Creative Spaces, Sydney

City of Sydney's 'Creative Spaces' brandingOxford Street, once the bright centre of the Sydney’s gay and boho communities, has lost some of its groove over recent years and seen its status as an iconic shopping and nightlife district slip.

That's all changing again after the City of Sydney activated a number of its office and retail properties with creative and cultural activities in February 2012 as part of a broader strategy to revitalise the Darlinghurst end of Oxford Street as a cultural quarter by putting back regional colour and speciality shopping.

For the first stage, low cost offices and shopfronts owned by the City of Sydney were made available for creative start-ups and arts organisations. 

Six months into the program, Lisa Andersen interviewed Kate Murray and Belinda Brooke from the City of Sydney and some of the creative businesses occupying the spaces to find out how it’s going so far.

Making Space for Creativity on Oxford Street

“For the City of Sydney to offer affordable space to for-profit creative enterprises as well as non-profit cultural organisations, we needed to develop a new model - one that found the ‘happy’ point between charging commercial rental rates versus the ‘empty spaces project’ model of no-cost or very low cost rental rates,” says Kate Murray, the City of Sydney’s Senior Manager, Culture. 

With the start-out rental rates ranging from $50 per week to $200 per week for some of the larger spaces, and no bond required, the program has allowed local creative businesses to enter into short term licence arrangements at affordable rental rates and move into Oxford Street. 

Belinda Brooke, Kate Murray, Dave Adamson and Juliet Rosser at Platform 72 GalleryKate Murray is clear that the project isn’t about subsidising space in the short or the long-term.

“It’s about giving people a leg-up,” she says. “A space starts out at affordable rent and then we work with tenants to rent increases over time.  That incremental increase will support entrepreneurs in building their business or arts organisations in expanding their programs and/or membership and increasing revenue stream over that time.”

Belinda Brooke, the on-the-ground co-ordinator of project says, “We were overwhelmed with responses to our first call-out for the spaces.”

The properties were offered through an expression of interest process with 52 applications received for the 16 spaces (since an addition office and retail space have become part of the program). Successful applicants were given a month to establish themselves in the spaces and the program was publicly launched by the Lord Mayor of Sydney (and champion of the program) Clover Moore MP in February 2012.

Spaces were originally offered on six-month leases with a six-month option, with the expectation that some of the businesses would fail during that time. But, with the success so far, the program is now looking at longer term arrangements while measuring the longer-term benefits for the City that realise cultural and economic benefits while meeting viable rental returns for the City.

Kate Murray says, “It’s been win-win for both for our tenants and for the City as both a way to support the re-activation of Oxford Street and to build a base of start-up creative enterprises for the future.”

Image Caption: Belinda Brooke (City of Sydney), Kate Murray (City of Sydney), Dave Adamson (Regeneration Excellence Centre, Wales) and Juliet Rosser (Curator, Platform 72 Gallery) at Platform 72 Gallery, 72 Oxford Street.

Platform 72: artists back themselves

Platform 72 Gallery, 72 Oxford StreetPlatform 72 Gallery at 72 Oxford Street is the brainchild of artists Sam Mitchell-Fin and Juliet Rosser and is part gallery-part retail space that allows artists a commercial testing ground for their work and a way to connect with local buyers without having to leave their studios.

The business model used by the gallery rents ‘shelf space’ to artists, with no commission on sales.  Juliet Rosser says the benefits of this model means artists know the expenses straight away and they know how much they’ll make if a piece sells.

“This is about artists backing themselves,” she says. “We’ll support them and push their work, but they rent the space and once they’re in they can move things around: bring new pieces in and take things out that aren’t working in terms of sales.” 

In the three months since they opened, Platform 72 have worked with more than 70 artists.

Juliet Rosser, co-founder, Platform 72 Gallery“It’s a busy space and it has been working,” says Juliet Rosser. “Some of our artists are now making four figures in sales every month.”

Every Tuesday the window displays and feature walls are changed.

“It’s our calling card,” says Juliet Rosser. “People walk up the street to see what’s new, what’s changed, and that’s really working quite well for the local community.”

The gallery has already connected with a large number of repeat customers, with many of them dropping in to regularly see what’s new.

Juliet Rosser says, “People who live up the road are saying that they haven’t stopped at a shop in Oxford Street for 20 years and now they’re stopping here. They seem really excited that there’s interesting retail back on the street.”

Rather than segregating areas for each artist’s work, art works are displayed to interact. “Pieces speak to each other that way,” says Juliet Rosser.

Platform 72 are learning as they go and are currently in the process of refining their ‘shelf space’ pricing structure for smaller and larger items on display.

Juliet Rosser is very pleased with how the gallery business model has worked so. “Renting ‘shelf space’ to artists allowed us to pay for the fit-out and to pay gallery staff from the word go,” she says.

The next step for Platform 72 is to set up their business online and develop a gallery internship program. And they’re also thinking of hiring a store manager.  They are just about to launch their Showcase Gallery an extension of the gallery which will hold solo shows for established artists for 3 weeks.  This will enable Platform72 to host the all important “openings” which bring the community closer together and also encourage sales for all artists and designers in-store.

“Keeping our momentum going is a challenge, but we’ve got a lot of support - a lot of people wanting to be involved,” says Juliet Rosser

Image Captions: Platform 72 Gallery, 72 Oxford Street, and co-founder Juliet Rosser.

Platform 72 Website

Music NSW: office space and a ‘cool’ address

MusicNSW is the peak body for Contemporary Music in NSW. 
This not-for-profit industry association represents, networks and promotes the contemporary music sector and manages a number of music development projects. In January 2012 they moved into office spaces at 66 Oxford Street as part of the first set of tenancies for the Creative Spaces program.

Meg Williams, Project Manager of Indent at Music NSW, says, “In my six years with the organisation we’ve worked out of some awful spaces.

“We had this one space that was like a dungeon: very little light and bars on the window and door. Winter was terrible because you didn’t see sunlight!

“Moving into this space has been so conductive to productivity, especially in this building because so many other creative people have moved in,” she says.

The new office has also allowed Music NSW to launch a Hot Desks initiative, offering an independent office space for artist managers and other music industry start-up businesses.

Meg Williams says, “The response to the space-for-hire has been incredible and we’ve been able to keep the cost down because of our low rent. That makes it accessible for the independent small companies who are using it.”

Lower rent for Music NSW means funds have also flowed back into programming, which has resulted in a growth of their range of activities as a peak body.

Meg Williams says, “The Oxford Street office has given us a greater presence for the industry and allowed us the security to plan ahead.”

“And lot of industry people are impressed with our office on Oxford Street – it’s a cool address!”

“In this building, because there are so many other creatives moving in, it’s reinvigorating this area.  There’s another office building up the road that has a lot of great creative spaces, so Oxford Street is becoming a hub.”

Music NSW Website

Oxford St. Design Store: testing low-cost design ideas

Oxford St Design StoreThe Oxford St. Design Store at 58 Oxford Street is a shop where local designers, artists, creative and writers sell their limited edition work, with one condition – nothing can be sold for more than $20.

This is the first venture into retail by graphic designers Lou Helliwell and Alex De Bonis; aka arts bloggers, Tough Titties, Fitted out via Reverse Garbage with creative reuse-style in milk crates, cardboard tubes and palette wood, the store was set up to pose a challenge to local designers to produce design to a budget and then see what happens.

Alex De Bonis says, “We both have a background where we’ve been used to working on tight budgets, so we thought we’d take it to the extreme and see how that would work.”

 

The shop acts as a testing ground to see how pieces react in a retail environment, providing a space for young artists to easily test out an idea before reworking it and turning it into a more viable thing. 

Oxford Street Design Store with Alex de BonisLoosely based on San Francisco’s McSweeney’s shop and learning environment, the store aims to make design accessible to the public and promote new and existing female design talent. 

Alex De Bonis says, “We’re building a community of like-minded folk who can join forces, collaborate, exchange ideas…and change the world!”

The shop space itself is divided into three busy sections: the front retail section, then a middle workshop space which includes weekly talks, a desk space for hire (at $3 per hour including wifi), a stencil press where designers can get cheap printing done and a residency by the Rizzeria printing collective. And finally, at the back of the shop, in the old stockroom, there’s an artist in residence. 

Operating as a multi-purpose venue within a regular shopfront, the Oxford St. Design Store is using their space to challenge the idea of what a retail space can be.

Oxford St Design Store Website

Image Captions: Oxford St Design Store with co-founder Alex de Bonis.