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Selecting the right projects

There is no consistent answer to the question “who are the right kind of people or projects to take up empty spaces?” The needs of a small city like Newcastle are very different from those of a country town, a major city, or of an empty suburban school. While a remote site might benefit from clustering many similar things together and creating a critical mass that gives a small group of people a reason to go out of their way to get there, a dead city street will more likely benefit from a more diverse mix that will give a wide range of locals something to appreciate.

To some extent final decisions will all involve a combination of judgement, taste and what is being proposed from the local community. However there are some points beyond simple artistic criteria to consider that will apply when selecting projects:

Remember it’s about experimentaiton

You don’t actually know what will work. The best way to deal with that is to foster a variety or projects and hedge your risk.

Try to think beyond either Arts OR Business.

Renew Newcastle is neither an industry development scheme nor a straight arts projects. It works by allowing people to do whatever they are passionate about rather than forcing them into rigid category guidelines. Projects must be capable of succeeding on their own terms: if they need to make money they should be capable of it, if they need a community behind them they should be capable of demonstrating that, if they need a lot volunteers they should be able to show how they will get them. The most successful projects in Newcastle have ranged from the purely not for profit to quickly thriving businesses – each is capable of bringing people to the city and leaving a valuable lasting legacy.

Look for “initiativists”

“Renew” type schemes are for people willing to take the initiative and make their passions happen. Most arts projects tend to concentrate on the funded arts sector but the temporary and uncertain nature of this approach does not particularly suit organisations who need long lead times and planning certainty. The ideal projects come from an individual or a small group who are passionate. Passionate people that want to make something happen and are willing to put in the hard yards to realise it are the best candidates. They are also not often effectively catered to by many more formal arts projects or business development schemes. This kind of approach rewards passion as much as “professionalism” in the bureaucratic sense.

Look for people with a sense of responsibility

This is the flipside to the previous point – while passion is a great thing, you also need to ensure that people will be responsible and respectful of the opportunity they are being given and the property they are being entrusted with.

Not entirely reliant on passing trade

If you are in a downbeat part of town encouraging people to open shops to cater for a passing trade may be a recipe for failure. The best projects are ones that will either bring people out of their way to visit them (such as a niche gallery for example), ones that have a secondary audience or market elsewhere (such as on the internet or supplying their wares to other markets, galleries or retailers), or ones that have not much need for a passing trade at all (such as artist studios or creative services like writing or editing that can be done from anywhere).

Think quick and temporary

If projects only have a guaranteed 30 days in a space it is very important that they don’t put into them more than they are willing to lose in 30 days. Encouraging people to put too much work into a space that they could soon lose risks generating a lot of bad will for the project. Selecting projects that need more security than that to be successful or that need to spend a lot of money up front to get started is a recipe for trouble.

Projects that are not competing with existing businesses!

This is the last but probably the most important point when it comes to keeping the local business community onside. There is no point subsidising and supporting new people to move into an area if all they are going to do is kill off what is already there. One of the key aims is to create a cluster of interesting new things that cannot be found elsewhere. The aim is to grow activity rather than simply compete for it.

What makes a good project?

There is no simple answer to that question and it will vary from place to place but here are a few guidlines to keep in mind:

  • It adds life to the city – A key point of a Renew project is to bring a place back to life. Shopfronts need projects that will bring people to them, that will be open most of the time and will bring a smile to people’s faces! Projects that are about using shopfronts for storage, or offices, or things that are rarely opened or hidden away are not suitable.
  • It is unique – Renew projects are not about turning the cities into another suburban shopping centre or filling every shop with one type of gallery. It is about making them places with a wide variety of unique creative things and energies and getting the best possible things out and on display. Projects that showcase people making and presenting original things are vital.
  • It has a high degree of professionalism or a very clear idea – Any project will have a limited number of spaces available so the highest priority will go to people who are serious about what they are doing and have a very clear idea of what they are trying to achieve. A shopfront may not be the best place to try out a new idea from scratch — our spaces are more suitable for people who are trying to take what they do to another level. The more someone can demonstrate that you know what you are doing and why you are doing it the easier it is to support it.
  • It is ongoing – Renew projects are easier if they will make ongoing uses of the spaces. Activating spaces for a single exhibition, for a few hours a day or for a series of classes or workshops are hard work — the the resources to administer this kind of usage are probably more trouble than they are worth in many cases.
  • It is ready – Taking on a shopfront or opening an office or studio can be a major commitment. Renew  projects support people who are ready to take that step up but it can be a major commitment if you aren’t prepared for it. Ideal projects are ones where it is the logical next step based on what you’ve already been doing and not a leap into the unknown.
  • It has the support of the property owner – Ultimately any Renew  project doesn’t own or control any properties. For a project to happen it needs someone with a suitable property to get behind it. If you don’t have a space that fits you can’t make it happen.