Creating new cultural and creative precincts and making more space for the arts in Sydney

Concept-plans-for-the-Darlinghurst-Law-Courts-at-Taylor-Square-courtesy-of-City-of-SydneyAustralia’s National Art School (NAS) and neighbouring Taylor Square could be transformed into a major cultural and creative precinct under bold new plans outlined by the City of Sydney.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the concept is central to Making Space for Culture – one of ten bold ideas outlined in Sustainable Sydney 2030-2050 Continuing the Vision – the City of Sydney’s newly extended strategic plan.

“Sydney’s rising property prices, transformation of former industrial areas and the pandemic have savaged our cultural life – threatening the viability of live music venues, small theatres, galleries and rehearsal spaces, and the affordability of studios, workshops and warehouses,” said the Lord Mayor.

“But we want Sydney to be known for its world-class cultural offerings – a city that dares to lead, backs curiosity and experimentation and invests in big ideas and new talent.”

“Protecting and creating cultural infrastructure will take innovative partnerships and financing models. We need to ensure that culture is recognised as an integral component of urban development, viewed by policymakers just like health, education and transport.”

“The challenges Sydney faces are not unique. Globally, an increasing number of cities are struggling to maintain their distinctive cultures in the face of rapid urban change. However, our culture is not something we can import from elsewhere. We don’t want to lose the space, talent and resources to tell our own stories.”

“The City values its artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and designers, and we stand ready to ensure they can live and work here, now and into the future,” said the Lord Mayor.

Making Space for Culture is a two-part strategy for creating and preserving cultural and creative space in Sydney by revitalising precincts and establishing a creative land trusts. The strategy includes proposals to:

  • Rethink the National Art School and Taylor Square as a major civic and cultural precinct.
  • Open the Darlinghurst Law Courts to Oxford Street – giving NAS a new front door, connecting it to the community, elevating the historic complex to a major cultural destination, and growing public space.
  • Cultivate a performance precinct in Kings Cross.
  • Create an innovation and design precinct in Pyrmont and Ultimo.
  • Support a 24-hour precinct in Alexandria.
  • Progress the proposed East Sydney cultural precinct centred around Oxford Street.
  • Introduce not-for-profit creative land trusts to help cultural industries access the property market for affordable, long-term use.

Revitalising precincts
The precinct revitalisation approach protects and grows existing clusters of cultural space across Sydney. This approach advocates for enhancing existing cultural precincts and new cultural space on government-owned land and seeks to change planning controls to create incentives to co-locate creative industries and enterprises in certain areas.

Cultural precincts can build economies of scale, collaboration, visitation, employment, local character and amenity. An example is the proposed amplification of the National Art School in East Sydney’s cultural precinct, with concept designs by JMD Design and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer.

The proposal is complemented by recently updated planning controls that will breathe new life into Oxford Street with additional cultural space, basement and rooftop bars while protecting the area’s unique LGBTIQA+ heritage and character.

“Renewing our planning rules will help reinforce Oxford Street’s creative and cultural possibilities. We’re committed to building on its reputation as an iconic gay and lesbian precinct and a centre of buzzing activity both day and night, with space for thriving businesses, creatives and culture,” said the Lord Mayor.

“Plans to revitalise Oxford Street carefully consider the potential to rethink the National Art School and Taylor Square as a cultural and community precinct.

“Opening the Law Courts in Darlinghurst to Oxford Street would give the art school a new front door, connect it to the community and elevate the historic complex to a major cultural destination. It would also create much needed public open space for the local community.”

Other areas earmarked for protection and revitalisation include an innovation and design precinct in Pyrmont and Ultimo, a performance precinct in Kings Cross, and a 24-hour precinct in Alexandria.

Architect Tim Greer and landscape architect Anton James are now working on making the East Sydney cultural precinct a reality. “This precinct will become an expression of Sydney’s plan for culture by celebrating and making visible the city’s creative industry,” said Anton James.

“Taylor Square will be transformed into a significant public open space with a unified pedestrian realm and a focus on civic use. Sydney is making a meeting place for diverse creative and cultural groups whilst bringing the National Art School, one of Australia’s cultural institutions, to the fore.”

Introducing Creative Land Trusts
Creative land trusts help cultural industries access the property market for affordable, long-term use. Trusts are not-for-profit landholders that acquire, create and secure property for creative and cultural purposes.

Other market-rate commercial or accommodation spaces on the property can subsidise the cultural infrastructure. This model has now been successfully implemented in London with the establishment of the Creative Land Trust.

Creative Land Trust CEO Gordon Seabright said the organisation has now purchased its third property and has an ambitious target of creating 1,000 new artists studio spaces within five years.

“London, like Sydney, is tackling the outflow of creativity caused by the cost of workspace,” said Gordon Seabright. “Covid accelerated the trend, and it was clear that the city needed to do something different to remain a global cultural powerhouse.”

“Creative Land Trust was founded by the Mayor of London and partners to come up with an innovative solution, and we’re creating a blend of previously untapped sources of finance and pulling every lever we can find to secure long term, affordable space for artists and makers; we want to solve the problem for good, so London can focus on the culture and creativity that make the city special.”

“As we celebrate securing our first three buildings, we congratulate Sydney for this bold commitment to making space for culture,” said Mr Seabright.

More Space for Culture
From 2012 to 2017, employment in the creative industries reduced by roughly 2,000 people, and 110,000 square metres of creative and cultural employment lands in the local area was lost. The full impact of the pandemic is not yet known.

The City of Sydney is the single largest provider of subsidised creative workspace in Greater Sydney, including the new City of Sydney Creative Studios on Bathurst Street, which is due to open later this year.

The 5-storey, 2,000 square metre affordable creative space in the heart of the city provides state-of-the-art production and rehearsal space for dancers, musicians, film and theatre makers, digital creatives and visual artists. The space was secured through an innovative voluntary planning agreement with Greenland Australia.

Through the above plans the City has committed to helping generate at least 40,000 additional square metres worth of new cultural production space in the local area by 2036.

Sydney Fringe CEO and Festival Director Kerri Glasscock said the Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the sector’s challenges and issued a call to action for all levels of government and the community to work collaboratively.

“Setting this game-changing target for new cultural production space says a lot about the City’s vision for the future and responds to the citizens of Sydney who want culture embedded into everyday life,” said Ms Glasscock.

“This is a call to action for us all to work together. Government, landowners, property developers and the creative sector, to build the spaces our city needs and wants.”

The City of Sydney recently called for nominations for a Culture and Creative Sector Advisory Panel to provide advice on issues affecting the cultural and creative sector. Its particular focus will be on the challenges of finding affordable cultural making space and infrastructure.

Sustainable Sydney 2030-2050 Continuing the Vision will be exhibited for community feedback before being presented to Council for adoption in June. For more information and to view the report, visit: for details.

Image: Concept plans for the Darlinghurst Law Courts at Taylor Square – courtesy of City of Sydney