Daily Archives: March 13, 2013

The Big and Small of Creative Innovation (or how not to facilitate a panel session)

I’m spending the next couple of days here in sunny Newcastle on the NSW coast attending the Creating Spaces Conference to get the full low down on Renew Newcastle and it’s spin offs across the country.

After a 5am start, 3 hours drive, flights Adelaide-Melbourne-Newcastle, and a tour of some of the Renew Projects, quick (delicious dinner) I arrived at the first panel session, you guessed it, entitled ‘The Big and Small of Creative Innovation’.

An impressive panel line up including Marcus Westbury (co-founder of Renew Newcastle and man of many things), Tim Horton (Board Member of the Australian Design Alliance and the Integrated Design Commission), Dr Ianto Ware (founder of Format and former CEO of Renew Adelaide, currently Live Music Coordinator of Sounds Australia), Chloe Beevers (Project Manager, Arts and Culture Local Government NSW) and Gaye Hart (Chair of Regional Development Australia Hunter).

Sadly the impressive panel was let down by a less than impressive facilitator, who having some interesting insights himself, would have been better on the panel rather than facilitating. I’ve attended far too many panel sessions in the last little while, where the facilitator has asked closed questions, made too many direct comments and all in all not really facilitated the panelists stretching their thinking muscles and bringing the audience along for the ride. It was rather aptly summed up in the closing moments of the panel, where a wiser and more vocal woman than me commented that it would have been nice to hear less of the facilitator and more of the audience engaging with the panelists.

*Update: The facilitator was on today (13th March 2013) as well and obviously took last night’s feedback on board by staying true to the facilitator role

Having said that, there were some incredibly insightful comments from the floor and the panelists themselves, which overall I feel can be summed up with the following:

There is the beginning of a movement that understands cities are in transitition. Really vision should set the rules, not rules set the vision. – Tim Horton

I learned by being terrible and failing (at being in a punk band). I will fail at more things in the future.  – Dr Ianto Ware

What is the price of failure? If it’s high, a small number of people can attempt to try. What is the price of entry? If you need a large amount of capital then 90% don’t have access to try. We want to try lots of things. We learn by doing, we don’t learn by excluding. How do you invest in things that might not work? – Marcus Westbury

Collaboration is how we get things done. Be a broker in terms of connecting people in the community (talking about the role of local government) – Chloe Beevers

Uncertainty is an actual, real thing. I don’t actually know what might work. We support a whole range of things and the small percent that work reflect very well on me. – Marcus Westbury

All of the panelists spoke well and passionately about their work, however I was a little disappointed to see the panelists agree on everything.  I didn’t expect (or want) a shouting match by any means, but I felt that the panelists were all so well matched and on the same side of the issue, that there was little opportunity to dig deeper and really unpack any of the issues. I would’ve liked to have seen some of these ‘regulatory baddies’ on the panel, the ‘no-people’, or even just someone like my taxi driver from this morning who couldn’t really see the point and would provide a counterpoint and question to the discussion.

The reality is, we’re all going out into communities that don’t always understand what we’re doing and why, and in some cases can be downright hostile, it would have been nice to see a different point of view on a panel of this nature – or at least a new angle.

I’ll leave you with this photo of my ‘haul’ of goodies until tomorrow


A big (little) (fun) tour

After the required registrations here at the first day of the Creating Spaces Conference in Newcastle, the delegates were split into two groups and treated to a little walking tour of some of the currently operating (and ‘graduated’ – more on this later) Renew Newcastle initiatives.

Since Renew Newcastle began back in 2008 (the heartchild of the ever fabulous Marcus Westbury), the initiative has activated somewhere in the vicinity of 52, what would have been otherwise empty buildings with over 100 projects/creatives businesses/other wonderfulness.


We all know I’m a sucker for cuteness. For oddness. For creative and interesting (intimidating) people so it’s no surprise to hear me say I loved the tour and all the little spaces and people we said hi to.  I’m also coming into this whole conference predisposed to love it all, having avidly watched Renew Newcastle develop from afar on the interwebs after hearing Marcus speak at a completely different conference, on a completely different topic back in 2004 and being so impressed that I’ve shamelessly stalked him virtually on a professional level to keep an eye on the interesting things he gets up to (and to steal his good ideas wherever possible).

Regular readers may also know how neatly my own vision for empty spaces and in particular regional activation and place making dovetails with the Renew Ethos – now under the umbrella of national initiative Renew Australia, so I’m quite stoked to be spending the next few days here unpicking some of the deeper complexities and challenges (many if my negative nelly taxi driver’s commentary is anything to go by).

Anywhoo… back to the tour. The tour today included some of the current Renew babies as well as projects/people referred to as ‘graduates’. Graduates refer to projects/people who now have a commercial lease on a space, which is obviously the ideal outcome for all and it was really heartening to hear from these projects.

In no particular order, my two favourites were:

Strip of a Lifetime

I don’t even know how to describe what they do, but I loved their little space. I loved the detail of the shelves made out of drawers, the wall of analogue TV’s from the ‘Funeral for a Friend’ exhibition, the stack of suitcases and string of fairy lights across the ceiling. The business hires out vintage photobooth’s and a range of quirky vintage items. Check them out on facebook here and here’s some terrible iPad photos.



Studio Melt

Studio Melt is a retail shop and workspace for two Novocastrian jewellers and a proud ‘graduate’. Ange, one of Studio Melt’s driver’s worked for 8 years from home while her children were young and then once they went to school found ‘it was just me and my lawn mower and quite sad really.’ The Renew model was an opportunity to test the market and set the space up slowly (not needing to have a large capital outlay). Studio Melt now sells work by other artists on consignment and their main display cases are on wheels so they can wheel them out the way and set up workshops on a regular basis. Find them here.


The others were all inspiring (and many of them just my taste of quirky too) including Make Space, Curve Gallery, Beep Bicycle Bells, Alie Jane and a peek through the closed doors of Nook.

Now to get into the gritty, how to side of how these empty spaces have turned into creative hubs, viable businesses and vibrant spaces. Stay tuned or follow the twitter stream #CreatingSpaces