— as practitioners, teachers, students,
critics, supporters, and consumers.

This group’s work is concerned with measuring cultural vitality, described ‘as evidence of
creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting arts and culture as a dimension of
everyday life in communities’ (2006, p. 4). The framework considers active and receptive
participation in the arts as important aspects of culturally vital communities, and that cultural
vitality should be considered for its own sake, rather than only for its contribution to other
agendas: ‘a healthy place to live includes opportunities for the arts, culture and creative
(2006, p. 4).

The framework includes four domains of cultural activity to provide a comprehensive picture
of community cultural vitality:

• the presence of opportunities to participate
• participation in its multiple dimensions
• support systems for cultural participation
• impacts of arts and culture (2006, p. 14).
Jackson presents these first three domains to be used as indicator measurements that
contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of impacts of arts and culture (the fourth
domain). These indicators are comparable across communities and over time.
This project also discusses issues with data collection and provide solutions for the
American context. Jackson’s indicators are based on quantitative data that is publicly
available, free or at minimal cost. Possibilities for data sources for future developments are
discussed, especially data that is qualitative or pre-quantitative documentation of
phenomena of interest. She suggests that this might be available from anthropological and
ethnographic studies of arts and culture in communities.
This framework seems very useful to the Australian local government context, as it has been
successfully applied in several communities in the USA, resulting in sets of comparable data
that have not traditionally been part of cultural indicator considerations; particularly those

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about active participation in the arts. It operates from values similar to those of the Cultural
Development Network, as explicated in Hawkes (2001), that cultural vitality is as important a
dimension of sustainable communities as the other dimensions of economy, society and
environment. Categories used by Jackson et all correspond closely with those proposed by
Hawkes, and they provides a framework to measure outcomes against values espoused by
CDN and shared with many local government cultural development programs in Australia;

 the making of art be an everyday activity amongst communities
 the value of making art together be embraced by agencies and organisations that
work with communities
 all spheres of government develop policy and resources to support independent
community cultural activities

What are indicators for?
In order to develop a useful set of indicators, it is essential that the purpose of these be
clear. Most of the established indicator frameworks discussed above share an intention to
develop data about culture, including the arts, that allows consideration of change over time
or comparative change. The New Zealand government describes indicators as

high-level, summary measures of key issues or phenomena that are used to monitor
positive or negative changes over time. The evaluative nature of indicators
distinguishes them from the descriptive nature of statistics. One of the key purposes
of indicators is to reduce the large volume of statistical information available to a
smal number of key measures that al ow trends to be monitored’
(2009 p. 4).

Christopher Madden, in his report on cultural indicators for IFACCA (Madden, 2005),
cautions that data of itself can be meaningless without a context; the task of indicator
framework is to provide a context through which data can be made meaningful. So, for
example, as estimation of the numbers of people employed in the cultural sector is not an
indicator, because it does not tell us whether the level of employment is high, low or about
right; it needs further information. Similarly, statistics that compare people employed in
culture in one country with that of another is also meaningless if no account is taken of
population differences and other factors. Data trends that show increases or decreases over
time are also incomplete unless the changes are compared with the rate of growth or
reduction in employment generally in the country.

Indicators are vital for effective planning, as Colin Mercer comments:

For governance to develop its own system of notation and therefore a responsive
particularity, there is a real need for a new suite of specifically cultural benchmarks,
objective (how many museums) and perceptual (do we want to go, feel comfortable
and included there?) which can be assessed by stakeholders and act as publicly-
owned performance indicators for government programmes (2009, p. 201).

Community Indicators Victoria discuss local government’s need for indicators that are
responsive, can tell them what is changing and provide early warning signals, and help local
government and communities to know what is working and what isn’t (CIV 2009).

Duxbury (2006) provides a list of possible practical uses of cultural indicators suggested by
Canadian local government participants in a workshop process. These can be summarised

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Advocacy and policy uses;

 raising the profile and understanding of an issue (inside local government and in the
 a tool for community mobilisation, especially if indicators can be accessed by
community organisations
 defending the culture budget
 demonstrating need; for example with cultural infrastructure, to recognize need for
space, place, and access
 providing a tool for leveraging funds from other levels of government, private and
philanthropic sources
 enabling benchmarking among different municipalities; comparative discussion points
for further investigation/actions

Planning and practice uses;

 developing business cases for initiatives/proposed actions
 determining budgets, reallocating budgets, setting expenditure levels
 program development (e.g., indicators based on artist incomes and rising housing
costs helped argue the need for affordable space for Vancouver’s artists if the
municipality wished to keep them in the city, which led to re-zoning to create work
live space for artists, among other initiatives)
 program evaluation – assessing effectiveness of initiatives. However, because
indicators generally provide a long-term view of what’s going on, how much can be
attributed to government programs?
 accountability – public accountability for dollars invested, reporting program result
 profiling and tracking economic and social impacts, such as of neighbourhood

Indicators can also be used as part of regulatory frameworks. The recent Inquiry into Local
Government Performance Measurement conducted by the Essential Services Commission
(ESC) sought to develop a new performance monitoring framework for local government in
Victoria. In their response to the ESC”s public submission process, Community Indicators
Victoria argued that community indicators, which include arts questions, should be included
in such a framework, because they are measures of outcome effectiveness that are critical
for local governments in the 21st century (CIV 2009). CIV argue that what is measured is
more likely to be achieved. The Municipal Association of Victoria, on the other hand,
opposed the inclusion of additional dimensions in a performance monitoring framework,
arguing that the extra work for councils in reporting against non-essential activities would
outweigh the benefits (MAV 2010). In its final report, the ESC has advised that cultural
measures ought not to be included in a regulatory framework because the range and
diversity of cultural activities varies widely across councils (ESC 2010).

In summary, arts indicators for local government can have numerous functions. They can
support the work of local government in advocacy, policy making and evaluation and
program planning and evaluation, by;

ensuring that culture, and the arts can be measured, and therefore considered in
broader regulatory or measurement frameworks
making data meaningful; reducing statistical information to key measures that allow
trends to be monitored over time and or compared between contexts
providing benchmarks, objective and perceptual, to measure performance of

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monitoring of trends over time to assist governments and communities to know what
is working and what isn’t
allowing comparison between contexts, which in turn can assist with understanding
performance of programs .

The essential qualities of indicators, as described by the New Zealand government, are that
they must be;
 relevant to the outcome of interest
 grounded in research
 statistically sound
 able to be disaggregated
 timely
 based on broad support and interest and
 consistent over time.

(Ministry for Culture and Heritage New Zealand, no date, p. 5)

Challenges in the progress towards arts indicators
There are many challenges in the progress towards useful arts indicators. IFACCA’s 2005
international review reported many difficulties with existing frameworks (Madden 2005).
These included confusion about what indicators are, lack of quality data, unwieldy
frameworks and vague policy objectives, questions about relevance to policymaking and
program delivery, differences in approach and lack of contact between agencies developing

While most of these frameworks are cal ed ‘cultural indicators’, in fact, they are most only
measuring arts, rather than ‘culture’, or culture in its narrowest definition, as per Holden’s
previously mentioned definition (2004). For indicators to be truly ‘cultural’, they would need
to be much broader than measures of arts participation.

As discussed earlier, there is a lack of consideration of the cultural domain in broader public
policy, and correspondingly, in community indicator projects. There is also a lack of data
about arts and arts participation from which indicators could be drawn (Mulligan and Smith
2007, Dunn and Koch 2006), and until recently, data collection has been concentrated much
more around receptive participation in the arts (as measured by attendance at institutions
such as museums and art galleries), than active participation.

In contrast, professionals working in other state or local government sectors base decisions
on well established data sets and agreed parameters of community needs. For example,
community planners have extensive data provided through the CIV initiative, and sport and
recreation planners are well served by state government Sport and Recreation departments
who prioritise participation, that is, ‘active ‘playing’ participation which does not include
coaching, refereeing and spectating’ and value this as one of their primary goals. These
departments develop strategies and resources and collect data about community
participation in sport (Australian Sports Commission 2010).

Dwyer (2008) discusses challenges with collection of data about the arts, particularly in
relation to people outside the sector for whom statistics provide assistance with decision
making. Her research indicated that the values of economic planners and community
developers are so different, from each other, and from those in the arts sector, that they
require different data about the arts. And both groups are sceptical about the value of data
that doesn’t relate to their identified goals. Dwyer recommends aiming for col ection of arts
related data that can be used for dual purposes, so that it can be useful for sectors of local
government with different agendas.

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Data about arts from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australia Council
Despite the challenges with data availability, there is much data about arts participation that
could be used in the development of indicators. In addition to the CIV data about
participation mentioned earlier, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, through the National
Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics, working with the Cultural Ministers Council, has
developed a substantial body of data about culture, including participation, attendance,
expenditure and the activity of businesses operating in the fields. The ABS 2006 survey
How Australians Use Their Time (ABS 2006) measured average time spent on selected
culture and leisure activities. However as ‘arts and crafts’ were not differentiated from
games and hobbies this data is not particularly useful about arts participation. The ABS
survey Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events also provides data about
attendance at cultural venues and events, including libraries, museums, various categories
of music and performing arts performances and cinemas (2005-06).
Other relevant ABS data sources includes Survey of Children's Participation in Cultural and
Leisure Activities
(2006), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: Involvement in
Arts and Culture
(2008), Work in Selected Culture and Leisure Activities (2007), Employment
In Cultural Occupations By Cultural Industries
(2006), Voluntary Work (2006), Cultural
Participation by Persons with a Disability and Older Persons, 2003, Cultural Funding in
Australia – Three Tiers of Government
(2004–05) . This data is available at a local
government level and even smaller divisions, collector areas of about 300 responses
making it useful for within and between LGA comparisons. This data does not include any
measures of social impacts of arts participation, other than economic.[email protected]/featurearticlesbytitle/8CE6FDBD92C79351CA2574E90
The Australia Council’s new Participation in the Arts report (2010) provides nationwide data
about participation in the arts, focussing on both receptive (attending and consuming arts as
an audience member) and creative participation (active making of arts). Topics for data
collection in this nationwide survey include attitudes towards the arts, community’s support
for the arts, interest in indigenous arts and use of internet as a tool for the arts. However the
sample size for this study is relatively small (less than 400 respondents in Victoria), so no
breakdown by LGA is possible.

Presenting a framework for arts indicators for Australia
As international interest and expertise in cultural indicators develops, so too has interest
from local government in Australia. CDN regularly receives requests from local government
staff who seek resources and advice on this topic. As yet, no well considered framework of
indicators for local government in Australia has been available. An increasing number of
cultural development managers are working towards more strategic and evidence based
operations, and are interested to expand their ability to examine impacts of their work, reflect
on change over time, either about their own work, or that of the activity of the wider arts
sector in their LGA, or the experiences of their citizens (Morgan Dethick 2009, Pagram
2009). The City of Melbourne has instigated its first foray into development of cultural
indicators in a partnership with the Cultural Development Network on the night culture of the

In response to this interest, CDN has been considering cultural indicators for some time. In
2007, a workshop on this topic was led by Professor Mike Salvaris, an indicator expert
involved with the CIV project and with OECD’s development of indicators, particularly those
related to civic participation and democracy. A preliminary list of indicators was derived from