Opinion | City ghost busters don't spook easily | Christopher Saunders

GRAPHIC SHIFT: International children’s book illustrator Liz Anelli shares a studio with artist Trevor Dickinson in the mall. Picture: Simone De Peak
GRAPHIC SHIFT: International children’s book illustrator Liz Anelli shares a studio with artist Trevor Dickinson in the mall. Picture: Simone De Peak

I took part in a workshop on “innovation ecosystems” at Melbourne University last week. As general manager of Renew Newcastle, I had been asked to present a case study called: Combining Art, Culture and Community to Revitalise a Ghost Town

Ghost Town? I was a bit taken aback. Is this really how Newcastle used to be perceived? Sure, the place had been a little shabby here and there, a tad tired, even a wee bit weary, but … ghost town? And if the city was dead on the inside, as this title seemed to suggest, was it a bit rich to then credit art and culture with its revitalisation?

The truth, of course, is that Newcastle has always been a city alive with art and culture. From our world-class art gallery to live music scene and vibrant theatre communities, from Mattara to Newcastle Writers Festival to TINA, we are a ghost-busting city of artists, musicians, writers and storytellers. 

And 260 extraordinary creative enterprises have flourished under the Renew Newcastle scheme in the past eight years. People with ideas and energy rolled up their sleeves, fixed up, then opened empty buildings and began experimenting with various art forms. Many of these businesses are now self-sufficient, paying commercial rent. Businesses like the Roost, the first co-working space in Newcastle, that provides professional pathways for new enterprises and graduating university students. Newcastle Writers Festival that delivers one of our biggest annual cultural events. Award-winning international children’s book illustrator Liz Anelli and artist Trevor Dickinson who now share a studio space in the mall.

Studio Melt provides Newcastle with world-class local handmade products (it sells the work of seven Renew makers); Shannon Hartigan Images is one of our most popular landscape photographers; The Nook Store, the nationally recognised surf and street clothing label, has just expanded to Byron Bay; Jodie Louise Millinery is very popular in the racing season and Curve Gallery exhibits the work of local and international artists.

All of these businesses anticipate continuing their enterprises in the city. The urban landscape evolves around them and there’s not a ghost to be seen in this exciting city renewal phase.

Another effect of having a city occupied by creative souls is that property crime has decreased 25.6 per cent; tourism increased 25.5 per cent and there has been a 60-90 per cent drop in vacancy rates. And don’t forget the hundreds of media stories that have spruiked Newcastle across the globe as a vibrant and creative place. In the words of the CEO of Iris Capital, which is delivering the extraordinary East End development: “All the good things you’re hearing about in the press, they’ve all really stimulated the local economy and driven people like myself up to Newcastle”.

Crafty, creative, ghost busters, I think it’s fair to say you’ve kept the heart of this great city beating.

Crafty, creative, ghost busters.

Christopher Saunders is the general manager of Renew Newcastle