New Report Calls for More Creative Spaces in Sydney

Western Sydney University research has found that Sydney artists and cultural practitioners are facing growing barriers to conducting their work in the city – due to the increasing shortage of suitable creative space; the disappearance of industrial buildings; and rising property prices.

Researchers from the University’s Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) were commissioned by the City of Sydney to produce Planning Cultural Creation and Production in Sydney: A Venues and Infrastructure Needs Analysis PDF, 4094.79 KB (opens in a new window) (PDF, 4MB) – an independent report intended to develop a greater understanding of the future needs for creative space in the city, especially for cultural creation and production.

The study, which involved an analysis of the use of 18 cultural venues and spaces in Redfern and Green Square Villages within the City of Sydney Local Government Area (LGA), revealed a lack of suitable creative spaces in Sydney as a result of large-scale urban development.

Emeritus Professor David Rowe, a lead consultant of the project from ICS, says former industrial buildings and small warehouses in the inner city are valuable as cultural production spaces – due to their large unimpeded spaces, relatively low rents and proximity to creative clusters in central business districts.

“The report highlights that many of these industrial buildings are disappearing due to gentrification and have been turned into high-rise residential apartments. The result is that artists have been facing many constraints in terms of access to and use of these spaces,” says Professor Rowe.

“One challenge is tenure of the venues – which is often only for 2-3 years, compared to other commercial leases which usually last for 5-10 years. In some cases, artists are given leases that last for just a few months due to development or demolition clauses – which causes a great deal of insecurity and impedes effective planning.”

Affordability of creative space has also emerged as another major concern – particularly for artists and cultural practitioners, who usually earn a modest income and cannot afford expensive rents.

“It’s getting more difficult for artists to live and work in the city. We received a lot of feedback that economically marginalised artists are being squeezed out of inner-city neighbourhoods and a large number of non-commercial or not-for-profit cultural operations are being wiped out,” says Professor Rowe.

“Well-known creative spaces in the city, such as Lanfranchi’s and Serial Space, ceased operating because the buildings that they occupied were sold and turned into other more profitable spaces. These developments are impairing the health of Sydney’s creative scene.”

There is a common assumption that the lack of suitable and affordable creative space in inner Sydney can be mitigated by its availability in broader metropolitan Sydney, such as in western Sydney. However, according to the report, this is something of a misconception.

“Inner-Sydney artists and cultural practitioners cannot easily relocate to the outer metropolitan regions such as western Sydney, because suitable spaces are not as readily available as is commonly assumed,” says Professor Rowe.

“Across metropolitan Sydney, demand for creative space is already rising from local artists and creators who tend to operate in quite different networks and cultural ecologies from those of their inner-city counterparts. The displacement of creative workers from the inner city is only exacerbating this problem of demand exceeding supply.”

The report has proposed a series of interlinked recommendations to help protect and develop creative spaces in the city, including:

  • expanding the visibility and availability of suitable spaces for cultural creation and production;
  • enhancing support mechanisms that protect and enhance creative clusters;
  • fostering cross-sectoral partnerships across the metropolitan Sydney region;
  • encouraging the development of non-government entities similar to SPACE – a social enterprise operating artist studios in London; and
  • introducing planning reforms at the State level, such as the Community Infrastructure Levy in the UK.

Distinguished Professor Ien Ang, also a lead consultant of the study from ICS, says that in addition to promoting better use of existing creative space, more effort should be put into increasing the volume of creative space.

“The report calls for more government intervention and public funding through pooling to support knowledge-sharing between creative clusters and combining resources and advocacy efforts,” says Professor Ang.

“There is potential for major cultural institutions and universities to play a greater role in the provision of access to creative space. Governments at all levels should also be encouraged to increase their investment in the protection and promotion of the cultural sector, especially of emerging artists and smaller cultural organisations.”

For more information, please contact Dr Teresa Swist: (opens in a new window).

29 June, 2018.