ACFP Spotlight: Steel City Strings

Claire Edwards with Steel City Strings 2022

Claire Edwards with Steel City Strings. Photo: Josh Reid

Wollongong-based and volunteer-led community string ensemble, Steel City Strings received $60,000 funding as part of Create NSW’s 2021/22 Arts and Cultural Funding Program Round 1 (Projects Funding for Organisations) to fund its 2022 Season.

As a previous Create NSW Small Project Grants recipient, Steel City Strings built on grant application knowledge and experience, clearly articulating the program objectives and outcomes – to make classical music more accessible to audiences on the South Coast and beyond – to meet the assessment criteria.

“Make the most of all the available resources like webinars and advice from experts. This can dramatically improve how you write and interpret what’s needed in a submission.”

With Create NSW funding, the organisation was able to invest in people and processes that set it up for long-term commercial sustainability. Musically, the ensemble flourished – engaging a Chief Conductor, alongside some of Australia’s most respected soloists. Being able to connect with new audiences in Wollongong, Shoalhaven, and the Southern Highlands positioned Steel City Strings as one of the state’s top regional string ensembles.

The funding came at a crucial time for Steel City Strings, which like all arts and cultural organisations had been hit hard by pandemic-related closures since early 2020. The Covid-era lockdowns provided a catalyst for a digital transformation, exposing the need for new skill sets and centralised, automated IT and accounting systems. The funds also provided momentum for the predominantly volunteer-led ensemble, enabling it to attract great talent and develop emerging artists throughout its 2022 season, ensuring its program resonated with audiences to set it up for future growth.

Highlights of the 2022 season included collaborations with Aboriginal composer and didgeridoo artist, William Barton in Earth Connections, acclaimed violinist Emily Sun for Max Richter’s interpretation of Vivaldi masterpieces in Seasons, and virtuoso percussionist Claire Edwardes for its third concert series in late November, Women in Steel.

The Women in Steel program features a new Australian composition by Natalie Williams, Steeling Fire that was supported by Create NSW Project Grant.  Performing new Australian music has been a hallmark of every season for Steel City Strings since it began in 2015, a commitment that earned the ensemble an APRA Art Music award for regional excellence and commitment to Australian music in 2019.

Lyndall Fowler, Steel City Strings Founder and Operational Team Member said the funding enabled Steel City Strings to grow both musically and professionally as an organisation. “Working with Chief Conductor Luke Spicer improved our ensemble’s sound, while working with three diverse Australian soloists helped lift performances and connect us to audiences in new ways, cementing our reputation for exciting, innovative music,” said Ms Fowler.

“On the business-side, we’ve been able to reinvent how we do things, allowing us to future-proof the organisation in the digital age. When you’re a small volunteer-led ensemble, this funding from Create NSW can really catapult you to the next level.”

In preparing its application, Steel City Strings was able to use several free resources made available by Create NSW, including Create Connects webinars and the Creating New Income Toolkit.

These resources helped the organisation apply a business mindset to its application, communicating its funding needs through the lens of best practice in accessibility, diversity, audience engagement and sustainability.

Lyndall’s top tip for others looking to apply:

  • Make the most of all the available resources like webinars and advice from experts. This can dramatically improve how you write and interpret what’s needed in a submission.

Applications for Round 2 of the 2022/23 Arts and Cultural Funding Program opens on 5 December and closes 13 February 2023.

To learn more about the Steel City String Chamber Orchestra visit

Image: Claire Edwards with Steel City Strings. Photo: Josh Reid