Danish delegation conference

(9am 22 November 2011, Customs House)

Good morning, everyone, and welcome. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the 200 nationalities who make up our city.

Curating Cities: Sydney-Copenhagen provides a welcome opportunity to explore the role of creativity in the life of our cities. In this era of climate change, the creative impulse can be our greatest ally.

As we map the dimensions of the problems confronting us, creative minds can suggest solutions, imagine new ways of doing things, and offer alternatives.

Creativity can help us achieve a thriving and sustainable future, and it is no surprise that our creative communities are among the first and most innovative in exploring and developing new green solutions.

Artists have long explored environmental themes, from the reuse of materials in new ways to sculptures - and we have some fine examples in Sydney - Tied to Tide at Pyrmont, for example; or Earth v Sky at Glebe Point and the latest is Windlines just outside here, in front of the AMP building.

A city's culture, and the art it generates, is what builds identity, and public art is a crucial contributor to the pulse and poetic dimension of the city. Without that dimension, the city is just a place - not a community or a memorable and stimulating environment.

Fostering "a cultural and creative City" is one of the ten goals of our Sustainable Sydney strategy, which we developed from extensive research and conversations with our City communities - and with specialist input from people like Jan Gehl.

The fundamental principle of the strategy is action on global warming.

We've set ourselves the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the entire City by 70 per cent by 2030. That's what the best available evidence told us was needed to play our part in averting damaging climate change.

It's ambitious, but it can be done if we all work together to rethink the way we live and work. Partnerships are the key.

So we want to harness the insights, energy, knowledge and imagination of our creative sector to help us achieve our goal.

Hence Curating Cities, this important partnership between the City and University of NSW.

It's a five-year project, funded by the Australian Research Council to examine how the arts can contribute to urban sustainability.

While ecological art practice is emerging globally, the project will investigate just how, and under what conditions, can it positively transform environments, people's behaviour, or their patterns of consumption?

It will look at major international public art projects and their strategies for change.

It will help develop a framework to demonstrate the capacity of art to promote and actively engender eco-sustainable cultural environments in the city.

Partnerships are the key to building richer and more sustainable cities, and they can broaden the scope of our thinking, bringing research from other knowledge areas to our urban planning as we work on major urban renewal areas such as Green Square.

This partnership has also enabled the City to host the Danish Cultural Delegation to share some of the world-leading expertise in the creation of sustainable cities.

It's a particularly relevant connection for us in Sydney, given the work we are doing in collaboration to Jan Gehl & Associates to improve our public spaces and lift the quality of the experience for people in our City.

The Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan acknowledges that the City's economic and social well-being is closely associated with innovation and creativity, and the richness and diversity of our cultural life. The bonds that maintain identity and social cohesion become ever more important in an era where the only constant is constant change.

We've developed a Public Art Policy and Public Art Strategy to support our Sustainable Sydney 2030 objectives.

These include the integration of art into the City fabric in ways that will reflect and give meaning to Sydney's unique environment and history, and our culturally diverse society.

We aim for excellence, innovation and diversity in the public domain and to embrace the dynamic and experimental nature of contemporary art practice.

We have appointed a high-level Public Art Advisory Panel which helps both the City and private developers link with art consultants, artists, architects, landscape architects and project managers to provide high-quality public art in both public and private spaces.

But art does not materialise out of nowhere.

In 2007, theatre director Neil Armfield spoke about the need to maintain "the seedbeds" of culture - the places where artists and performers can be nurtured, work and grow.

This theme was repeated during our talks with our communities for 2030. We were told that while Sydney boasts some outstanding cultural venues, it suffers from a shortage of creative workspaces where artists and performers can experiment and develop and show new work.

In what is an increasingly expensive City, we've worked hard to keep affordable space and outlets for the coming generations.

We worked with the private developer, Frasers Property, to encourage the development of the Kensington Street studios at Broadway. We've established other artists' studios in a former Council depot at Woolloomooloo and in Darlinghurst we're developing the former Tabernacle into a 200-seat theatre for small, independent companies, as well as a new community and cultural space.

The City is retaining the 100 seat Darlinghurst Theatre in Greenknowe Ave Kings Cross as well as opening the Tabernacle Theatre in 2013. Both can contribute to an "Off-Broadway" style network of independent theatres emerging on the eastern fringe of the City.

The City is also making available space in our Oxford Street properties as part of our plans to provide for artists and small creative enterprises, and we expect the first tenants to move in before Christmas.

We are also planning to convert other spaces for creative use, including live work studios, and we will be talking to private property owners to encourage them to also make their vacant spaces available for creative uses.

Although an authentic culture must grow organically, there is much we can do to stimulate its growth, through actions such as these, and by nurturing the city as a creative environment which provides opportunities for artists and art for communities.

We are conscious through the whole range of our activities - whether it's staging our various festivals, building a new library, decorating the City with banners, or promoting our range of City Talks - that creativity can engage our communities and enliven our City.

I'm proud of what we have achieved so far: a suite of outstanding, award-winning parks and facilities including our stunning and sustainable Surry Hills Library and Community Centre; the diversity and quality of our various festivals and events; the work we have done to promote small bars and specialty retail to revive our forgotten network of laneways.

Now we are working to promote a more diverse night-time culture, with a whole range of activities and venues that will cater for a much broader cross-section of people.

We are also working towards the creation of an Eora Journey - a trail from Redfern to the Harbour that will celebrate Aboriginal culture and tell the story of Aboriginal life in Sydney - and the sustainable way of life they evolved - through an Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

So once again I welcome you all, and rejoice in the presence here of some many thinkers in the areas of art, design and sustainability.

This level of expertise and knowledge exchange is the key to creating the kind of City we are all working towards Sydney becoming by 2030.

I thank all our partners in this conference:

  • the National Institute of Experimental Arts, CoFA, the University of NSW
  • the Danish Arts Agency and
  • the Visual Arts And Design Educators Association.

And I wish you all a through-provoking and productive day.

Thank you.