Launceston and the people who call it home are a melting pot of personalities, traditions, places, architecture, events and stories.
That diversity is what makes the city and region unique and it’s those stories the City of Launceston council is trying to bottle.
The council has embarked on a goal to develop a cultural strategy and is seeking community input to define what Launceston culture is.
Creative arts and cultural services general manager Tracy Puklowski says the strategy will help underpin the council’s understanding of culture and heritage, which will drive its future decision-making.
Ms Puklowski explained how the cultural strategy will work to The Examiner senior journalist CAITLIN JARVIS.
CJ: How do you, or the council describe culture?
TP: It’s the x-factor that turns some paintings on the wall into an exhibition, for example. It’s about that sort of power you get when people come together. But for me, this draft strategy isn’t about me defining culture, what we’re asking of people who participate is for them to take a look at the draft and think, does this have meaning.
The Launceston draft cultural strategy defines culture from respondents to an initial survey in this way:
“Culture springs, first and foremost from human interaction… making culture is a daily public event – not just in schools, in the media, in the ‘culture houses’, but also in the streets, shops, trains and cafes. Culture is not a pile of artifacts – it is us; the living breathing sum of us…This cultural strategy is people-centred.”
Q: Why does the council believe we need this strategy?
A: It’s about heading towards having a broader view of the things we need to have a really livable and successful city. The bigger view is the strategic drive for this is the ambition to make Launceston one of Australia’s most livable and innovative regional cities.
The culture we have here in Launceston is going to be different to anywhere else. It isn’t Melbourne, it isn’t the Gold Coast, it’s going to have its own distinct flavour. Collectively it’s going to be great for us to have that awareness and use it to tell our stories perhaps more successfully than we might currently.
Q: Who are you targeting in the community, in terms of what kind of engagement do you want for this strategy?
A: Anyone can be involved in the cultural strategy and we are encouraging that. But we also want to hear from people who are involved in particular activities, to share where they see themselves sitting in this framework.
We want it to be as inclusive as we can. Launceston’s migrant community, for example, I would really hope the people who are newer to Launceston see themselves in this and have an opportunity to share their experiences.
Q: Do you have any examples of types of cultural stories already existing, that you’d like to see in the final strategy?
A: Yeah well, you know, I think one example that we are really aware of is food because the food and beverage offering here is just so stunning. But what we are really interested in are those stories that aren’t immediately obvious, what are the stories of the Cataract Gorge, or the stories of the amazing buildings, the architecture we have and stories of our Aboriginal culture, as examples.
We have a few different case studies in the draft document, and one of those relates to the community kitchen, which is run by the Migrant Resource Centre, so we are absolutely looking for all stories.
Q: What would you say to criticism that this isn’t a core function of the council, as we have all heard the adage of councils being responsible only for “rates, roads and rubbish”?
A: I think that it’s more of a “both, and” scenario, I don’t think that it’s a competition in that way. I think all of those elements actually combine to make a really livable city and a desirable place to spent time or want to move to. Of course, you can never lose sight of the “rates, roads and rubbish” elements, that’s absolutely fundamental, but we think the way people engage with culture is also fundamental.
Q: What role will the QVMAG play in the establishment and sharing of Launceston’s cultural strategy?
A: Part of this document is looking at our strengths and one of those is absolutely the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. It’s the largest regional institution and obviously, we are going to be very soon close neighbours with the University of Tasmania. The interrelationship between the museum and UTAS is going to open up so many opportunities and we see the whole area is going to be activated.
It’s not unusual for a local council to be running a museum, there are a huge amount of regional institutions throughout Australia that are run by councils but they’re much smaller than this one, That’s what makes us truly unique is that we’re effectively a state-sized institution being run by local government. There is no Australian equivalent.
Q: How can people get involved and leave their feedback for the cultural strategy?
A: We do have the online survey and that’s open until the end of August. But we also have an online Q and A session that’s going to be held on August 26th in the evening. That is a good opportunity for people to come along if they have questions and get them answered.
We did a huge amount of work on it in 2018 and last year we did start the community consultation and then COVID hit and we thought it wasn’t the right time to be trying to get people to think about this while they were dealing with a pandemic. So, it was put on hold.
But now, with Tasmania at least mostly on top of the COVID-19 situation, we thought it was a good time to put it back out on the table and begin that community consultation again. In terms of timelines, we don’t know when we will have the final document but we are hoping to have something done before the end of the year.