$20 million lifeline for Sydney’s cultural life

City of Sydney City Talks June 2024 photo by Katherine GriffithsAt a packed Sydney Town Hall discussion on the future of the creative economy, the City of Sydney unveiled a new $20 million plan to help secure and build Sydney’s cultural life.

Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore AO outlined key initiatives in the City of Sydney’s 10-year cultural strategy and joined NSW Arts Minister John Graham in working towards the establishment of a creative land trust to acquire and create affordable space for creative and cultural purposes.

“While Sydney is a powerhouse of culture for the nation, what makes that possible is at risk. Our creative workforce increasingly can’t afford to live or work here,” said the Lord Mayor.

“Our creative community has demonstrated extraordinary resilience in the face unprecedented financial pressures but unless we support their work and provide affordable and secure creative space, we risk losing our cultural vibrancy.”

“Culture gives Sydney its character and a voice to our ideas and stories. There are no simple solutions but our new cultural strategy will help direct efforts to retain what we have, rebuild what we’ve lost and reimagine an inspiring, diverse and thriving cultural life,” said the Lord Mayor.

A new culture strategy
To tackle immediate workforce and space challenges, the draft cultural strategy seeks to:

  • provide seed funding to support the establishment of a creative land trust
  • offer artist fellowships to retain a diverse range of creatives that produce work in Sydney
  • establish grants programs to help retain existing creative spaces, upgrade venues, meet compliance fees and help emerging creative spaces with fit-out and startup costs
  • introduce a planning aid service to help creatives navigate approval process for venues and events.

The City of Sydney is also considering installing writers’ rooms, artist studios and performance infrastructure in public spaces, libraries and community venues.

Longer-term, the City of Sydney is investigating how to work with the property industry to put underused commercial property to creative use and build artist housing.

“The City of Sydney already invests about $34 million a year in art and culture, which supports the economy and close to 1,700 creative business, and the thousands more that rely on them. It also provides Sydney’s artists with paid work,” said the Lord Mayor..

“But no matter how much we invest in events or commissions, our creative economy will buckle if we cannot provide artists, musicians, writers and performers with suitable places to work and live.”

“That’s why the new cultural strategy provides additional funding that will retain the local creative workforce, generate more production space and broaden participation in the arts,” said the Lord Mayor.

Shared commitment to a creative land trust
Minister Graham said creative land trusts had been successful in London and New York, helping secure space for creatives in perpetuity.

“Like other major world cities, Sydney is finding that creative spaces are getting squeezed out. We have been losing that battle,” said Minister Graham.

“We cannot deal with the scale of the crisis without new tools and a new approach. This model of collaboration and partnership is an important step forward.”

“We all – government agencies, councils, private landholders – need to come together to preserve and protect our creative communities and activate spaces,”

“We are going to shift from what we’ve been doing which is building a small number of amazing public spaces to using a range of levers to deliver space and crucially activating space that already exists,” said Minister Graham.

The Lord Mayor said the joint City of Sydney and NSW Government initiative, modelled on similar entities in the US and UK, could be a game changer.

“The scale of the loss of creative spaces is too great for any of us to tackle alone. Governments at all levels need to urgently work together to retain, rebuild and restore creative spaces close to affordable housing,” said the Lord Mayor.

“A trust would be an independent, not-for-profit entity with a board of trustees that takes land out of the private market and places it in the hands of the cultural sector for good. It can build a portfolio from philanthropic and other private investors, and it can manage properties from the City of Sydney and other governments.”

The City of Sydney and NSW Government are committed to working together on plans to help secure affordable properties for long-term use by creative industries, through seed funding and donations of floorspace.

Scale of the problem
To develop the draft strategy, the City of Sydney analysed census, employment floorspace and longitudinal creative employment research data, evaluated cultural programs and grants, consulted with the Cultural and Creative Sector Advisory Panel and conducted workshops with sub-sectors of the creative industries.

Consultation focused on understanding the lived experience of the above research findings, exploring the context for these changes and identifying primary challenges and emerging opportunities for the sector. Some key findings:

  • Greater Sydney has the largest creative workforce in the country. But the number of artists who live in the local area decreased by 11% from 2011 to 2021. Sydney is the only Australian capital city to see a reduction in core creative professionals during this time.
  • Average weekly rent in Sydney is 62% of an average artist income and residential rental costs are the primary reason artists are leaving.
  • Commercial floorspace used by creative industries in the local area has reduced by 172,000m² since 2012.

Research also revealed Sydney’s creative workforce has become less diverse, compliance costs are a barrier to operating creative spaces and producing events, and a lack of mid-sized venues and organisations are threatening the local arts scene.

The cultural strategy and creative land trust were discussed at CityTalks: Making space for culture – the future of Sydney’s creative economy. Video from the evening, which featured keynotes and a panel discussion between cultural leaders from London and Sydney, will be available online.

For more information, visit: www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au to read the strategy, which will be considered at the Council’s June meeting. The City of Sydney has proposed an extended two month community consultation for the draft strategy to seek extensive feedback and explore the proposed actions with stakeholders.

Image: City Talks at the Sydney Town Hall – photo by Katherine Griffiths | City of Sydney