10 Nov, 2020 Last updated: 10 Nov, 2020

What can happen when partnerships place community in the driver’s seat

Community is core to creating change, and there are some great examples of community-led partnerships being coordinated by recipients of VicHealth arts grants (for current funding opportunities see our funding page).


Below we outline how grants are being used to make their communities central partners to program design.


Example 1: Shepparton Culture Kitchen – strategies that diversify local food knowledge to enhance healthier eating


Culturally diverse women come together to share insights, build capacity and lead change in food equity (learn more about what equity is in our blog here).



Everyone has to eat, and food is a great connector to bring people together and create change.


Shepparton is Victoria’s regional multicultural epicentre as well as the heart of the state's food bowl. Led by eight local women and lead artist Jamie Lewis, Shepparton Culture Kitchen aims to promote and celebrate the area’s diverse cultures while driving a shift towards healthier eating.


Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV), Victoria’s leading organisation on diversity in the arts, partnered with Greater Shepparton City Council on the project. MAV CEO, Veronica Pardo explains that empowering a community should be a priority for all public health promotion.


“Arts and cultural activities are the ideal vehicle to navigate health inequities. We believe our approach used for the Shepparton Culture Kitchen will lay a solid foundation for an ambitious social movement that enables vibrant partnerships across governments, organisations and especially community,” said Pardo.


Background to the Shepparton Culture Kitchen program


For over 10 years, MAV has worked on a variety of programs with different communities across the Shepparton region. Time and experience has helped them develop a strong knowledge of the challenges facing the Shepparton community and build an effective partnership with Greater Shepparton City Council. Ultimately this has ensured the program responds effectively to the specific health issues faced by different communities the region.


Research found that 54% of Shepparton residents do not meet the dietary guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption and 58.7% are above a healthy weight (compared to the Victorian average of 49.8%).


So the first stage of the Shepparton Culture Kitchen program was to work with the local communities affected by this health issue, and recruit 6 local participants (which was later increased to 8 following an overwhelming response to the initial call out).


This project is currently ongoing, with all participants being paid for their time to work together and generate new ideas and approaches to address this health challenge.



Shepparton Culture Kitchen helps diverse communities work together by using a community-devised ‘cultural safety tool’


A key requirement for working with the many diverse groups and perspectives in the region is to have a cultural reflection  tools that build awareness and a shared understanding. This helps to guide discussions about cultural safety both with project collaborators and participants.


Working this way makes the Shepparton Culture Kitchen program a new model for community-led health partnerships, and it is one that’s evolving and adapting over time. But most importantly, its evolution and adaptations are happening with the key principle of ‘nothing for us without us’ where communities are viewed as the experts of their own lived experience.


This model of working with communities ensures that voices from Shepparton’s multicultural communities will be amplified and untold experiences will be shared.


Example 2: Creative Leaders – developing young emerging leaders to drive creative activities


Creating programs that benefit young people, should be driven by young people.




Background to the Creative Leaders program


Since 2016, Regional Arts Victoria has worked in partnership with the Moyne, Glenelg, Southern Grampians, Corangamite and Warrnambool shire councils, as well as the state government, to develop a creative industries strategy across south-west Victoria. A critical component of the strategy for all councils was to focus on creating more opportunities for young people in these regions.


Young people living in these regions are driving the Creative Leaders program. They’re creating a long-term mentoring approach that means more young people can support each other to participate more often in creative projects that they develop. The program is connecting young artists across the region; to their community; to experts; and to each other.




The Creative Leaders program, guided by Regional Arts Victoria, works with 5 councils in south-west Victoria, and the Shepparton Culture Kitchen facilitated by MAV with the Greater Shepparton City Council.


Creative Leader program helps young people plan and deliver arts and creative programs that best support their health and wellbeing


The Creative Leaders program is focused on supporting a network of young people to plan and deliver arts-related projects that are relevant to them and their peers. As the network builds, the legacy is passed down to the next young emerging leaders to develop on those cultural experiences or explore new opportunities.


Regional Arts Victoria CEO, Joe Toohey, explained that regionally-based young people were better connecting to their communities through creative projects they lead and create


“The Creative Leaders program will focus on a shared priority across local councils, state government and communities. It will enable a platform for young people to have a voice that influences creative participation,” said Toohey.


While the outcomes of the first Creative Leaders program are still unknown, all partners have been willing to back local young people with funding, support and advice. They are confident that good things will come through this process.



What these arts programs demonstrate about community partnerships


When a community is a central partner in creating program concepts, they will be empowered to lead and be engaged in the outcomes. The power of a community collective can efficiently design their own relevant interventions and more successful solutions.


Never underestimate the vital perspectives and dynamic contributions from people directly impacted by a situation.


But reliable and trustworthy partnerships won’t happen overnight. It’s necessary to take the time to listen, understand and have an ongoing open dialogue as well as be guided by the voices who have the knowledge and wisdom. A deep partnership requires significant skills in integrity, transparency and interpersonal communication.

There isn't one simple approach or solution that’s right for everyone or any given situation. Through respectful values and shared responsibilities, solid partnerships can proactively shape a solution that addresses community needs based on lived experiences. It’s essential to listen to community and allow them to be the architects of new strategies and this requires adequate resources and investment.

If a program puts community in the driver’s seat from the get-go, these relationships will unfold.


What these examples tell us: three tips for a solid partnership


  1. Invest in the partnership, not just the partners. It’s often underestimated the significant time and complex processes required to bring everyone together for a shared program.
  2. Make time for discussion and don’t be defensive. Let go of preconceptions about what is needed and provide plenty of time for debate and revision. By holding onto individual outcomes or processes – there is no partnership.
  3. Commit to building deep relationships with the people involved in the program. It's when the best and most substantive things can happen and it will strengthen shared outcomes.


About VicHealth’s Arts Strategy 2019 – 2023


The VicHealth Everyday Creativity and Art of Good Health programs are designed to promote health and wellbeing at a local level through the arts and culture sector. The programs focus on building stronger and more equitable communities as well as developing creative solutions to health promotion challenges.


Useful resources


The partnerships analysis tool – a resource for organisations entering into or working in a partnership to assess, monitor and maximise its ongoing effectiveness.


VicHealth also recently released a review of the impact that the arts, cultural sector and creative industries can have a positive impact on people’s mental, physical and social health.