City of Sydney & Space for Creativity

The City of Sydney supports development of creative spaces, including temporary-use, pop-up projects, through a number of its activities and funding programs. In October 2011, Empty Spaces Manager Lisa Andersen spoke with the City of Sydney's Kate Murray, Senior Manager Culture, about the City's current activity and future thinking.

Affording Creativity

Pick up a Time Out magazine and you're spoilt for choice when it comes to the arts in Sydney. From the iconic Opera House to White Rabbit Gallery to underground music to community theatre, Sydney buzzes with creative activity. 

Key to sustaining a diverse range of cultural enterprises and activity in a city with a global reputation for the unaffordability of artist live/work space is the support of local government. One of the ways the City of Sydney is helping maintain some affordable spaces for creative production is through its Accommodation Grants Program. 

"Under that program our properties that are zoned community use are actually within the Accommodation Grants portfolio. There are currently 49 properties and 66 organisations that are in those properties because some of them are co-located. About a third are cultural organisations that range from Queen Street Studio who operate Heffron Hall, right through to 4A down in Chinatown and East Coast Theatre in Ultimo," explains the City's Senior Manager Culture, Kate Murray. 

Heffron Hall

Heffron Hall. Image courtesy of

The program currently provides around $2.4 million a year in subsidised rental and leasing is based on either a peppercorn rent or the entire rent is subsidised. 

The City also offers a grants and sponsorships programs. "We have local community grants which are up to $5,000, but we support creative spaces and their development mainly through our cultural grants and sponsorships programs which are $5,000 and over," says Kate. 

The City doesn't provide operational costs but does provide program or project costs. For example, project funding was recently provided to the artist-run initiative Firstdraft, whose artist residency space in Woolloomooloo, Firstdraft Depot, is also part of the Accommodation Grants Program.

During 2010 the City's grants and sponsorships programs contributed to artist residencies or workspaces for almost 1,500 artists. A reduced rates program for the City's major and community venues, from Sydney Town Hall to the Redfern Community Centre, is also available. 

Use and reuse of empty spaces 

The City of Sydney recognises the importance of having a mix of creative and retail spaces and to this end it has become something of a champion of the empty spaces movement; encouraging and supporting short-term, as well as longer-term, temporary use and reuse of empty properties.  

Currently, when a suitable City-owned space becomes available the City calls for expressions of interest for using the spaces under the Accommodation Grants Program. 

They are also working on a project in Oxford Street where there are currently a number of empty shops. The City owns a number of commercially zoned buildings on the north side of the street and is looking at creative enterprises for short and long term occupancies and to complement the current mix of commercial tenants. 

"Obviously we'll populate the City-owned buildings," says Kate Murray. "But we also plan in the long term to approach private owners of empty buildings and work with them to bring an exciting mix of retail and other activities in the area; eventually extending down Darlinghurst Road or Crown Street." 

Continuous 'pop-up' spaces are planned to keep the area new and fresh and to ensure a constant turnover and activity. 

"We've been trialling a number of activities," says Kate. "During the Head On Photo Festival the organisers put on a pop up exhibition in a retail space. We've also used that space for our own events, during Art & About when we had a month-long 'fake store' installation by artists Spat + Loogie in one of our properties, which was very cool." 

The City is currently undertaking Expression of Interest (EOI) for 14 offices, two retail shops and a mixed cafe retail space on Oxford Street. The EOI's call for artists and creative enterprise to activate the offices as work spaces, and the shops as bespoke, creative shops. 

"This is a really exciting time for the City, with the opportunity to populate such a vast amount of spaces in such an iconic area. Whilst the spaces are being offered on a short term basis (6-12 months), this is part of a long term five to ten year strategy to revitalise the 'strip'. We understand that there is no one 'quick fix' for revitalising an area, and are thankful we have a great foundation of character, history, community, cultural institutions and business already in the area," says Kate. 

"We also have a long term commitment to a creative/cultural presence in the area, with medium term plans including feasibility studies into converting a building into artist live/work spaces, and converting two adjoining buildings into artist work and creative incubator space. 

"As a whole of Council approach, the cultural team are working closely with our Properties, Strategy and Economic Development, Traffic, Cycling, Parks, Cleansing and Waste and Community Living teams to ensure each element of the revitalisation happens." 

Artist or creative organisations as brokers 

Unlike some local government-led initiatives, such as Parramatta City Council's Pop Up Parramatta, which deals directly with artists, the City of Sydney generally prefers to work with arts and creative organisations, which in turn manage the artists in the spaces. 

For example, artist-run initiative Queen Street Studios manages both FraserStudios - a space privately owned by Frasers Property in Chippendale - as well as Heffron Hall, a City of Sydney owned space in Darlinghurst. Both spaces offer affordable rehearsal space and FraserStudios provides studio and exhibition space. 

Firstdraft Depot in Woolloomooloo offers 20 artist residency spaces a year and houses Big Fag Press. 

"Something people raise with us quite often is that the City of Melbourne will directly fund artists, but we generally don't - we fund organisations as creative brokers," says Kate. "Through our Accommodation Grants Program we fund organisations such as Firstdraft or Queen Street Studios to provide space and services for artists. They run the programs, populate the artist spaces and manage the sublease directly with the artists. 

"Given our resources, we couldn't effectively deal directly with high numbers of individual artists, so we believe the Accommodation Grants Program is the best way to support the sector." 

Creative space brokers wanted 

The City of Sydney currently requires organisations applying for accommodation grants to have business plans but they are hopeful that, given the current opportunities for space the City is creating, into the future some creative space brokers with sustainable business models may begin to emerge locally. 

"We'd like a local organisation to approach us and say, 'We want to be a creative broker. We're going to form a company and we're going to source and manage government-owned or commercial properties as short-term creative spaces, like Renew Newcastle'," says Kate. 

"The organisations who are currently doing this work tend to have dual roles - they're artists themselves trying to sustain their practice and also full-time arts administrators. 

Kate believes an organisation like Renew Newcastle based in Sydney would avoid the potential for burnout for the artists who are trying to juggle their own full-time practice with the full-time job of managing spaces. 

Kate Murray
Kate Murray

"We worry about burnout and the capacity to do this work and currently there are not a lot of others putting up their hands to manage and run an artist space. There's a gap, and it's an issue." 

"There may well be a local company that simply hasn't approached us yet - if you're out there, please make yourself known!" 

Working with developers on empty space projects 

One of Australia's most successful collaborations between artists and a developer has been FraserStudios, a relationship brokered by the City of Sydney, who are keen to get more developers on board with empty spaces initiatives.

"We helped to facilitate the relationship between Queen Street Studios and Frasers and we're trying to build relationships like that with a number of developers in the city to do it again," Kate says. 

"I'd love to get all of the large developers in a room, address their concerns and talk about the benefits for them of allowing their empty properties to be temporarily occupied by arts and creative industries." 

According to Kate, the concerns expressed by the developers are usually about the resource and time commitment needed. 

"It's valuable for them to have the community impact that Frasers Property have had in Chippendale with FraserStudios. But I also know it's a lot of work." 

Hopefully, now there have been a couple of successful models a lot of learning has happened which will save time and difficulty for the next companies who do it." 

Cultural policy and planning 

In developing a local cultural policy, the cultural team at the City of Sydney are keen to include a way that the City can be more creative and flexible around its own planning controls. 

"As an example, Development Applications are designed for building shopping centres, not necessarily for pop up events or spaces. Part of developing a Cultural Policy is embedding culture in what the City does, for example when we look at planning controls, designing parks and so on," says Kate. 

"We'd like to be able to go into a meeting with our own planners about a creative or community activity involving a low-impact change of use in a space - from say a retail space to a workshop space - and say, 'How can we make this happen easily?'" 

"That's one of the areas where we're hoping a cultural policy for the City of Sydney will help," says Kate. 

Accommodation Grants supported by the City of Sydney:





Firstdraft Depot

Artist Run Initiative, with properties in Redfern and Woolloomooloo (City owned)

20 Artist Residency spaces per year, plus houses Big Fag Press

Riley Street Depot, Woolloomooloo

Brand X (Heffron Hall)

Queen Street Studios provides performing arts classes, rehearsal and incubator space.

(Also operate FraserStudios in Chippendale)


Provides affordable rehearsal space and support programs for emerging and established performing artists.

The Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir also rehearse in this space permanently

Heffron Hall, 225-245 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst

Vibewire Youth Services

Vibewire provides media, arts and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people.

Enterprise Hub - 50 young people access subsidised space each year

500 Harris Street, Ultimo

Asia Australian Artist Association

Gallery 4A presents contemporary Asian art and promotes a greater understanding of diverse cultures through the arts.

Office, gallery and public programs space

Corporation Building, 181-187 Hay Street, Sydney 

Darlinghurst Theatre Company

Presents new Australian and international plays.

Rehearsal and Performance space accessed by more than 120 independent performing artists, producers and designers annually

19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point

East Coast Theatre Company

The Company writes and produces independent productions and facilitates venue hire

More than 185 independent performing artists access the space each year to write, rehearse, and produce theatre productions

247-257 Bulwara Rd, Ultimo NSW 2007


Jessie Street Women's Library

A specialist library which collects, preserves and promotes the awareness of the cultural heritage of Australian women

A range of public programs are presented annually


523-525 Harris Street, Ultimo

Metro Screen

Provides a creative environment for skills development and invaluable hands-on experience for new, emerging and professional talent

Host more than 950 film makers accessing various training and workshop programs, including the production of more than 60 films each year.

Cnr Oxford and Oatley Street, Paddington

PACT Youth Theatre

Theatre for emerging artists working in interdisciplinary and experimental live art. Offering opportunities for professional development, networking and the creation of new work.

Rehearsal and performance space, as well as public programs are accessed by more than 90 artists and producers each year

107 Railway Parade. Erskineville

South Sydney Heritage Society Inc

The Society is involved in the research, protection and education of our heritage in the southern inner city area.

Office and working space for local historical research and writing

PO Box 2011, Strawberry Hills, 2012


The Women's Library

The Women's Library Inc was created by a group of women passionate about providing literary resources and a safe space for women

Each year Library members access the collection and the space.

8-10 Brown St, Newtown, NSW 2042

Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School

A sculpture school for practicing sculptors, young and emerging artists, teachers, architects and beginners.

6 Spaces for professional sculptors are subsidised annually.

In addition to courses and public program activities.

1a Clara Street, Erskineville

Australian Guild of Screen Composers

The national industry association for composers working in film, television and multimedia.

Primarily office space for the Guild.

58 Macleay Street, Potts Point

Australian Guild of Screen Editors

The Guild aims to promote, improve and protect the role of editor as an essential and significant contributor to all screen productions.

Primarily office space for the Guild.

58 Macleay Street, Potts Point

Women in Film and Television

Support and works to advance the standing of women working in the film, television and related screen industries

Office/working space for the organisation.

58 Macleay Street, Potts Point

Eastside Radio

A radio station broadcasting in the greater Eastern Sydney area.

Not for Profit Community Broadcasting Station servicing the City of Sydney and the Eastern Suburbs.

Padd Town Hall
249A Street
NSW 2021

Glebe Music Project

A rehearsal and performance space for the community and disadvantaged groups, that is affordable.

Office/studio space for the organisation.

Archway no. 7, Federal Park, Glebe

Pride History Group

Volunteer group focussed on recording and preserving Sydney's gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer history.


Office/working space for the organisation.

Benledi House, Suite 2, 186 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe NSW 2037

Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir

Promoting pride in, and a positive image of, gay and lesbian people through song, and putting on performances.

Office/working/rehearsal space for the organisation.

Heffron Hall Burlon Street, Darlinghurst, NSW, 2010

Rinse Out

Producers of Underbelly Festival and other fringe arts events.

Occupies as office and event production space, plus public programs

60 William Street, East Sydney

107 Projects

Not for profit org that operates and programmes a vibrant hybrid arts space where artists can perform/exhibit/develop their work.

Office/rehearsal/exhibition space.

107 Redfern Street, Redfern


City of Sydney
456 Kent Street
Sydney, NSW 2000