City Conversation: Shaping a Creative City

Thank you, Annabel [Crabb, MC] and good evening, everyone. Welcome to our City Conversation.

I'd also like to thank Darren Goodsir and to welcome our panellists.

I look forward to our discussion.

Cities are the crucibles of the creative life of a country.

They are where we meet, share ideas, where we debate (often passionately), where we are stimulated and find our voice. And for good or ill, the city also makes our values as a society concrete and visible.

Sydney is rich, not only in the great flagship companies, the institutions and individuals that are household names, but in our wealth of young people, as yet unknown, who are experimenting, exploring new forms and mediums. It is rich also in its communities and potential audiences.

When I was elected Lord Mayor, we developed a vision for our City. Through an extensive consultation process, involving tens of thousands of people, including many of you here tonight, we described the things we value about our city and our way of life, we described how we'd like to see these things protected as the city grows and changes, and we described the things we wanted to see improved.

A rich, sustainable and innovative cultural life was high among the priorities we all agreed on, and tonight, I'm delighted to be presenting to you the work we've done to deliver our new cultural policy.

When people think of Sydney, they have images of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, of beaches and sunshine.

But I would also like them to think of a city that is creative, collaborative and innovative. I would like our cultural diversity, our cultural life, and our creative achievements to be as central to our brand as the Opera House already is.

For that to happen, our cultural attributes must be visible throughout the city, and we must have places where our creative and cultural communities can afford to live and work.

We've already taken some steps towards this: through our sponsorship of festivals, for example; through our promotion and support for small bars; by developing an action plan for Live Music and Live Performance; and importantly, by providing our own properties on Oxford Street and William Street as spaces for creative workers who could not otherwise afford city rentals, keeping them in the City and breathing new life into these precincts.

But we realised we needed a comprehensive cultural policy that would enable the City to affirm the centrality of the arts and creativity to all our lives, that would assert that, beyond their undoubted economic importance, culture and creativity also essential shapers of our City's identity and confidence.

A comprehensive cultural policy would also bring together the City's own activities which - directly and indirectly - impinge on the cultural life of Sydney. These range from our work on public art to our regulatory and compliance controls, from our organising events and celebrations like Chinese New Year, to work in our village centres.

We have defined "culture" to include not only the arts but museums and galleries, our history and heritage, design and architecture, libraries, community events, the media…And so our policy is broad-ranging. But although we do spend $34 million a year on cultural programs, our primary role is not as an arts funding body. Rather, it is to ensure that cultural planning is intrinsic to urban planning, and that cultural issues are taken into account in planning, just as transport or environmental issues are.

Like our Live Music & Performance Action Plan, Creative City is more than a statement of principles, it is a blueprint for action, set with clear priorities.

More than 2000 individuals - from the major companies and start-ups, from practitioners to policy wonks - contributed, and I take this opportunity to thank them all.

I'm pleased that the policy includes a focus on our City villages and local communities, reinforcing the distinct identities of each, and affording opportunities for local communities to celebrate their creativity.

It redresses some glaring gaps - in particular, in its recognition of the cultural heritage and contemporary experience of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community through the Eora Journey.

This involves a $10 million allocation to public art, with one of the most significant current projects being Tony Albert's Thou Didst Let Fall, a Hyde Park monument commemorating the many indigenous people who have served Australia in war-time.

It also looks to create new avenues for people to participate more broadly in Sydney's cultural and creative life, whether as audiences or practitioners.

We want people to recognise that not a day goes by when we don't experience creativity and culture - whether it's in the buildings we see, the food we eat, the libraries we use, the public spaces that we occupy.

We want to emphasise the signal importance of that creativity and culture to Sydney, to celebrate the many outstanding practitioners and institutions we have, and to make it easier for the future stars to have their voices heard and their work appreciated.

I look forward to tonight's discussion.