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Small Town Culture

The success of the partnership can be credited to shared goals, enthusiasm and commitment to the program


Small Town Culture is a music label developed by Josh Arnold, an accomplished singer and song-writer, and supported by the University of Southern Queensland, to enable students from schools and communities in LSES, rural and remote regions of Australia to have their voices heard. Josh delivers workshops and helps students to write, sing and perform music about their home towns and their aspirations for the future. The work builds self-confidence in students from culturally diverse and Indigenous backgrounds, encourages school engagement and attendance and promotes pride in school and community.


  • University of Southern Queensland (USQ)
  • Queensland Department of Education Training and Employment (DETE)
  • Small Town Culture
  • 80 primary and secondary schools in the Education Queensland Darling Downs and South West Region.

The ultimate aim of the Small Town Culture program is to empower students to make choices about their future that results in improved higher education participation. This is achieved by building self-confidence in students and pride in their school and community, and encouraging school engagement and attendance. The program is funded by the HEPPP, and USQ partnered with Small Town Culture in order to build relationships with primary and secondary schools, and promote the importance of self-confidence in enabling students to make the decision to study beyond school. The partnership gives students the opportunity to interact with the university in a nonthreatening environment that encourages a connection with higher education.

Activities at each school follow a general pattern of relationship building, workshops, rehearsals, choreography, filming and production. Each school tailors the program to the needs of their community, their overall objectives and approach, and their scale and budget. The final product is a recorded song or number of songs on CD or DVD, iTunes, YouTube and other social media. Often there is also a launch event that brings the school and community together to celebrate the efforts of the students and the uniqueness and beauty of their region. The program has been delivered in 80 schools in the Darling Downs and South West Region in Queensland to date, reaching over 3,700 students and many more parents and community members. Over 40 songs have been written and recorded, and engagement on social media has increased significantly. The program has been profiled by ABC Landline and has had significant other media attention, locally and state-wide. Activity in schools has been further developed by having the students come to the USQ Toowoomba Campus to perform and engage in interactive sessions to encourage and motivate them towards higher education. Talented students will participate in the USQ McGregor Summer School, which provides intensive tuition on song-writing and contemporary voice and gives students the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded students from similar backgrounds and regions.

Small Town Culture was evaluated in 2013 and continues to be evaluated in 2014. Surveys were distributed to students, principals, teachers and community members who were involved in the workshops, production of clips and community engagement aspects of the program. The data shows an overwhelmingly positive response to the workshops and to Josh as a teacher and mentor. Almost all responders indicated that they would welcome the opportunity to continue working with Small Town Culture, and rated the experience as exceedingly positive for students, schools and communities. Comments from surveys indicated an increased sense of pride in the community and an exceptionally positive experience for the students, leading to a range of outcomes.

“Josh brings positivity and enthusiasm, which our kids respond to positively. What he brings is something our kids need in order to develop a greater sense of self-belief and self-confidence. The program is amazing in terms of what it does and can do for individuals, schools and communities.” – school principal.

The success of the partnership between Small Town Culture and USQ can be credited to their shared goals, enthusiasm and commitment to the program, trust between the partners and effective communication. The partnership was established because USQ recognised the existing relationships and quality of work that had been initiated by Josh. When the partnership was formed, Josh already had experience within the school context and was working towards building regional resilience and pride – goals shared by USQ. The success of the relationship can be attributed to the shared interest in providing students in regional areas with the opportunity to have their voices heard and selfconfidence developed. USQ believes that working with schools and communities in all regions supports inclusive society, contributes to nation building and progresses regional wellbeing. The partnership is marked by clearly defined goals and expectations, and the trust shared between Josh and USQ enables Josh to provide the direction that Small Town Culture needs to achieve success, and make decisions to guide the future of the program. To maintain and advance the trust relationship, monthly progress reports have been established to provide information on movement and budgeting.

Small Town Culture operates in diverse and often geographically remote areas, and the need for effective communication is essential to delivering timely outcomes and to meet assessment and reporting requirements. Regular meetings between partners take place where possible, and informal phone calls and emails provide frequent updates on the day-to-day progress of the program in schools.

As Small Town Culture has evolved and the success of the program has become more widely known, the need to expand its content has become apparent. A Small Town Culture Camp has recently been funded to bring together talented students from regional and remote areas of southwest Queensland. Those students will work with musicians and music producers to develop their musicality and build relationships with peers that will help in their future studies and life beyond school. Funding for the program beyond 2014 is being reviewed and it is hoped that the partnership will continue. Schools have expressed their interest in hosting the program in 2015 and 2016, and many are working to make funds available so that their reliance on external and USQ funding is reduced.

Image depicting four types of partnership. Inter-sectoral and Social/Community are high...

This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.

Posted 17 June 2015 Posted in General, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote