Renew Newcastle

Renew Newcastle

Renew Newcastle is a low-budget, not-for-profit, DIY urban renewal scheme that brokers access to empty buildings for artists and cultural projects. It was set-up by Marcus Westbury in his hometown in 2008. Marcus Westbury is a broadcaster, writer, media maker and festival director. He was the writer and presenter of ‘Not Quite Art’ for ABC1 Australian television.

We travelled to Newcastle - a two hour drive north of Sydney - to meet the general manager of the project, Marni Jackson, who led us on a tour of the high street and showed us examples of retail units which had been lying dormant and unused and now functioning as creative spaces. The initiative welcomes creative projects that would run for a minimum of 6-months giving access to spaces that would ordinarily be left empty.

Newcastle is a former industrial town that has felt the impact of recession leading to companies pulling out of the area and moving away. Renew Newcastle aims to activate spaces and develop creative sustainable projects. Renew Newcastle agrees a 12-month contract with the property owner and acts as a broker for placing interested parties in suitable spaces. Peppercorn rent allows minimal financial risk for the new tenants. Renew Newcastle nurtures longer-term projects that promote participation and foster regeneration of the area. Along the high street we were shown evidence of the project’s success. Here are two examples:

Upcycling: run by Nick Nelson, a graphic designer who has recently begun to occupy a section of a former department store to showcase his design practice. He focuses on stocking a diverse range of sustainable and recycled art and design objects. He has designed the space to function as a workshop, gallery and bookshop. Nick commented on how he was appreciating this new way of working which allows him to interact with the public who come into his shop, in contrast to spending much of his time doing computer-based work.

"Renew Newcastle inspired me to have a crack at this interest of mine because it offers both a limited risk combined with huge potential. It works on so many levels; I get to follow an interest of mine, I have a physical place to display it, I have little to risk financially, I get to meet other like minded people, and I get to be a part of an innovative new way of promoting artistic and creative endeavors by way of free shop space in an otherwise run down area."

The shop has a simple and spacious layout with exposed breeze-block walls and a concrete floor. Design books were displayed on palettes and photographic prints hung on the walls.

Make Space: is a small co-operative workshop and artisan store - set up by five women - most of whom come from a market stall background. This is the first time that these women have had the opportunity to base themselves at a permanent address on the high street. Each member of the collective brings to the project their own particular skills and interests. They share the responsibility of running the shop by taking it in turn to manage the shop one day a week. This arrangement is practical enough to allow for other employment to support their individual practices. There is a workshop incorporated into the space which allows the women to continue their making processes whilst based in a retail environment.