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The Sanitarium bows to progress

31 August 2018 | Posted in: News

The Room Project, 2008. Written by: Rayannon Innes 

As The Station doors roll open in October, the doors of 111 Hunter Street closed to make way for future development. The Hunter Street building known by those who occupied the space as ‘The Sanitarium’ – the name of the former sandwich bar that traded on the shop floor – tells a modest yet meaningful story in Newcastle’s cultural legacy.

In early December 2008, five participant agreements were signed, signifying the beginning of ‘Renew Newcastle’. The Sanitarium was one of three vacant properties on Hunter street that would quickly transform themselves into a hub of creative, community-driven activity.

Over the month of December, the people of Newcastle avoided an empty and vandalised inner-CBD for their Christmas shopping, clean-up was underway for those first few fixing up the commercial space dilapidated from years of unattended vacancy.

The Room Project, the first creative project to take place in the building, was a fitting testament to both the cosmetic and cultural change taking place in the city. Led by Kim Bridgeland and a number of fellow university architecture students, tens of thousands of small lengths of construction timber – a number of which were found discarded throughout the building – were intricately fit together in the floor of the space to create a tactile, sensory experience for the public. Through architectural installation, a creative groundswell could literally be felt taking place within the city.

Over the ten years following the month of hard community-led work, a plethora of unique projects populated the five floors of the Hunter Street building. Studio spaces occupied by graphic designers, architects, writers, oil painters, engineers, natural history and children’s book illustrators culminated in The Sanitarium playing a special role in facilitating Newcastle’s emerging creative community.

Many of these creatives were tucked away in their studios working behind the scenes, a number of public-facing projects also flourished in the space. One particularly memorable project was Totoro’s Tea House. At a time when finding a good coffee in the mall was rare if not futile, two young artists opened one of Australia’s first very tea houses. After a year of music, merriment and matcha, the movement would inspire today’s coffee-lover favourite One Penny Black to acquire commercial lease on the space – the rest is café culture history.

It’s the countless examples of creative experimentation like those that took place on the floors of The Sanitarium that tell the greater story of Newcastle’s creative-fuelled cultural revival. Despite what urban development might imply, the story of this city’s renewal hasn’t finished.

When one door closes, another door opens and we’re excited to continue our creative legacy at The Station.

Our approach to activity at The Station is different from our previous model. With many of our properties now being renovated, our participants have gone on to create successful co working spaces in the inner suburbs. Our new approach isn’t in competition with these businesses, but provides them an outlet to sell and exhibit the work they are producing.

We look forward to opening the doors of The Station to you in October.

It’s always bittersweet having say farewell to a commercial space, but it’s made easier when we learn of how far the tenants have come through their creative vocations.

What we know so far:

  • Kylie of boutique women’s knitwear label Klee will be moving her industrial sewing instruments to creative co-working space Studio One Marysville.
  • Upon receiving a High Distinction for their Masters paper, Bastian will be pursuing the last chapters of their memoir from a new hot desk space at The Roost Creative.
  • Karl Morgan of ZooKraft will continue to lead design courses at UoN and work on his other projects from his home studio.
  • Brandon McIntosh of Studio Brandon has just received the very exciting news of an offer as Smart City Project Officer at Ipswich City Council.
  • Music Therapist Carlin McLennan has just returned from speaking at a conference in Hong Kong and intends to continue taking his business Play Anything to other parts Australia and the world
  • Francois will continue to paint, spray, tan and build his repurposed artworks from home alongside other commitments.

An honour and a privilege

20 August 2018 | Posted in: News

Story: Marcus Westbury   Photography: Boony Loahajaroenyot

Ten years ago I found myself back in Newcastle with the beginning of a plan. Over the few weeks of late August and early September 2008,  I did the rounds of pretty much any of the city’s stakeholders I could pin down. I met with politicians, lawyers, accountants, property owners, business leaders, did media interviews as I publicly and privately worked through an idea I’d been sitting on for more than a decade before that.

Those first few months — actually the first couple of years — were frantic. Shuttling back and forth between Melbourne and Newcastle. Public meetings. Private negotiations. The slow realisation that I had gotten myself into something that I couldn’t quite get out of. At some point momentum took over and carried me with it. I made about fifty return trips averaging about one a fortnight as I watched an idea that I’d long believed in — that Newcastle’s creative community had the resourcefulness, imagination and resilience to seed a transformation if given the right opportunity — go from improbable, to possible to unstoppable.

If you’d told me back then that Renew Newcastle would go on to fix up and reopen eight properties and support 25 projects in the next decade I would have happily taken it. It’s hard to believe we’ve been involved in 10 times that number: more than 80 properties and 250 projects. Renew has been a catalyst for new businesses, new narratives and a transformation way beyond what I would have thought possible. It has also become a model that has been picked up in dozens of cities and towns around the world.

Over time my role at Renew Newcastle has gradually receded from initiator and driver in those early days; to figurehead, advocate and advisor in the middle years; to the old guy who is occasionally wheeled in or out to help with the odd problem, proposal or project. It’s not a bad thing. As Renew Newcastle has needed me less and less more immediate responsibilities — like 2 kids and a full time day job — have needed me more.

It has been an absolute privilege to be part of this. Renew has been and remains an incredible collaborative effort: Renew Newcastle board members both past and present, the team on the ground that has brought it into being over the years, and most importantly the property owners and participants that have made all this possible.

It’s been an honour to play a small part in helping so many enthusiastic, talented and creative people put their efforts into realising their dreams. It is extraordinary to see what can happen when people band together and start change from the ground up. To go shop by shop, block by block to clean, reopen and transform so much of the city. It is a great legacy to see scores of enduring businesses and careers that have been seeded or supported by Renew.

Ten years seems like a good round number to end my formal roles with Renew. Of course I will remain an enthusiastic supporter, my brain is permanently available to be picked if useful, and I will continue to help if and when I can. Renew is entering an exciting new phase with the coming transformation of The Station. It’s a journey I look forward to experiencing from the other side.

Supporting your city at tax time

22 June 2018 | Posted in: News

Giving $10 as a tax deductible donation to Renew can generate $140 in economic and social value to Newcastle according to an economic report compiled by the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE) at the University of Newcastle in 2016.

We have been able to achieve this with minimal investment in infrastructure and capital works and with the support of financial partners such as Hunter Development Corporation and Newcastle City Council.

Activating The Newcastle Station presents opportunities for larger organisations to sponsor specific elements or events that can including branding exposure to a wide audience and is an investment in the Newcastle community and CBD.

When it opens in September, The Station will ensure a mix of activities including a live performance space, café and licensed bar, curated retail store and an education hub that ensures a high level of on-going activity. The outdoor platform will host one off and specific events that target mass and niche audiences. It is designed to reward visitation and ensure that people promote their experiences and return for more.

Renew Newcastle is a not for profit initiative that is dependent on support from public and private sector partners in order to succeed. Renew Newcastle is on the Register of Cultural Organisations and is a Deductible Gift Recipient.

As the end of financial year draws near consider your ability to support Newcastle’s creative culture through the work of Renew Newcastle. Whether it’s a one-off donation of $2 or more, a long term funding relationship or sponsorship of a specific project we need you.

Filling the gap, one note at a time

22 June 2018 | Posted in: News

 

Carlin in his Play Anything business studio | Photo: Carlin McLellan

Less than a year after receiving the keys to his studio, Music Therapist Carlin McLellan has witnessed his business take flight. This has been accomplished quite literally. As of Wednesday, Carlin touched down in the West Australian desert to embark in bringing the immersive musical workshops of Play Anything to Australia’s most isolated communities.

Over the next three weeks, the registered music therapist will be touring with Desert Feet, a non-profit organisation that brings music to remote communities throughout Australia’s Western regions. Through a series of interactive workshops, Carlin will be bringing the inclusive and empowering experience of music-making and exploration to communities that often have little or no access to such opportunities.

In an inspiring campaign to fill the physical and mental health gap of rural Western Australians, Desert Feet harnesses the power of collaborative music making, performance, and play to reconnect communities – particularly younger generations – with their cultural identity. For his first series of workshops on the tour, Carlin will work alongside members of the Central Desert Ngaanyatjara community in a council supported program aimed at tackling smoking.

Keep an eye on our social media if you wish to follow some of Carlin’s inspiring journey.

Until more of his tour unfolds, you can listen to some newly released music from Carlin and fellow Renew participant, writer, zine-making and musician Bastian Fox Phelan’s dual project Moonsign here.

Finding home and opportunity

22 June 2018 | Posted in: News

Kim Hall happily spotted at local favourite The Umbrian |                                  Written & Photographed by: Rayannon Innes

If one were asked to write a recipe for the ideal not-for-profit board director, Kim Hall should serve as their point of reference. With her educational background in Communications Honours, close to a decade working within Newcastle’s political and community-based sector, and an additional set of studies within a Bachelor of Laws, Kim is an indispensable force within the Renew Newcastle team.

After a number of years spent travelling the UK for her career in public relations, Kim unexpectedly found herself returning back to Newcastle in 2009. In addition to earning a diverse career as Electorate Officer for the Office of Sharon Grierson MP, Kim was inspired by the positive changes she observed taking place within the city during Renew’s beginnings. It would only be two years ago however, when a board vacancy enabled Kim the opportunity to contribute her impressive skillset towards the Renew Newcastle cause.

Over her two-year period serving on the Renew Board, Kim has continued to witness significant changes within the organisation and subsequently the city of Newcastle as a whole. Kim firmly attributes Newcastle’s recent revitalisation to the creative community which has served in creating not only cultural vibrancy but significant economic value for the city.

In 2016, The Centre of Full Employment and Equity found that for every dollar spent by Renew Newcastle, a benefit of $14.40 is made back into the community. Although Kim see’s a lot of cost benefit ratios in her line of work, a ratio of 14.4:1 is something she described as “the most amazing success story” that she’s ever come across. The report also found that Renew contributed to the growth of employment and job opportunities within the city, something which has further influenced Kim’s desire to continue to keep herself and her family’s roots firmly planted in Newcastle.

As the city continues to evolve, Kim and the rest of the team are enthusiastic for Renew Newcastle’s role in the journey ahead. The temporary activation of the former Newcastle Station is a prime opportunity for the creative community to continue to flourish, again adding meaningful value to the city that continues to become identified for its uniquely artistic and entrepreneurial talent.