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Magic Light, Silver City: the business of culture in Broken Hill

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This article examines cultural industries in Broken Hill—the iconic 'Silver City' of Australian mining in far western NSW—and comes from research funded by arts and regional development agencies during 2006 and 2007. In interviewing and surveying the 'movers and makers' of the local cultural sector a picture emerged of a successful group of mainly informally qualified professional visual artists and crafts people working from home studios who spend more time on their practice and make more money than their metropolitan counterparts. Broken Hill also has a thriving service sector, fine weather and competitive location infrastructure for screen industries, and a community proud of its 'arid artists' and its historical and international reputation as a film set. Artists enjoy the lower-than-city costs of accommodation, the quality of light, their proximity to 'Outback' and industrial landscapes, and sustainable local and seasonal tourist markets. With a focus on richly coloured landscape painting and traditional crafts and some contempt for the city 'art mafia', there is limited diversity of cultural products and a 'half-Sydney' market ceiling price on local sales. The Indigenous arts sector has a low profile and is surprisingly—given high numbers of international tourists—underdeveloped. The arts community is fragmented by divisions that both reflect the male-dominated, rugged independence and 'us and them' heritage of this desert mining and 'union town' and inhibit cooperative development. Remoteness means wariness of newcomers and new ideas; young people leave; limited access to business expertise, production services and training; and high transport costs. Isolation means a unique local culture; a friendly community; freedom from city-based art fads, stress and busyness; and blue skies, time and a clear view.
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Keywords: Broken Hill; creative workers; cultural industries; film location; mining towns; regional Australia; remote arts

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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