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Our History

CAN was founded in 1985 at a watershed time for community arts and cultural development in Australia.

Community arts had emerged in Australia in the 1960s, at a time of culturally diverse post-war migration and activism around issues such as Aboriginal land rights and feminism.

Community arts practice was the new frontier in expression, social change, advancement and empowerment and gained visibility and momentum once incorporated into government policy under the Whitlam government in the 1970s.

By the late 1980s, seven Community Arts Networks were funded by the Australia Council for the Arts in WA, Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. Since these networks were founded, government policy has had a heavy influence on the development of community arts and cultural development practice in Australia. The industry has experienced several policy shifts that at times have threatened its very existence and the public policy contest between ‘excellence in the arts’ and ‘access to the arts’ has remained at the centre of the policy debate since the 1970s.

CAN started out as an advocacy group representing community arts and cultural development practitioners in WA and remains a strong advocate for the practice today.

In 1986 the organisation made its first indelible mark, running the first Western Australia Community Arts conference in Fremantle. Since then CAN has expanded beyond advocacy and established its own programs and practice in regional and metropolitan WA including:

  • Leading cultural development programs for disenfranchised communities
  • Training programs for the arts and cultural sector, including nationally recognised accredited training
  • Funding programs that support cultural development programs across WA
  • Cutting edge research into the efficacy of community arts and cultural development

After more than 30 years of inspiring communities to creatively express their unique stories, CAN is known across the country for delivering positive social outcomes in challenging and changing environments. CAN’s long-term commitment to working with Aboriginal communities was a priority from its early days and culminated in 2006 when its first Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development Unit was established in Kellerberrin followed by a Narrogin office in 2010.

From humble beginnings in 1985, and as many of our Community Arts Network interstate counterparts have lost critical funding and folded over the years, CAN has cemented itself as a strong role model for community arts and cultural development in Western Australia.

Formerly known as CAN WA, the organisation was renamed and rebranded CAN in 2015 and as we move into the future with a new name, we look forward to continuing our work transforming, mobilising and inspiring communities across Australia.

(Footnote: this content is taken from a Research Master’s Thesis, written by former CAN Managing Director Pilar Kasat. Community Arts and Cultural Development: A Powerful Tool for Social Transformation is available for download here )

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