Starting-up & funding

Like many similar cities in regional Australia, Lismore has seen state and federal service agencies contracting in size or being relocated elsewhere - with a negative impact on the local economy. In addition, fluctuations in the health of the retail and service sectors had contributed to a public perception that Lismore's CBD was full of empty shops.

In fact, only around 7% of the commercial properties in the Lismore CBD are empty at any given time - 'normal turnover' according to local real estate agents. But this still translates to 20 to 30 empty premises around the city centre. When he was appointed inaugural City Centre Manager by Lismore City Council in 2009 and tasked with revitalising the area, Stephen Nelson realised the potential to activate the thriving creative and cultural community through an empty space initiative.

"Council agreed to appoint a City Centre Manager as a result of the Lismore Alive Report they'd commissioned in response to near-universal acceptance that Lismore was 'dead' at the weekends and there was not lot of activity after closing times during the week," says Stephen, who is now the Art in the Heart Lismore Coordinator. "Council wanted this situation to change, as did the local business community.

"The Lismore local government area is home to around 44,000 people, but they weren't coming back to the city centre after hours because there was no activity to draw them back. I realised that our vibrant cultural sector could be the key to enlivening Lismore."

After holding a forum that featured Renew Newcastle founder Marcus Westbury and Kim Spinks from Arts NSW, which was attended by around 230 people including artists, business people, council staff and property owners to discuss the concept of 'Art in the Heart', Stephen received co-funding from Arts NSW through its Creative Enterprise Hubs program and Lismore City Council.

Stephen has a fully resourced office in Council's CBD building. "Rental, computer, phones, internet and so on are taken care of by Council, which also provides me with admin and accounting assistance, and I work closely with City Centre Manager Katie O'Rourke who also sits on the Art in the Heart Taskforce I report to," he says.