After a decade of transforming inner-city Newcastle into an artist’s playground for one week a year, Marcus Westbury has finally persuaded Newcastle’s local Government and business interests that there’s merit in doing this all year round. Leveraging his profile developed with ABC TV’s Not Quite Art, Marcus has created a body to liase between owners of empty buildings in Newcastle, and artists and mediamakers in need of space. Given Newcastle’s resemblance to Baghdad over the years, unsurprisingly the projects aims of injecting activity into the inner-city have been hugely popular. (( Organic food co-ops in old churches anyone?
There’s been a recent surge in activity with Renew Newcastle, what’ve been some highlights?
The big highlight for me is that a large part of Newcastle is coming back to life again and is full of interesting things happening. What was becoming a bit of a dead zone is now a hub of independent and original arts, photography, jewellery, design, publishing, fashion, crafts, filmmaking, and much more. I’m a bit reluctant to single anyone in particular out but there’s a shop called Makespace that’s worth a look to see what you can achieve on a hard rubbish fitout.
How many vacant shop spaces have you got being re-used by artists now?
We are up to 17 or 18 spaces that have been taken over by about 26 or 27 projects. We have more being added all the time. It’s a pretty amazing number given that we only really started on this a few months ago and it’s a very big turnaround from what was there before.
Of the recent shop projects, can you explain some more about the ‘sustainable “upcycled” art and design objects’ ?
They’re selling furniture, accessories, art and objects that are all made from recycled materials. They take junk and turn it into desirable objects.
You’ve compared Newcastle and Glasgow on the ABC TV series Not Quite Art. With more time behind their strategies, how has Glasgow’s attempt to reinvigorate local culture unfolded?
Everyone think’s I’m an expert on Glasgow because I filmed there but I’m not really expert. What Glasgow has successfully done is chart a course from an industrial city to a place that has become well known for interesting art, and music and it has done that by letting artists take the lead and treating the city’s empty space as a resource for them. I’d like to think the same thing could happen in Newcastle with a bit of time.
How have local businesses in Newcastle responded to the transformation of nearby vacant shops, and the bohemian populations that can come with them?
The reaction has mostly been excellent. People are pleased to see activity. They’re glad to see interest and to see people back in town again. I think it goes well beyond bohemians, there’s a great deal of interest from the whole of the community.
Are there still empty spaces available? What kinds of projects / people are suitable?
Yes, we are always lookign for new projects. Anyone who is making anything that’s creative or original should have a look at our website and check out the guidelines. We’d be interested in anyone with a good idea for an empty space.
How can interested people otherwise get involved?
See the website at www.renewnewcastle.org or join the “Renew Newcastle” facebook group for more information.
The project is obviously going great. Where does it go from here, and are there looming deadlines / expiry dates / milestones on it’s horizons?
Right now we are consilidating some of our organisational stuff and expanding to some more difficult sites than the ones that we have started with. We will do another call for proposals over the next couple of months but people are welcome to enquire at any time.