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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 14084


Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (12:55): I rise to update the House on the progress of an incredibly successful initiative in my electorate, Renew Newcastle. Marcus Westbury, founder of Newcastle's national This Is Not Art festival, launched Renew Newcastle in 2008 with the ambition to rejuvenate our city centre by facilitating artists and creative entrepreneurs to activate otherwise empty commercial spaces. The result? Many arts based cultural and retail projects are thriving in the heart of our CBD, drawing locals and tourists alike, and complementing the growing inner-city cafe culture.

Tonight, Renew Newcastle is officially opening its latest project, the Emporium, in the former David Jones building, featuring everything from fashion outlets to art galleries. I wish them great success and wish I could be there. It will be a great deal of fun.

To date, over 90 Renew Newcastle projects have been launched. Over 50 locations throughout the CBD are now no longer empty thanks to this initiative, activating once empty, lifeless shells and attracting more permanent businesses.

I am absolutely delighted that the federal Labor government and Minister Crean recently announced funding of $80,000 for Renew Australia to host its inaugural conference 'Creating Spaces' in Newcastle in March next year. Renew Australia, of course, was born out of the initiative's local success in Newcastle. Marcus Westbury is to be congratulated on driving this, along with the innumerable local artists, graphic designers, writers and textile workers, and the dedicated organising team in Newcastle, led by Marni Jackson.

Renew Newcastle has spawned many projects, such as Renew Adelaide, Renew Townsville, Made in Geelong and Pop-up Parramatta. And, recently, I visited Renew Rotterdam, where a group of young people are using the Renew Newcastle example for arts based community development and place making.

In Australia and around the world, modern living sees people engaged in a busy working, studying and online lifestyle, so much so that it becomes harder for people to connect to their own local community. Too often, communities only come together around disasters; but the Renew Newcastle model encourages creative engagement opportunities which help to build vibrant and very satisfying communities—and I love it. The Renew Newcastle project was subject to an economic evaluation by SGS Economics & Planning, who found in January 2012 that, for every dollar invested, there is a tenfold return to the city's economy.

Interestingly, there are still those who peddle the line 'fix our city'. They overlook the contribution of this grassroots, community-up approach and still look for big-city, big-fix solutions to be imposed on the Newcastle CBD. Well, it is time they got with this program, because the people of Newcastle have made it quite clear how much they value Renew Newcastle.

Arts NSW, the primary financial sponsor of Renew Newcastle, recently announced a cut in funding of $20,000 which threatened the continuation of this program. It rightly outraged locals as well as many people around the nation with previous involvement. Such passion drove them onto social media, and I have to say it was a wonderful campaign. It trended nationally and it was the largest trending topic on Twitter. It is wonderful when the power of social media is used for good! Bombarded by the tenacity of that campaign, the New South Wales Premier intervened and, thankfully, has now reinstated the funding to Renew Newcastle.

I do question, however, the true commitment of the New South Wales Liberal government to the arts, because I noticed that the state member for Newcastle's newsletter, spruiking how wonderful this initiative was, hit letterboxes just after his government actually cut the funding to it. So a bit of face-saving was undertaken, I think. It is of course also a government that has cut funding to TAFEs, and that will have a serious impact on the Newcastle Art School TAFE campus, which is very much a part of the rejuvenation of our city. We have the largest number of artists and art galleries per head of population of any city in Australia, and we value that. It enriches our lives and it comes at a very low cost; it should not be cut.

Similarly, the New South Wales government has failed to match the federal funding of $7 million to the Newcastle Art Gallery redevelopment. Naturally, I want to see that funded. Everybody in Newcastle wants to see that funded. We celebrate life and we do it through cultural and art experiences. So I say it is time that the New South Wales Liberals stopped talking the talk and started walking the walk when it comes to investment in the arts and art education in an arts community and in Newcastle.

Question agreed to.

Federa tion Chamber adjourned at 13:01