Opinion | City needs more public performance infrastructure

SETTING THE STAGE: NIMA is calling for public performance infrastructure to be integrated into public space developments, such as the former Civic Station.
SETTING THE STAGE: NIMA is calling for public performance infrastructure to be integrated into public space developments, such as the former Civic Station.

NIMA is an incorporated not-for-profit association that was established in March 2009 to address the lack of performance opportunities for contemporary jazz and improvised music artists in Newcastle. The driving goal of NIMA is to support local musicians so they can showcase their skills and repertoire.

NIMA volunteers produce and organise weekly concerts, where emerging and established, as well as touring and international musicians can experiment with new musical styles, jazz and improvisation every Tuesday night in the basement of the Grand Hotel.

NIMA also wants to support cultural revival in the city by working collaboratively with major institutions and community stakeholders. NIMA has in the past been involved with public performance events in the city and on the foreshore and is aiming to again establish regular public concerts series.

NIMA has the experience, contacts and know-how to stage and promote such events, and to provide performance opportunities to local musicians, while providing public interest and a cultural experience to the students, workers, visitors and residents of Newcastle.

Public art is a cornerstone with substantial budgets for all public space developments. This mostly translates into capital expenditure on sculptural or architectural expressions, providing (hopefully) pleasant, sophisticated public spaces. On completion the challenge remains to activate these new spaces.

Public performances of music, dance or drama from buskers to licensed paid performers and professional events can be found in the centres of many cities of the world, and these performances often provide the activation of public space. Performing artists provide a cultural backdrop to city life, and public performing arts should therefore be considered as part of the planning of new public spaces.

The Newcastle public domain lacks focal points and infrastructure that can easily stage small and medium events. NIMA is encouraged by plans announced by Revitalising Newcastle for Civic Station. In NIMA’s submission to Newcastle City Council in June last year regarding the rezoning of the Civic precinct, it proposed that to help live music and performing arts to in turn help urban revitalisation, it would be invaluable to create basic public performance infrastructure in key locations, such as:

  • Permanent under-cover stage: sections of former railway platforms and awnings could be adaptively re-used and integrated into the public domain design for use as an informal stage.
  • Informal tiered seating for audiences: The pedestrian overpass at Civic could be filled in with seat sized steps, accessible by the existing stairs on the outside. This structure could be adaptively re-used and integrated into the design of the public domain, while creating and preserving a link to the heritage of the site.
  • Speaker systems, power supply and PAs could be integrated as permanent infrastructure into the capital development of the public space, enabling organisations such as NIMA, NCC, Livesites, university and others to stage public events.

NIMA understands that the new Civic Plaza will become a hub for students, workers, visitors and residents, and is hopeful that some of the above ideas are included in the development plans.

Public performing arts need to be considered a valuable tool to achieve the aim of urban renewal and revitalisation, the overarching performance requirement of the recent planning strategies and instruments.

The people of Newcastle would surely appreciate the enhanced public cultural offering that such a performance space and focal point could generate.

Capree Gaul is the President of Newcastle Improvised Music Association