New tool allows Sydney council to map culture

In an attempt to better understand the culture within its local government area, Northern Beaches Council has launched a new tool for citizens.

Culture Map Live visually captures the cultural and creative activity, resources, businesses and spaces in the Northern Beaches.

Josephine Bennett, Manager of Council’s Arts and Culture Team, said the cultural and creative sector is constantly evolving and changing.

“We wanted to offer a resource that could keep pace with the community,” she told Government News.

Josephine Bennett

“Our objectives for the project were to create an informed picture of the cultural and creative sector on the Northern Beaches for the first time, with the intent that that would be used as an evidence base for future planning and services.”

The map uses a mapping interface on the Esri platform and has different menu options that citizens can use to navigate their way through the map.

Council has already added over a thousand entries in public and commercial areas as a base listing and is encouraging citizens to add themselves to the map.  

There is an edit function that allows people to update their details, and also targeted searching that allows creatives to get in touch their industry and helps citizens find cultural activities.

“We’ll be closely observing how the map is being used and we’ll be continuously refining the map as it goes, which is the whole idea of the ‘live’ part of the title,” Ms Bennett said.

“It’s community use that will inform the evolution of the map, as well as the evolution of the software platform it sits on.”

“Culture and creativity and the arts are the things that make our cities attractive and vibrant and fun places to live.” – Josephine Bennett, Manager of Council’s Arts and Culture Team

Research project

Before launching the map, Council conducted a research project to gain a better understanding of culture.

“Culture is quite a broad and nebulous concept, so the research has informed how we categorised and subcategorized culture within the map,” Ms Bennett said.

Council is hoping the project will bring a greater awareness and understanding of the Northern Beaches.

“It really is an important powerhouse of culture and creativity in Sydney and New South Wales and we really wanted to highlight that,” Ms Bennett said.

Research showed that Council has over 7,000 local jobs in the sector and more than 13,000 residents working in the sector, either locally, nationally or internationally.

“Some people describe it as a ‘leaky’ sector, but it’s a sector that is supporting all the key sectors,” Ms Bennett said.

“We know it’s really closely linked to hospitality and tourism, and they’re really important industries on the Northern Beaches.”

Before the pandemic, residents in this sector were adding about $719 million to the local economy, Ms Bennett said.

“We’re hoping it will really be an aid to post-pandemic recovery; as we know, this sector has been really hardly hit over the past two years.”

Importance of culture

The concept of culture can be “tricky” to define, according to Ms Bennett.

“We decided at Council to define it as the production, distribution and participation in creativity by community and visitors.

“It’s something that reflects and expresses things that are unique to the Northern Beaches.”

It is a broad term that includes the visual arts, crafts, media arts, performing arts, museums and libraries, amongst other things.

Participation in the sector is important for community cohesion, health and wellbeing and even the care of the environment, according to Ms Bennett.

“Culture and creativity and the arts are the things that make our cities attractive and vibrant and fun places to live,” she said.  

“[They] also help us understand each other and live well together in urban environments.”

By mapping culture, a further understanding can be gained, Ms Bennett said.

“In the process of mapping, you really understand… the complexities of it, but also the interdependencies between sub sectors and other sectors in the community.

“It provides an evidence base so that when counsel is planning services and programs, it is able to do that in an informed and strategic way because it’s got the evidence to work.”

Advice to other councils

For other councils interested in starting a similar project, Ms Bennett advises they put together a cross-disciplinary team.

“We’ve had planners and spatial information experts, as well as arts and culture staff working together.

“So, my advice would be to establish that sort of cross-disciplinary team to guide the project.”

Council is also more than happy to help other councils.

“We’re very happy for our government colleagues to reach out, and we’re really happy to answer any questions and help them,” Ms Bennett said.

“We think it’s a great resource that can be shared with other communities as well.”

Next steps for Council is to seek feedback from the community and engage with its home-based business sector to be added to the map.

Early next year, Council will take a snapshot of the map and do an analysis for the final project report.

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