Cultural Infrastructures

Program Co-Convenors: Professor Deborah Stevenson and Dr Zelmarie Cantillon


The Cultural Infrastructures Research Program conducts cutting edge, interdisciplinary research into the cultural institutions and practices that shape the expression and experience of everyday lives and cultures, and contribute to the social, cultural, and economic vitality of cities and regions. These are the built and imaginative places for the production and consumption of culture. Mindful of the complexity and unevenness of cultural infrastructure, the program probes its contours at different levels of operation and governance, and in contexts ranging from the local to the global. Key research concerns include: cultural policy; placemaking; urban cultures; cultural work; the creative industries; museums and heritage; material culture; the arts; sport; entertainment; and leisure.

This program is innovative in its merging of policy-relevant and critical research, and the incorporation, under the rubric of ‘cultural infrastructure’, of diverse cultural institutions and practices such as heritage, the arts and sport. It brings both qualitative and quantitative research methods to bear on these important subjects while some researchers have a particular interest in applying the techniques of cultural mapping and data visualisation to penetrate the texture and complexity of cultural infrastructure. Research team members frequently work in partnerships with both the public and private sectors, including local municipalities, state government bodies, commercial and not-for-profit cultural organisations.

Important research currently underway examines options for conserving heritage sites in rapidly developing parts of Asia, including Mongolia and China, transnational approaches to interpreting migrant heritage and a study of heritage making by recent migrants from China and India in Parramatta. Other work probes civic engagement among diverse cultural communities, the planning, provision and uses of urban cultural infrastructure, the complexity of cultural work in Greater Metropolitan Sydney (especially in the West) and a major study of the social and cultural dynamics of cultural taste across contemporary Australia.

In May 2021, the Cultural Infrastructure research program commissioned Dr Phillip Mar to undertake a comprehensive review of the cultural infrastructure literature. This review is organised into two key sections, with the first providing a summary of the key definitions, issues and debates explored in the body of literature that are canvassed in the second section.

Research Projects

Some of the current and recently completed research projects associated with this research program include:

Advancing Digital Inclusion in Low Income Australian Families – ARC Linkage (2020–23)

This ethnographic investigation explores the complex relationship between digital and social inclusion and social infrastructure's role (education facilities, charities, government services) in supporting low-income families' social and economic participation. It gathers insights from families in six diverse communities from Far North Queensland to Tasmania across diverse urban, regional and rural locations.

Australian Cultural Fields: National and Transnational Dynamics – ARC Discovery Project (2014–17)

Australian Cultural Fields examines the forces changing the production and consumption of contemporary Australian culture. It will assess the influence of transnationalism, the transformations caused by digital media, migration and multiculturalism, and the shifting presence of Indigenous culture, on the relations between culture and nation.

The China–Australia Heritage Corridor – ARC Discovery Project (2017–21)

This project aims to show how buildings and places created by Chinese migrants in Australia and home places in China testify, beyond the narrative of arrival and settlement, to Australian connections with China and the Chinese diaspora. Using the 'heritage corridor' concept, it aims to develop a transnational approach to migration heritage and will provide tools and concepts for broadly documenting, analysing and interpreting Australia's migration heritage.

The Collaborative Museum: Embedding Cultural Infrastructure in the City – ARC Linkage (2022–25)

In partnership with the Museum of Arts and Applied Sciences (MAAS), this project examines the complex processes of collaboration and community engagement needed to embed the new Powerhouse museum in the key Western Sydney city of Parramatta. Anticipated to open in 2025, the establishment of the Powerhouse Parramatta provides a unique opportunity to analyse, and contribute to, the process of embedding the new museum into the physical and community space of Western Sydney in real time.

Cultural Infrastructure in Sydney – consultancy projects (2017–present)

Culture is fluid and cultural activities can take place in any context. To reflect these dynamics, the Institute’s research broadens cultural mapping to include cultural venues and different types of cultural enterprises and organisations. The Institute has undertaken case-study-based cultural infrastructure mapping projects with the City of Sydney, Inner West Councils, Penrith, Blue Mountains, and Parramatta Councils, and the Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils.

Heritage-making among recent migrants in Parramatta – ARC Linkage (2019–23)

The project studies the ways that recent migrants experience and interact with existing heritage places in Parramatta and how they generate heritage places and attachments of their own. The team will work with participants from the Chinese and Indian migrant communities in the Parramatta LGA to investigate their attitudes to and engagement with existing heritage sites in Parramatta

Reimagining Norfolk Island’s Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area – ARC Special Research Initiative (2021–24)

The Reimagining KAVHA project aims to explore the role living heritage sites like KAVHA play in resisting or reinforcing cultural injustices. The research team will be working closely with Pitcairn Settler descendants to co-create public history outputs – including zines and a self-guided heritage walk pamphlet – and a policy report that will provide recommendations for enhancing the visibility of Pitcairner heritage in KAVHA.

UNESCO and the Making of Global Cultural Policy: Culture, Economy, Development – ARC Discovery Project (2018–23)

This interdisciplinary project aims to investigate the effectiveness of UNESCO, the world’s preeminent transnational cultural policy operative, and its 2005 Convention on Cultural Diversity, in addressing major global social, economic and development challenges. Focusing, in particular, on UNESCO’s influence on cultural policy in the global South, the project utilises qualitative methods to probe its operation at multiple activity levels in different national and local contexts.