City of Adelaide's Cultural Strategy: a Cultural Roadmap for a Sustainable City

1. Context

Located on traditional Country of the Kaurna people, Adelaide is the Capital City of South Australia and one of the world’s most liveable cities renowned globally for its cultural life. While overseas migration is strong, the city experiences departing interstate migration with people seeking employment opportunities in larger cities. Adelaide is also feeling the impacts of climate change with extreme heat waves, hotter temperatures, droughts, and bushfires.

2. Adelaide and culture

Adelaide was designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Music in 2015 in recognition of its long and rich musical history and its active contribution to national and international partnerships that promote creativity and strengthen participation in cultural life. Adelaide’s cultural landscape is filled with a wide range of culture-makers and worldclass creative industries. Within this context, City of Adelaide (CoA) Cultural Strategy (2017-2023) advances culture as a key pillar for Adelaide’s development as a sustainable city through a strong interconnection with other public policies. The application of the cultural lens across Council activities creates a long-term vision for culture as a key enabler of healthy, resilient, and thriving communities, accessible and welcoming spaces, and multiculturalism, through lifelong learning experiences, as well as promoting Kaurna (Adelaide’s original inhabitants) and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities, traditions, and languages. Furthermore, it recognises the strong links between culture and economic development, urban planning, and environmental sustainability.

CoA’s cultural strategy advances culture as a key pillar for Adelaide's development as a sustainable city through a strong interconnexion with other public policies.

CoA’s Cultural Strategy is based on the values and commitments of Agenda 21 for Culture and Culture 21: Actions and founded on a partnership with Adelaide’s communities across conception, delivery and evaluation stages.

The project prioritises the cultural rights and participation of all citizens through lifelong learning experiences (Goal 4), and seeks to enhance Adelaide’s liveability and resilience (Goal 3), reduce inequalities (Goal 10), enable dialogue with communities (Goal 11), strengthen Adelaide’s environmental leadership, community capacity, sustainable behaviours, and practices (Goal 12) and participate in international cultural cooperation programs to locally address the 2030 Agenda (Goal 17).

3. Goals and project implementation

3.1. Main aim and specific goals

The Cultural Strategy is one of the key policies that deliver Adelaide’s vision as the world’s most liveable city through collaborations with the civic society, the private sector and other areas of government. It aims to enable culture as a cross-cutting driver and enabler of Adelaide’s development as a sustainable city, highlighting the relationship between culture, citizenship and sustainability, and supporting the local implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 21 for culture.

3.2. Development of the project

Main actions carried out

CoA’s Cultural Strategy was developed through comprehensive engagement involving citizens, Adelaide’s cultural agents, and the public administration. The process involved: a community consultation; in-depth conversation with Adelaide culture makers; and a discussion paper that stimulated the engagement with the wider community, creative practitioners, Councillors and cultural staff around the city.

Consultation identified five shared cultural aspirations:

  • Unique and renowned cultural identity.
  • Robustand sustainable cultural economy.
  • Engaged and connected cultural community.
  • Leadership as a cultural incubator
  • Authentic, vibrant, and diverse cultural experiences.

The Cultural Strategy articulates how Council will engage in the cultural life of the city, working together with individuals, groups, business, and organisations who contribute to Adelaide’s dynamic city culture.

Some of the cultural experiences offered are:

  • Arts and Cultural Grants that support locally led public art, artistic development, live music enterprise, and community programs and events.
  • Public Art world-class experiences that celebrate vibrant Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and culturally diverse identities, and invigorate Adelaide’s built environment and urban landscape fostering community wellbeing.
  • Live Music activities and incentive schemes that activate venues, city spaces and places, nurture Adelaide’s robust music industry and culturally diverse audiences.
  • Cultural Incubation programs that offer incubation and professional development for emerging creatives across disciplines.
  • Cultural Strategic Partnerships that deliver on mutual, shared outcomes, leverage resources, add value to planned activities.
  • Library programs that promote life-long learning and active participation in the cultural life of Adelaide.
  • Connecting the cultural community, evaluating and communicating the impact of the Cultural Strategy and its contribution to the sustainable development of the city.
  • Sponsored Events and Festivals and programs such as Splash Adelaide that champion creative responses and enable the participation of all citizens at all stages of life in the sustainable development of places and spaces, such as trials for sustainable transport infrastructure, creative alternatives for road closures, street activations, and winter programming.

World-class live music experiences, festivals and events, public art, cultural incubation programmes, arts and cultural grants, cultural strategic partnerships, community connections and library programmes contribute to Adelaide's dynamic city culture.

Partner entities

The six-year Cultural Strategy is intended as a living document enabling flexibility for new projects to be explored and delivered. The Dynamic City Arts and Culture Dashboard gathers and shares the contributions of Adelaide’s cultural activities in the areas of social, economic and environmental sustainability through qualitative data and stories gathered since 2017. The collaboration with The National Local Government Cultural Forum informed the development of the cultural outcomes’ schema is also included in the Dashboard.


  • Adelaide is perceived as a vibrant and interesting place, a key factor to attract and retain global talent,
  • innovation, and visitors.
  • Over 4 million people attend Adelaide’s arts and cultural festivals annually and the city’s cultural vitality contributes to the wellbeing and resilience of its people
  • A growing number of Adelaide festivals and events are supporting Adelaide’s carbon neutral aspirations.
  • Cultural and creative programs contribute to reduce inequality and make the city inclusive and accessible by promoting the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, disability access and the inclusion
  • of all communities.
  • CoA is delivering 84 strategic partnerships and residencies informing and complementing the design of safe and sustainable places and spaces, improving urban resilience, and reducing Adelaide’s environmental impacts.
  • Live music has increased by 68% since 2015. The music contribution into the city’s economy is strong.
  • The economic contribution of Adelaide’s major arts and cultural festivals increased from $267.7 million (2017) to $345.9 million (2018).

4. Impacts

4.1. Direct impacts

For CoA, the Cultural Strategy has highlighted the importance of an inclusive cultural governance model to enable cultural participation and shared responsibilities with culture makers, creative industries and incubators, emerging creatives, cultural enterprises, and citizens.

The growing transversal integration of culture across different areas of policy through the cultural lens has shown the importance of combining social, economic, environmental, and cultural factors for the sustainable development of the city.

4.2. Evaluation

The Dynamic City: Arts and Culture Dashboard, endorsed by Council in 2019, is a tool to share the contributions of culture to Adelaide’s economic success, the active participation of all citizens, the promotion of diverse cultural expressions, and the wellbeing and resilience of individuals and communities. The Dashboard is the result of extensive collaborative work across the Council, with local communities, and with the national cultural sector to develop a series of indicators and collect relevant data, information and stories related to Adelaide’s cultural aspirations.

4.3. Key factors

he success of the Cultural Strategy is the result of a long-term collaborative approach with Adelaide’s citizens, the local creative sector and businesses, Council staff, Councilors and other areas of Government. The cultural lens builds on the strengths of Adelaide’s creative sector and offers a clear framework while allowing flexibility towards new ideas and opportunities. Moreover, culture is considered today one of the key pillars for Adelaide’s sustainable development and its transversal application across policy areas has revealed new opportunities within Council.

The long-term collaborative approach with the citizens, the local creative sector and business, council staff, councilors and other areas of the governments is one of the main key factors of the project.

4.4. Continuity

Despite the trend of reduced funding for the arts and cultural sector in Australia at both federal and state levels, City of Adelaide’s budgetary commitment to culture continues to grow enabling a thriving creative community, culture and audiences across the City. Collaborations with the Council of Capital Cities of Lord Mayors, Australia’s Cultural Development Network, and participation in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network have strengthened Adelaide’s capacity to integrate culture in sustainable development strategies and the city’s vision to deliver the 2030 Agenda locally.

City of Adelaide’s organisational structure reflects a commitment to long-term support for the integration of culture across more areas of work.

5. Further information

Adelaide was a candidate for the fourth “UCLG Mexico City – Culture 21 International Award” (November 2019 – May 2020). The jury for the award drew up its final report in June of 2020, and requested that the Committee on Culture promote this project as one of the good practices to be implemented through Agenda 21 for culture.

This article was written by Anne Rundle, Manager, Culture and Lifelong Learning, City of Adelaide, Australia.



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