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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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