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Conference Summary – Day 1

CONFERENCE SUMMARY: DAY 1

Conference Registration

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Renew Newcastle Walking Tour

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Dinner: Sushi & Semillon at The Emporium

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Panel: The Big & Small of Creative Innovation 

Speakers: Chloe Beevers (Local Government NSW), Timothy Horton (Architect), Gaye Hart (RDA Hunter), Ianto Ware (Sound Australia), and Marcus Westbury (Renew Australia). Facilitator: Roger Pryor 

The founder of Renew Australia, Marcus Westbury, believes there is value in accumulating the small stuff.  The man behind the Renew model has spent five years demonstrating how creative enterprises can change neighbourhoods, advocating for a framework “that encourages creativity and economic development without being top-down heavy”. “The big picture often shoots over the micro work”, says Westbury. “The question is how do we get a framework that allows for the creation of practical grassroots?”

Gaye Hart from Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter also recognises value in creative industries. Citing the success of Renew Newcastle, Hart argues that micro-work contributes more to regional economies than is generally understood and that its role in urban renewal is also understated. “Sometimes we need to ask are we [organisations] in the way or can we add value?” says Hart. “If we can add value then [RDA Hunter] can lobby on the industry’s behalf to get money for infrastructure”. In addition to promoting clearer communication channels, Hart also encourages people to make submission to the creative industries taskforce so the needs of creative industries are better understood on a regional level.

Someone very familiar with the mechanics of the middle is the National Live Music Coordinator, Dr. Ianto Ware. As CEO of Renew Adelaide and founding member of Format Adelaide, Dr. Ware has been in a position to advise government on how design and development interact, citing research undertaken by the Integrated Design Commission SA to prove that “the Renew model remains one of the best investments a government can make to create a vibrant city”. “Renew Adelaide is not just activation”, says Dr. Ware. “It achieves a ten to one return on investment … but for a long time its success was only anecdotal”. Reflecting on the experiences of Newcastle and Adelaide, Dr. Ware believes that cities are slow to respond to shifts in the needs of their people. “Vision should set the rules, not the other around”, says Dr. Ware. “By creating responsive, adaptive channels between public and government we can better manage the mechanics in the middle”.

Chloe Beevers from the Local Government NSW agrees, arguing “councils need to look holistically at their approach to arts and culture”. Representing the peak industry body for local government in NSW, Beevers job is to keep local and state governments on the same page and the LGNSW achieves this through the Cultural Accord. “Local governments have an important role in arts & culture, and we believe in making supportive function more visible to the sector”, says Beevers.

On this point, Dr. Ware is quick to point out that “licensing and planning killed live music spaces”. Describing these lost venues as pieces of social infrastructure, Dr. Ware goes so far as to use culture as a verb, a “doing thing” that is a “multi-disciplinary bag of social innovation and idea development”. Drawn back to the bottom line, Dr. Ware sums it up neatly by saying “if there’s a social need, there’s an economic path”.

But just how do we get unnecessary regulation off this path? Or, alternatively, how do we reroute the path in pursuit of a more creatively driven economy?

Westbury believes that starting at risk management and working backwards only makes the vision unsustainable. “Sometimes the prices of failure is just too high, so what about the price of entry?” Again citing the success of Renew Newcastle and Renew Adelaide, Westbury argues that by reducing the price of entry and making failure more affordable, “interesting things start to happen”. “We’ve become too risk averse … I’m an advocate for trying lots of things and if some thinks don’t work because of their economic models, we learn from that”. By lowering the barriers to entry, new opportunities can be created and an approach that invests in ideas that might not work “is the kind of thinking that Renew has embraced”, says Westbury. “Renew lowered the economic cost of failure. In Newcastle, the people who had the money didn’t have the ideas”.

Gaye Hart points to a history of innovation and risk-taking in the Hunter Region, using the HMRI as an example of how local professionals cooperated for the good of the local area. “Creative industry will be the next big thing in the diversification of our economy”, says Hart. Beevers agrees: “Collaboration is certainly the key. One role of local government is to bring together and to engage; to be a broker and to connect people with resources”.

Tim Horton, who has worked as an architect in Sydney, Canberra and Los Angeles agrees with Beevers but remains critical of the state approach. “State governments have a tendency to close off options … we really need to leverage the findings coming out of projects like Renew Newcastle to promote the approach”. There is a need at the state level, according to Horton, to validate this new model so small businesses and start-ups do not find themselves deprived of oxygen in the future”. On this, Dr. Ware has the last word: “Governments are working off electoral demand. This could be an opportunity for government/community collaboration”.