Sydney Arts and Culture

(12.31pm 13 March 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

Today I speak about the innovative ways in which inner-city space is being used to invigorate Sydney and make it a more culturally exciting place in which to live and to visit. Imagination and creativity are fundamental to cities and to ensuring a dynamic local economy to cater for the different needs and interests of residents and visitors. From the City of Sydney's consultation about the night-time economy, the strong message received was that people want diversity at night, including extended trading hours for shops and late-night museums, galleries and libraries. Last year the Australian Museum began its fantastic Jurassic Lounge evening series, which opens the museum and its collection of skeletons, taxidermy and preserved bugs while artists and local bands perform and wine is served. Its last season attracted 22,000 people, many new to the museum, and I launched its third season in February. Crowds continue to flock to Late Night Library, in the six-star rated Surry Hills Library, for spooky storytelling, thought-provoking debates, live music, film screenings and steamy erotic fiction readings. It was recently nominated for Best Arts Event. The Customs House Library is following suit, with its very own Library Up Late program set to start soon.

Clover and Frank Howarth at Jurassic Lonuge - credit to Dean Hood Photography

Clover and Frank Howarth at Jurassic Lonuge - credit to Dean Hood Photography

Our artists need affordable space to create and develop work, and to exhibit. The City of Sydney has established artist studios in a former council depot at Woolloomooloo and in properties in the central business district, Darlinghurst, Redfern and East Sydney, which are now being used by cultural and community groups while the council determines their long-term use. The council is also seeking expressions of interest from cultural groups regarding other properties in William Street. The Paper Mill, an artist-run initiative that specialises in paper works, last year operated in a former bookshop located in a City of Sydney property in Ash Street. It did not just exhibit paper artwork but also ran events and workshops, such as zine making, screen printing and sketch club. The artist-run initiative Alaska Projects, which exhibits contemporary visual art in unconventional, unused spaces, is using the mechanic's office in the Kings Cross car park. Visitors need to search to find the location and artworks are presented in an unexpected environment, including stairwells and elevators.

Over the past few months artists groups and small creative enterprises have taken space in the council's Oxford Street properties, and council has approved the next stage of this exciting project to revitalise lower Oxford Street: the creation of live-work spaces.

Clover with Oxford Street artist and sculpture

Clover with Oxford Street artist and sculpture

The council encouraged Frasers Property to turn vacant warehouses over to artists whilst it awaited redevelopment as part of its Central Park development on the Carlton United Brewery site. The Art & About public arts festival brings art, performance and music to our streets and public spaces and, importantly, to those who might never venture into a gallery. The program is expanding, and proposals are currently being sought from artists for the 2012 festival. Since 2007, Art & About has included a live laneways temporary art program, which will continue until the end of the Sydney Festival.

The Forgotten Songs installation of empty bird cages hanging in Angel Place, sounding the songs of bird species that once lived in the city's heart, has become a very popular permanent artwork. Reactivating the city's laneways, which were an underused resource, has been important to make Sydney a much more interesting and happening city. Following the inclusion in 2008 of the Liquor Amendment (Small Bars and Restaurants) Bill in State liquor laws, the inner city now has 53 small bars. This has led to a renaissance in live music. Many bars are appearing in the laneways and unexpected locations and are providing a real alternative to the heavy-drinking beer barns that used to dominate, and the violence associated with them.

The Finegrains Business Development Matching Grants Program encourages interesting small-scale enterprise and, together with the Laneway Art Program, complements other initiatives to revitalise laneways, such as creating pedestrian-friendly spaces with new lighting and paving. The council is converting the former Burton Street Tabernacles into the Eternity Playhouse—a new 200-seat theatre that will be managed by the Darlinghurst Theatre Company. This company provides opportunities for a wide range of small independent theatre companies, many of whom present work that might otherwise not be seen by Sydney audiences. The existing Darlinghurst Theatre will remain as a theatre and the council is currently investigating possible future uses for it.

Authentic culture must grow organically but there is much we can do to fertilise and stimulate that growth. The next challenge is to encourage private property owners to make their vacant spaces available for creative activities, rather than leaving them empty for long periods. The City of Sydney is currently looking at what can be done to remove obstacles and disincentives that may deter owners, but other levels of government also have a role to play. I encourage the State Government to join the City of Sydney in meeting this challenge.