AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG: INTERVIEW WITH SYDNEY LORD MAYOR CLOVER MOORE
Over the last month, I’ve brought you weekly articles that delve into Sydney’s community problem, the struggling state of Sydney’s night time economy, and what we can adopt from overseas in strengthening our creative communities and nightlife.
As the final part of this series, we chat to Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore about Sydney’s nightlife and strengthening its creative communities. We hear what the City of Sydney is already actively doing to improve the city’s creative communities and nightlife, as well as what they’re striving for. We also have a little peek into what the Lord Mayor’s idea of a perfect night out in her city would be.
Read the full interview below, and make sure you reach out with your thoughts and ideas on what we can do to continue improving Sydney’s creative soul. We can’t do it without you.
Art Pharmacy Consulting: What do you think are the most obvious benefits of a 24-hour Sydney and some practical short term actions for Sydney to better support creative communities?
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore: Time and time again, residents and visitors have told us they want a diverse and exciting night-time economy, which includes more than 10,000 people we spoke to within the last year. What our communities don’t want is a city that is unsafe or that shuts down as soon as the sun goes down!
A 24-hour city is not just about places to eat and drink, although that’s an important part of it. It’s also about meeting the needs of a changing society, where people work longer hours and might want to buy a pair of shoes or get their hair cut closer to midnight.
We’ve taken action on many of the short-term, practical solutions for a 24/7 Sydney, as outlined in our Open Sydney strategy created from extensive research and consultation.
Those actions include operational upgrades like improving street lighting and installing pedestrian lights, revitalising laneways, improving wayfinding, increasing CCTV, providing free and accessible public toilets, and installing late night taxi ranks, as well as supporting the Take Kare program.
To support our creative communities in the short-term, we created a $200,000 grant program to help businesses and venues who want to put on live music or cultural events and we run our popular Late Night Library program to transform city libraries into after dark hotspots with live music, readings, comedy and performances.
We’re also committed to providing artists and creative businesses with affordable or subsidised space to do business, rehearse or even live and work. If you’re an artist, I recommend you apply for one of our live/work studios on William Street or above the Waterloo Library, or if you run a business, have a look at our Oxford Street, Foley Street, and William Street creative spaces.
AP: What are some practical long-term actions for Sydney to better support creative communities?
CM: A key role for cities is to ensure that artists and the creative community don’t get locked out of the city, and especially the inner city, as it is increasingly developed and becomes more expensive. This means finding new and creative ways to partner with state agencies and the private sector to get the most out of new developments and exploring more innovative ways of opening up affordable space for artists. In 2021, we will launch a stunning, five-storey state-of-the-art creative hub in Bathurst Street, with sound-proofed rooms for music rehearsals, studios with sprung timber floors for dancers and actors, media and editing suites for filmmakers and new media artists, and wet-dry studios for visual artists. This outcome is the result of a voluntary planning agreement negotiated with the developer Greenland Australia, where we will pay peppercorn rent for the space under a 99-year lease. We hope it’s the first of many such agreements.
Our creative community needs to be able to access affordable space. We are currently working on new planning controls which will make it easier to use space such as shopfronts and warehouses for creative purposes, including live performance.
Our revised Late Night Trading Development Control Plan provides for a new late night precinct with an arts focus in the North Alexandria industrial area. It also will allow licenced venues to apply for an extra hour’s trading on nights that they program live performance. I hope this will be an incentive for hotels to convert little, unused areas into new performance spaces.
We’re also working with our terrific Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel, including Art Pharmacy’s own Emilya Colliver, who give us crucial advice on how we can best work with industry, business, and other government agencies to support the thriving, diverse, and safe nightlife we all want.
Ultimately, many of the long-term actions that we need to see in Sydney remain the responsibility of the NSW Government. We need the government to implement changes to the planning system to make it easier to establish new creative and cultural spaces. We also need the government to develop new models to fund new creative spaces, particularly small and medium affordable space.
We continue to advocate for 24/7 public transport, which is essential for people to get home at the end of the night, and for reforms to the Liquor Act for renewable or permit-based licenses to encourage better behaviour. With the NSW Government’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the State’s Music and Arts Economy expected in July, we look forward to working with the Government to make practical and evidence-based solutions a priority in the future.
AP: When it comes to invigorating precincts with creativity and culture, how do you manage the tension between preserving old cultures while supporting new ones?
CM: This is a challenge that we share with global cities all around the world; a topic of discussion with mayors, or night mayors, of London, Amsterdam and Chengdu.
Diversity is the key here. As a city, it is our job to put in place planning controls that will encourage the right balance of shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and residential development that is appropriate for the area. This means a different approach for main streets in the Sydney CBD versus villages like Glebe or Chippendale, or responding to change, such as creating a new 24/7 cultural precinct in Alexandria or a new late night trading area in Green Square like we proposed in our recent draft late night development control plan.
It also means listening to the community and undertaking extensive consultation with residents, businesses, landowners and more to understand what they want and importantly respond to it.
We have led the way in encouraging an eclectic night life, and small bars play an important part in the night time economy. In 2007, I introduced small bars legislation into Parliament that was supported overwhelmingly by the community, ultimately included in the Government's liquor bill and led to the establishment of diverse small bars in Sydney and across the State.
AP: What would your perfect night-time Sydney street look like? What's your perfect night out?
CM: If I’m not working, I like to walk to my local restaurant in Redfern for dinner and a glass or two of wine – even better if I can take my dogs Buster and Bessie. I’m also a fan of music in unexpected places, so a jazz trio in a bookshop is a perfect night out for me!
We know that the way Sydney’s residents want to go out is changing. There’s a strong desire for small bars and late night dining within walking distance from home, which is in stark contrast to the late night hotspots that everyone used to flock to. This is why I introduced the legislation as a State MP in 2007 to inspire Sydney’s small bar revolution and why we are working to reduce red tape for small businesses and introduce planning controls that will encourage the diversity of late night businesses and venues our community is calling for.
AP: What do you think are currently the main barriers to Sydney’s creative communities? E.g. over reliance on roads, lack of pedestrian zones, individual inertia etc.
CM: There’s a range of factors that make it hard for our creative communities to flourish, one of which is Sydney’s affordable housing crisis. It is devastating to hear when artists are forced to move interstate or out of the city because they can’t afford to live and work here in Sydney. In the lead up to the Federal Election, we are working with the sector to demand action. And we continue to advocate to the NSW Government, who remain responsible for this critical issue.
The shortage and decline of affordable creative space is another critical challenge, exacerbated by the loss of suitable building stock (for example warehouses and factories) due to the pace of urban development. Existing building stock faces competing demands from uses that provide a higher financial return or other socially desirable purposes.
Where creative space and cultural facilities exist, they are not always serviced by adequate, late night public transport. It’s the 21st Century and our State Government needs to accelerate its public transport program to include late night services in the metropolitan area, and especially the inner city.
Increasingly our artists and creatives are bearing much of the risk and costs associated with cultural and creative activity, even though they are people least able to do so. This is proving to be increasingly unsustainable and is having significant impacts on artists’ incomes, wellbeing and physical and psychological health.
With some exceptions, there is a continuing lack of interest in, or understanding by, governments of all levels of the cultural and creative sector and the challenges it faces, let alone being willing to engage with or address them.
AP: Do you think an over reliance on technology-enabled connection and streaming services has had any affect on our nightlife?
CM: People involved in Sydney’s nightlife tell me their greatest competitor is Netflix and other video on demand services. The arrival of television in Australia over 60 years ago had a similar impact.
Ultimately however people will always have the need to go out, socialise, be with other people and enjoy communal experiences. We need to support the businesses and venues who are operating in our city and doing great work to ensure these experiences are still available. Councillor Jess Scully, the co-chair of our Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel, likes to say: “Sydney’s nightlife isn’t dead, it’s just not where you left it.”
It’s no secret that Sydney’s nightlife has suffered at the hands of the lockout laws and our creative communities are struggling, but let’s not make this negative mantra a self-fulfilling prophecy. Visit your local small bar, go and see some live music, shop locally, support the amazing artists who we are so lucky to have in Sydney.
Sydney’s night-time economy employs over 35,000 people in 5,000 businesses, generating more than $4 billion for the NSW economy each year – it’s up to everyone to ensure this continues to grow.
The rise of streaming video on demand also presents us with significant opportunities, due to their insatiable demand for content. We need to ensure that Sydney and Australia can maximise these opportunities. Key to this is a strong, vital creative sector, and this is only possible by nurturing our seedbeds of culture – small theatres where our writers and actors can get their start and explore and develop their talent; workshops and studios to support our designers; and opportunities for filmmakers to experiment and grow.
Ultimately, we need to recognise and nurture our creative and nightlife ecology and the connections between its component parts. A debut performance in a small theatre in Darlinghurst could be the first step on the road to an Oscar win, or a tiny performance in a hotel cellar could lead to a Tony Award nomination. Australians like to celebrate the international success of our artists and performers, and we should equally celebrate and nurture the seedbeds that make this success possible.