AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG: NIGHT TIME IN SYDNEY
Turn over a rock in Sydney, and you’ll find a dozen art gallery openings. There is so much culture happening here right now, you just have to know where to look for it. But at roughly 6pm, retail businesses start to close, by 10pm, the restaurants and cafes. This leaves only a few (limited) hours for pubs and bars, meaning the only sociable nightlife is by default, alcohol-centric.
As I said in the last Australian Art Curator Blog, for Sydney to have rich night-time culture, there needs to be a more positive approach (think 24 hour European piazzas!). But before I get carried away, what is the current state of affairs in this fair city of ours?
While we may not have a truly ‘central’ gathering space, we do have little hubs scattered across the CBD. There’s World Square, Central Park, Darling Harbour … Kings Cross is even still a contender. But there’s also a range of neighbourhood “streets” that are treated as destinations. Think Newtown’s King Street, Redfern’s Redfern Street and Darlinghurst’s Oxford Street: veritable hubs of activity. It is this second group - the less traditional ‘nighttime spots’ that are ripe for supporting.
It was these hubs (and eight others) that were surveyed by the City of Sydney last year; with the aim of gathering information, and giving Sydney’s culture and nightlife support in order to be sustainable. So what matters to the average person when it comes to wandering the streets?
SMALL SCALE CULTURAL ACTIVITIES: Respondents wanted more minimal impact small-scale cultural activities, with 92% of them wanting buildings to be used for this without an approval. An example of this could be art gallery pop ups (like Art Pharmacy’s Oxford Street pop up galleries in disused shop fronts during the 2013 Fringe!).
DIVERSITY OF OPTIONS: In Mixed Residential and Business areas 86% of respondents supported later trading hours - without approval. Given that this includes spots like Redfern Street, Erskineville and Pyrmont, I’d hope this would mean place activations that increases the opportunity to relax, eat and listen to music together! Respondents also gave the thumbs up to encouraging events, music, art, and entertainment for more diversity.
SAFETY: One respondent suggested “...family friendly markets with street performers that children would enjoy.” I love this idea! People of all ages need to feel safe in order for a diverse and fun nightlife to flourish - suggestions included more bodies on the streets, improved street lighting, reliable public transport, and sufficient police or security presence. As we head into winter, it’s getting darker earlier, so it’s more likely that families with small children will still be out and about after the sun sets.
What does this look like in practice? As a member of the Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel, my current dream is to see a spot like the dead space near the Darlinghurst bathrooms on Oxford Street reinvigorated and activated. For example - start with temporary street furniture, easily packed away at the end of the night into bright, mural covered shipping containers. Boards or websites advertising what will be on at night, (creative art workshops, anyone?). We need to promote the idea that pedestrian is king. We want people to congregate, enjoy the outdoors, the positive community feeling spilling out into the evening air.
It’s not just the areas surveyed that are emerging either. There’s a few great things happening in Chippendale, like restaurants, co-working spaces, bar-gallery combos. Let’s support these pocket precincts, by identifying what makes them pop (consistent and sustainable culture growth, accessible public transport, pedestrian friendly) and harness it to other burgeoning districts.
And to those who say that culture and community is not a problem we need to concern ourselves with? People forget that arts and culture are enormous contributors to our GDP - both in tourism and cultural institutions. According to City of Sydney figures, in Sydney, the night-time economy generates an estimated $3.64 billion-plus in revenue each year, with more than 4600 businesses employing more than 32,000 people.
No small potatoes, hmm? Bring on the arts and culture (please).