Welcome to the

Creative Change Project

We're interested in the role community music can play in
creating greater social equity in Australian communities.

The Creative Change Project team clockwise from top-left: Pearly Black, Emma Heard, Joel Spence, Matt Hsu, Flora Wong, and Brydie-Leigh Bartleet.

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What is the Creative Change Project?

An Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship at the Creative Arts Research Institute, Griffith University, investigating the role community music can play in creating greater social equity in Australian communities.

Illustration of fists raised with different skin tones

Addressing social inequity

Social inequity is on the rise, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating problems of long-term disadvantage in communities across the country. Inequity occurs on a social gradient, often manifesting in locational disadvantage. As such, where a person lives, and their social positions, has profound implications on their wellbeing.

Eucalyptus branch

Place-based approaches

There are growing calls for place-based approaches that bring together diverse stakeholders and sectors to work collectively on addressing inequity. This research aims to advance our understanding of the role that community music can play in these tailored, community-based approaches.

Reverse Anthem, Play it Forward​ & RISING, Naarm (Melbourne)​

Reverse Anthem, Play it Forward​ & RISING, Naarm (Melbourne)​

The benefits of music

Building on a mounting evidence-base of research that documents the social, cultural, physiological, and economic benefits that can come from participating in music, we seek to examine whether these positive outcomes can lead to the kinds of individual, community, and systemic changes needed for greater social equity to occur.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Creative Change Project acknowledges the Yugarabul, Yuggera, Jagera and Turrbal peoples who are the traditional custodians of the land where Griffith University South Bank, Nathan and Mount Gravatt campuses are situated. We pay respect to the Elders, past and present, and extend that respect to traditional custodians we are working with across the country, and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Performers at Songs for Freedom at Barangaroo, Big hART, 2023

Performers at Songs for Freedom at Barangaroo, Big hART, 2023

Aims of the Creative Change project

Through our research and partnerships with communities that address social inequity and create music, we aim to:

Map community music

Map current approaches to community music in Australian contexts where social inequity exists, and create a detailed picture of how these locally-embedded approaches to music-making operate.

Social outcomes

Investigate what kinds of social outcomes can be fostered by community music, explore how they can help to improve the social consequences of inequity, and enhance the efficacy of place-based efforts seeking to mitigate this inequity.

Creative turn

Develop conceptual work and an evidence-base that can inform a ‘creative turn’ in the development of place-based policies and approaches aimed at addressing social inequity in Australian communities.

Illustration of fists raised with different skin tones

An audience of 3000 in front of a Noongar sand sculpture at Songs for Freedom in Perth at Dyoondalup, Point Walter Reserve, City of Melville, Big hART, 2021

How we conceptualise community

We understand community as a group of people who share a connection that binds them together. That connection may form around a shared geographical place, space, interest, value, identity, need or circumstance. A healthy community has agency, with members making an active choice to pursue this connection with others. Other times a community may be involuntary, and forced together by external factors, circumstances, and policies. As such, communities exist in many diverse forms, compositions, layers, and intersections. Communities exist across different timescales and intensities with varying degrees of regularity and continuity.

How we define community music

Community music can be broadly defined as participatory music making by, for, and/or with a community. At its heart, community music involves the creation of inclusive, locally-embedded, community-led opportunities for engagement in music. Rather than being characterised by a particular style, genre, medium or aesthetic, community music is distinctively reflective of its cultural context, and shaped by its participants and local setting. Given its focus on community agency, musical practices within this field customarily work to uphold values of inclusion, access, equity, justice, and self-determination.

Participants of Everybody NOW's Swing On In, part of QMF's QLD Music Trails in Charleville, 2023

Particpants of Swing On In with Everybody NOW, part of QMF's QLD Music Trails in Charleville, 2023

Illustration of fists raised with different skin tones

How we understand social equity

Social equity is about ensuring every person has the opportunities and resources to reach their fullest potential and live a fulfilled life. Inequity can be understood as differences in the resources, opportunities, rewards, and rights a person has based on their position within society, leading to disparities is health and wellbeing that are unjust and avoidable. Structural systems of power (the way our society is organised and operates) cause certain groups to thrive at the expense of others. Social inequity has multiple and intersecting causes and symptoms, and as such, to achieve equity we must work across individual, community, and systemic levels.

Our values

The Creative Change Project works hand-in-hand with communities, arts, and social sector organisations, to advance our understanding of the role that music can play in addressing entrenched social inequity, and bringing about positive social change in Australian communities.

Our work is underpinned by a human-rights ethic, social justice principles, and a commitment to upholding dignity, equity, and mutual respect in all aspects of our project’s work.

As a team, we come to this research with a wide range lived experiences and perspectives. We see our differences and diversity as our greatest strength.

Clockwise from top-left: Emma Heard, Matt Hsu, Joel Spence, Flora Wong, Pearly Black, and Brydie-Leigh Bartleet.


Privileging the musical resources and cultural strengths of communities

Bold questions

Asking bold, critical, and complex questions in creative ways


Unleashing our imagination, curiosity, and reflexivity to learn and discover


Challenging systemic injustices through anti-colonial and anti-oppressive practices


Prioritising compassion, kindness, and inclusivity in all our interactions


Acting with respect, honesty, and integrity and having the courage to speak up


Embracing diversity, self-determination, and the lived experiences of all involved


Striving to uphold the principles of social, cultural, and climate justice in all we do

Resources and outputs

A catalogue of the Creative Change Project's impact,
through publications, presentations and more.

Summary brochure

Creative Change Project
Summary Brochure

Creative Change Project

Conference presentation / 19 April 2024

Community Music as Health Promotion: Working across the five actions areas for supporting health and equity

Fostering Creative Health Conference, University of Melbourne

Conference presentation / 24 October 2023

Can Community Music Help Create More Equitable Societies?

Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation, Adelphi University

Evaluation / October 2023

Creative Pathways for Juvenile Justice

Big hART & Creative Change Project, Griffith University

Conference presentation / 18 August 2023

The City Transformed, Green Institute Conference

Green Institute

Conference presentation / 14 July 2023

Asia Pacific Community Music Network Symposium

Asia Pacific Community Music Network

Journal publication / 13 June 2023

A conceptual framework for understanding and articulating the social impact of community music

International Journal of Community Music

Panels and talks / 16 Feb 2023

Social Justice in Arts and Health

Performing Creativity, Culture and Wellbeing Conference, Uni of Melbourne 2023

Conference presentation / 12-14 Dec 2022

The Role of Community Music in Addressing Entrenched Social Inequities

SIMM-posium, Guildhall, London

Conference presentation / 9 Nov 2022

A Systematic Review: Exploring the Role of Music in Addressing Social Inequity with Young People: Preliminary analysis

Australian Association for Adolescent Health (AAAH)

Panels and talks / 8 Sep 2022

Connecting the arts and the social sector for social change

Queensland Council of Social Services Conference

Panels and talks / 2 Aug 2022

Introducing the Creative Change Project

AEL Lightning Talks, Griffith University

Conference presentation / 13 Jul 2022

How Community Music Might Address The UN’s SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities

Community Music Activity (CMA) Commission, ISME

Case studies

Learn about the music communities
we are partnering with for our research.

Big hART

Australia’s leading arts and social change organisation.

Play It Forward

Tailored inclusive arts programs, events and projects for all Australians.

QMF's The Outback Trail

Where the marvels of Queensland's outback come alive through the magic of music.

Kurilpa (West End)

A Meanjin (Brisbane) suburb with long and deep history of drawing on community arts to advance social justice.

Big hART

Big hART is Australia’s leading arts and social change organisation, set up in 1992 to find new ways of dealing with disadvantage, including the Songs for Peace, a series of music and songwriting workshops in the community and prison, and ends in a large outdoor annual concert featuring nationally celebrated artists from a range of cultural backgrounds, collaborating with local musicians.

This case study is led by PhD candidate Joel Spence, whose research has seen him spending time in Western Australia's Pilbara region, witnessing the Songs for Peace showcase of rich stories and strong culture, learning from performers, staff and volunteers about their experiences, and joining songwriting initiatives alongside community members. Joel has been exploring the potential of music for community healing and driving policy change.

Stirling Blacket, TysonMowarin, Lucky Oceans, Hamilton Blacket and Stephen Pigram performing at Songs for Peace, Ieramagadu (Roebourne), Big hART, 2018

Performers at Songs for Freedom, Melbourne Recital Centre, taken by Ben Fon in September 2023

Play It Forward

Play It Forward provides a unique range of tailored inclusive arts programs, events and projects for all Australians, and have been recognised amongst the most outstanding social inclusion models of the past decade for re-connecting isolated, vulnerable and marginalised members of their community.

PhD candidate Pearly Black, brings her experience and passion for singing into her Play It Forward case study, exploring the community bonds within and beyond the organisation’s program of community choirs, which collectively address and support a range of social and cultural issues. Pearly’s research explores the themes of communal singing to create social bonds and address social inequity. Most recently she spent time in Naarm (Melbourne) with Play It Forward’s Peace Choir Project, an initiative bringing together culturally diverse members and celebrating inclusivity.

Play It Forward's Peace Choir Project in Wyndham, Naarm (Melbourne)

Play It Forward's Peace Choir Project in Wyndham, Naarm (Melbourne), 2023

QMF's The Outback Trail

The Outback Music Trail is a driveable series of place-based music events delivered in five communities along the Warrego Highway, run by QMF (formerly Queensland Music Festival) as part of a diverse range of music programs that respond to Queensland’s social, cultural and economic challenges, with innovative cultural tourism initiatives. Leading this case study is PhD candidate Flora Wong who has embedded herself in regional communities that host the Outback Music Trail such as Cunnamulla and Charleville, making a series of month long stays as part of her artist-in-residence research method. During these trips, Flora immerses herself in local music and culture, spending time with local musicians and community members, running music workshops, visiting schools and community hubs, learning about how music (in particular country music) is intrinsically threaded into local stories, histories, identity and sense of place.

Topology at Echoes in the Dust in Quilpie, Outback Trail, QMF, 2021

The QMF team at the QLD Music Trails launch, 2022

Kurilpa (West End)

Kurilpa (West End) has a long and deep history of drawing on community arts to advance social justice, and has a strong place-based identity as home to an engaged, diverse and resilient community. Over the past two decades, the area has experienced rapid gentrification, which has contributed to growing inequity, and remains a hub of social service provision and employment bringing people from all walks of life into the community.

West End resident Dr Emma Heard leads this case study and is working closely with West End’s community and social sector organisations to explore the relationship between community music making and social equity from a place-based perceptive. Partnering with social sector organisation Micah Projects,  this case study aims to capture a breadth of community music practice happening in the area, and consider upstream implications of this practice to inform both arts and social sector development.  

Micah Projects is an integral community organisation committed to providing services and opportunities to create justice and response to injustice. We will be working closely with Micah Projects throughout the design and implementation of the West End case study to ensure the project is relevant and safe, and that outcomes can meaningfully contribute to the work of community, social, and arts sectors, as well as local people.

Stirling Blacket, TysonMowarin, Lucky Oceans, Hamilton Blacket and Stephen Pigram performing at Songs for Peace, Iremugadu (Roebourne), Big hART, 2018

Bunyapa Park in West End, community carols events, 2022

Mapping survey

Insights drawn from musicians and arts organisations across the country are coming soon.

We’ve recently completed a national survey of music and social change in Australian communities, involving over a hundred arts initiatives across the country. We have gained valuable insights from musicians, teachers, organisations, programs and organisations that seek to address social issues in Australian communities.

Until now, a national picture of the contributions music initiatives with a social change focus make to Australian communities, has been lacking.
These insights on music practices and initiatives will play a vital role in developing our understanding about the collective impact music practices are making.
These insights will help inform a ‘creative turn’ in the social sector’s design and implementation of place-based initiatives tackling social disadvantage.

Watch this space for further updates and resources.

Meet the team

The team behind the Creative Change Project are researchers and creative practitioners interested in the intersection of arts and social change. Informed by their own arts practices, they're working hand-in-hand with arts and community organisations to explore how the positive outcomes of community music can lead to systemic changes needed for greater social equity.

Prof. Brydie-Leigh Bartleet

Prof. Brydie-Leigh Bartleet (she/her)
ARC Future Fellow

Brydie is a dynamic research leader, award-winning educator, respected community collaborator, and arts sector advocate. Over the past 20 years, her research has advanced our understanding of the cultural, social, educational and economic benefits of participating in music and the arts. She has worked on fifteen major research projects in remote Central Australia, Western Australia and South East Arnhem Land, prisons, public health contexts, and post-conflict settings. She is a first-generation migrant from South Africa, with European heritage. As the Leader of the Creative Change Project, she oversees all aspects of the project’s design and implementation. She set up all the project’s partnerships, and is working closely with the team on each of their case studies, liaising with the Advisory Group, and working on the national mapping exercise, conceptual and theoretical aspects, and translation of the findings.

Dr Emma Marie Heard

Dr Emma Marie Heard (she/her)
Research Fellow

Emma is a health and arts-based researcher with a passion for social equity. Emma’s research experience has focused on sexual violence prevention, and as a health promotion practitioner she has worked with a range of communities implementing strengths-based approaches to health and wellbeing. Emma is interested in understanding and shifting the social power structures that create inequity within our society. As the Research Fellow on this project, she's exploring the overarching outcomes across each of the case studies, as well as mapping community music in Australia. Born in Meanjin, Emma is a life-long resident of West End, and is leading the West End case study. Emma is excited to be connecting with her community to investigate the role that community-centred music making plays in shaping the Kurilpa peninsula as a place and it’s diverse community.

Flora Wong, PhD Candidate

Flora Wong (she/her)
PhD Candidate

Flora is a musician and researcher with a background as a performer, collaborator, creative producer and educator. A versatile violinist or fiddle player (depending on the day of the week), she has a passion for storytelling through music and the exploration of culture and identity through the arts. She performs with Nonsemble, Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra, and Tango Enigmático, and is the Co-Director of Dots+Loops. Born in Hong Kong, she has lived and worked in Meanjin/Brisbane for most of her life, but her work as a musician, teacher and facilitator has taken her all over Australia and the world. Her case study partners with QMF and their Queensland Music Trails initiative to investigate the role of community music in fostering social equity in the South West Queensland towns of Charleville and Cunnamulla.

Pearly Black, PhD Candidate

Pearly Black (she/her)
PhD Candidate

Pearly is a singer, performance creative, master of vocal pedagogy and researcher with rich and varied career over the last three decades. With her musical roots in the wilds of indie rock and community music on the margins, she also has a long association with cabaret, world music and contemporary art music in Meanjin/Brisbane, Naarm/Mebourne and nipaluna/Hobart. Pearly's research interests are centred on voice and the wonderful capacities of singing to connect us to ourselves and each other for growth, healing and a more equitable society. To explore these themes, Pearly is working with an array of choirs within Dr Jonathon Welch's Play It Forward organisation, as well as her own vocal arts project, The West End Singing Circle.

Joel Spence, PhD Candidate

Joel Spence (he/him)
PhD Candidate

Joel is a singer-songwriter, social worker, and music educator (secondary education) from Gippsland (Bunerong & Kurnai Country), Victoria. He completed a social work honours at Griffith University with original arts health led research. His dissertation produced an exploratory study into enablers and barriers to ballet as a dance movement therapy for traumatic brain injury survivors and carers post injury. As part of the Creative Change Project, Joel is studying community music and social inequity in Australia - following the specific journey of Songs For Freedom presented by the Ieramugadu/Roebourne community facilitated by Big hART.

Dr Matt Hsu

Dr Matt Hsu (he/him)
Communications Officer

Matt is a 2022 and 2020 Queensland Music Awards winning composer, orchestra director and anti-racism activist of Indigenous-Taiwanese (Paiwan/Rukai) heritage. His project Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra is a 22-piece racidically-inclusive ensemble comprising of BIPOC, First Nations, disabled, non-binary and trans artists. Matt's PhD research explored indie-folk (freak folk) music's anachronistic expression of 'old-timey' cottagecore adjacent sensibilities and its race, gender and class dynamics. Matt's communications role for the Creative Change Project combines his passion for community-centred arts and social equity with his experience in research, media and as 4ZZZ's Community Engagement Coordinator.

Advisory Group

The Creative Change Project advisory group consists of leading national and international researchers who provide guidance on aspects of the projects design and implementation, and help connect the project to international research developments in the field.

Prof. Geoff Baker

Royal Holloway
University of London

Emeritus Prof. Linda Barwick

Sydney Conservatorium of Music
University of Sydney

Prof. Clint Bracknell,

UWA Conservatorium of Music
University of Western Australia

Prof. Ingrid Burkett

Yunus Centre
Griffith University

Emeritus Prof. Ian Cross

Faculty of Music
University of Cambridge

Prof. Jane Davidson

Faculty of Fine Arts and Music
University of Melbourne

Prof. Barbara Hesser

New York University Steinhardt
New York University

Prof. Lee Higgins

International Centre for Community Music
York St John University

Prof. Judith Marcuse

International Centre of Art for Social Change
Simon Fraser University

Assoc. Prof. Te Oti Rakena

Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries
University of Auckland

Kirsty Rivers

Development and Strategic Partnerships
Australia Council for the Arts

Prof. Heidi Westerlund

Sibelius Academy
University of the Arts Helsinki

A/Prof. Geoff Woolcock

External Evaluator
Creative Arts Research Institute
Griffith University /
University of Southern Queensland


Mapping description text

Get in touch with us

To chat with us about the project, feel free to contact Brydie or Emma.

07 3735 6249


Creative Arts Research Institute
Queensland Conservatorium - Griffith University
South Bank Campus
140 Grey Street, South Bank QLD 4101

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