Executive Director’s Report
‘A tough year for the Arts’ sums up 2020. With the gig economy collapsing and exhibitions cancelled the creative sector faced unprecedented challenges. STA was there every step of the way providing support, advice and connection to our communities. It was a very busy year, full of change, dynamic realities and even silver linings.
On my first day with STA at the end of March I couldn’t report to the STA office in Goulburn, it was indefinitely closed. I met with Susan Brindle in a park, and she handed me a laptop. Sitting across a table we planned what we could as society shut down. All projects ceased and we journeyed into the frightening reality of a global pandemic.
The STA online presence became a critical nexus to our communities. In 2020 we delivered a new website with several important features that have radically improved out services. The STA Creative Directory is a searchable database of creative practitioners, venues and cultural organisations in our area. It is the richest and most exhaustive listing of the creative sector across the six STA Local Government Regions. The new website also offers improved listings for grants and grant providers, a news section with newsletters and information about the many services we offer our members and councils.
Along with the new website our social media was reimagined to better feature STA activities and feature wider content happening across our region. This change in emphasis has positioned STA as an online centre of information and curated content. This is reflected in steady improvements to online engagement across the year reaching new and wider audiences over Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
For much of the year cinemas were closed and Goulburn Film Group went into hiatus. We realigned the film programs into STA Screen a new initiative that also supports our community to access the STA outdoor screen equipment.
STA kids is possibly the achievement of 2020 that I’m most proud of. With face-to-face interaction reduced we responded by creating a rich online presence for young people. STA kids features multiple online artist led activities, each designed to connect and enhance other projects. STA kids also lists artists and cultural organisations who offer opportunities for young people and links to every Council Library service in our region. STA kids is the online destination for anyone with creative kids.
Dance for Wellbeing made the leap to online in Goulburn with Liz Barling conducting weekly classes via Zoom. The program expanded into Picton with Bonnie Curtis starting up new classes.
Working without a permanent office gave us the opportunity to realise the STA Mobile Office program. We now deliver monthly mobile offices in each of our regions where we connect directly with individuals and groups.
Our area was one of three to welcome a Regional Music Officer. Michael Simic from Music NSW made significant inroads into a regional touring network and supporting musicians to connect. His support and presence made a important difference to a sector that was harder hit than most in 2020. The Regional Music Officer project was deemed such a success that it will be rolled out across the state in 2021.
Much of the Illuminate Festival in Wollondilly was cancelled however the Waste to Art project was tailored to fit within COVID-19 restrictions with workshops, online content and an exhibition delivered with Wollondilly Council.
Another 2020 initiative was the creation of the STA Advisory Panel, a formalised structure of engagement between STA and the dedicated Delegates we work with from each of our six Contributing Councils. The Advisory Panel facilitates an increased flow of information and provides a focus on the arts and culture within the entire region with key stakeholders.
These are just a small collection of the extraordinary change and achievements of 2020, none of which would have been possible without the dedication of Giselle Newbury the STA Communication Projects and Communications Officer and the STA Board.
Most of all a huge thanks you go out to our creative practitioners and communities, your continued support and appreciation of what STA does makes the hard work, the long hours and the challenges totally worth it. – Rose Marin
STA, in its 25th year, is emerging from the challenges of 2020 with a new leader, new work methods and fresh strategic directions. It is said about adversity that what doesn’t kill you, strengthens you. I can proudly say that STA is emerging as a different organisation which may prove to be even stronger and more resilient over time.
Amidst the horrendous Summer 2019-2020 bushfires severely affecting our Wollondilly and Wingecarribee Council Partners and communities, the entire region living for months in often choking smoke, STA carried out its search for a new Executive Director. The enormity of COVID-19 was becoming apparent as I met with appointee Rose Marin, on her first day, the day the STA office closed, a state-wide lock-down imminent.
The Board had approved that a senior caretaker was needed as Acting ED and I stepped up for the period 28/2/-23/3/2021, remunerated at the ED casual hourly rate and motor vehicle expenses. It was a time requiring quick, responsive decision making within a business continuity framework. Staff changes and remote working preparation necessitated different support services. Additional computer security and software upgrades led us to extend and formalise the services of a specialist IT consultancy, ensuring future support for remote working staff. Bookkeeping services are now handled by an external practice with improved transparency, easing the load carried by Treasurer, Joanne McCauley. All of the scheduled creative programs were cancelled and the devastation to our creative communities was beginning to be understood.
The Board supported the ED’s decision to quit the office space in Goulburn when it had become clear that remote working was satisfactory for the foreseeable future. The brightly coloured STA vehicle can be seen regularly making its way to each region for its Mobile Office presence, a change warmly welcomed by the STA communities in all six local government areas and our six Partner Councils. In addition, the STA Board, all busy professionals, has welcomed the move to Zoom Board Meetings, saving many hours on the highway in all weathers.
The NSW Government through Create NSW carried out the first part of a 2-stage review into the 14 Regional Arts Development Organisations (RADOs) and Regional Arts NSW (RANSW) the peak body organisation for the RADOs. This was an overdue review at a time when the RADO network was suffering financial hardship due to its 2013-level funding. As the review progressed and culminated in the announcement that the RADOs would receive an increased level of funding as ‘multi-year clients’ we were shocked to learn that the increase was to be at the expense of RANSW which was being defunded.
As a member of the RANSW Advisory Council I have been in discussion with the Presidents of the RADO network and with the Board of RANSW. Engaged in strategic planning as I write, the Board of RANSW is planning its way forward without NSW Government funding, determining the range of services it will offer to RADOs from 2022. It is positive and determined to pivot to new ways of being and to continue on from its 75-year history serving, and often successfully advocating for the arts sector of NSW. At this time STA stands ready to support RANSW in full understanding that what we have had free will attract a fee in the future. CEO, Elizabeth Rogers, was again a tower of strength to STA in many ways in 2020, always available by phone for advice and information. I look forward to the range of services which will be on offer and to the Board’s assessment of their value to STA. The Create NSW Stage 2 review timing is yet to be advised.
The Board took the opportunity during the quieter closedown months to commence strategic planning for the coming years. The importance of a strong and diverse membership is recognised. Building STA membership means we can better identify and serve their interests over time through meaningful dialogue. Another focus is on building capacity in small arts and cultural organisations, understanding that they operate in niche areas of the arts with membership and audiences STA also serves. In addition, as a part of the RADO Network STA calls on other network members to collaborate and partner in the delivery of programs for a wider geographical reach. Specifically, this also enables better servicing at the edges of LGAs and across LGA borders extending the reach of programs.
I recognise the enormous difficulties and financial pressures on our Council Partners during the major emergency events in 2019-2020. STA is grateful for their ongoing financial support and for their enthusiastic participation in our new Advisory Panel which meets quarterly to share information, arts participation and initiatives.
The Board joins me to congratulate the STA staff and service providers for their achievements and flexibility through the challenges of 2020. I thank the STA Board for their tireless work, their dedication to the organisation and for their wise counsel. – Susan Brindle
We started the 2020 financial year full of expectations for an exciting year ahead. We were in the process of recruiting our new Executive Director, Rose Marin and were keen to see what direction Rose would take the organisation. We quickly replaced the word ‘exciting’ with the word ‘challenging’.
Like every other organisation, Southern Tablelands Arts was impacted by COVID-19 and Rose’s first year was filled with challenges she would never have anticipated when applying for the role. Her first day coincided with our first lockdown and I commend Rose on the amazing job she has done over the year. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been.
We were fortunate enough to benefit from the Government’s COVID-19 stimulus measures of both Cashflow Boost and Jobkeeper. Together these payments represented $55,630 of income and helped to keep Southern Tablelands Arts afloat under the most trying circumstances. The overall profit of the organisation for the 2020 year was $37,697 and we increased our net asset position from $113,103 in 2019 to $150,800 in 2020.
This year, BookUs Bookkeeping have taken over the role of both payroll and bookkeeping services and the organisation is fortunate to have their expertise at hand. Thank you to Graham and Sophie for all of the assistance they have provided.
I would also like to thank the Board for their support over the many years I have now been involved in Southern Tablelands Arts.
Congratulations to Rose and Giselle on a successful year despite the challenges. The local artists and creative organisations have an incredibly valuable resource at their fingertips and I commend you on the amazing support you have provided over the 2020 year. – Joanne McCauley.
We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians of the lands where we create, live & work.
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