Spring Fever

Imaginarium at Readings on Courtenay Place

Imaginarium at Readings on Courtenay Place

With the beginning of Spring, brokerage of Wellington vacant city space Urban Dream Brokerage is stepping up a level. Four projects using vacant retail space in creative new ways, bringing community, diversity and new ideas to the city are have been up and running concurrently. Lined up behind them are many more awaiting final confirmation of spaces, as the CBD retail district gears up for WOW Festival at the end of September and the final dash to Christmas.

Just opened is a rather distinctive employment of a whole multileveled office building at 111 Dixon Street (between Willis and Victoria). Formerly the offices of Sharp, and owned by Overton Holdings, a warren of rooms, corridors and foyers have been transformed into a mysterious ‘accommodation provider’ by Long Cloud Youth Theatre, for their fascinating devised work The Mountebank Hotel. Attendees are invited to a party in the upstairs function room, from where they move around the building’s rooms meeting staff and piecing together cryptic clues from the characters they meet in an attempt to discover who their elusive host is. David Lynch meets Wikileaks. This is theatre strongly meeting the UDB’s brief for innovation and a unique use of space, creating work that playfully responds to existing uses of city realty.

Meanwhile another theatre work, Battle Hymn from Red Scare Collective is currently in rehearsal and design build in a property owned by The Wellington Company in Left Bank, off Cuba Mall. Transforming a less visible corner of an urban area into a fresh collaboration between a director and composer, it opens 18 September.

Last week Imaginarium had about 1000 people through the old Whitcoulls in the Reading Cinema Courtenay Central complex, leading to an explosion of giant cardboard box creations and other contributions. Exhibiting boundary-less energy Amy Church and Hayley Jeffrey have steered an ever growing team working with the public and visiting groups to exercise their creative spirits in this large former retail site, and have also welcomed a range of muralists and performers. They aptly describe it as a gym for the creative mind. It’s an ever-evolving urban playground for all ages, with Amy and Hayley encouraging all to contribute their ideas for the space. There is magic happening here constantly.

Finally, we’re also very grateful for a partnership with Positively Wellington Tourism which is seeing the use by UDB of the former Nui Café on Wakefield Street (next to council and the tourism information centre) for unique projects. This past week the ingenious Political Cuts from Barbarian Productions (who produced Brides with UDB last year) has opened getting a lot of attention. A ‘political salon’ where you can get a haircut and a coffee in exchange for conversation on your political views on a range of topics, the project encourages young people, in particular, to vote and us all to share and care about the major issues affecting the country. When we last popped in the three main Wellington central political candidates were giving the hairdresser a haircut while asking him about what the public feedback he was getting was. Political Cuts is another brilliant example for UDB of how we need to create new, different kinds of spaces for people of all persuasions to meet and share in Wellington city.

There are a heap of images of these projects accessible by clicking on the links above or their respective images on the UDB homepage: www.urbandreambrokerage.org.nz and lots of updates running through our Facebook page. More project announcements just around the corner!

More opportunity announced for innovative ideas in Wellington

Urban Dream Brokerage project #12 Moodbank, corner of Victoria and Manners Street. Property partner: Shoreline Property Group

Urban Dream Brokerage project #12 Moodbank, corner of Victoria and Manners Street. Property partner: Shoreline Property Group

We're thrilled to announce that more innovative Wellingtonians have the opportunity to use empty retail space in the central city.

New funding has been confirmed this month from Wellington City Council and Wellington Community Trust that builds Urban Dream Brokerage's reach to innovative and diverse projects in vacant space.  Everyone with ideas - artists and designers, community groups, social entrepreneurs and fledgling businesses - are now invited to propose or pitch ideas for interacting with the city in new ways in 2014. We welcome enquiries anytime and first applications are due by Friday 13 June.

Imagine a city where everyone feels represented. Where, like the traditional high street, community and businesses exist side by side. This is an opportunity for locally-grown businesses and groups with original ideas to involve the public in their thinking and work.For the city’s future health, our streets need to reflect our diversity. A city’s resilience is determined by how it responds to its changing circumstances.

Established by Letting Space, Urban Dream Brokerage has run as a pilot over the last 15 months. The Brokerage placed 15 creative projects into vacant retail spaces around the city. These included a community cinema (People’s Cinema, still going), a former ASB Bank site where the public could deposit their mood and consider the collective mood of the city (Moodbank), a waiting room in Cuba Mall (The Waiting Room), innovative theatre productions, a jewellery workshop and exhibition space in Willis Street (Occupation Artists), and a space displaying hundreds of wedding dresses where the public were asked their views on marriage on the eve of the passing of the Marriage Amendment Act (Brides).

Mark Farrar, from Council’s funding team says, “the Urban Dream Brokerage gives Wellington innovative and exciting public art, helps our creative industries and asks provocative questions about social and cultural issues.”

The Brokerage is now also working with community groups and fledgling enterprises thanks to wider support from the City Council and Wellington Community Trust.

This means we are able to bring empty spaces to life for more people and bring new tenants for property owners. The use of these spaces reduces vandalism and graffiti  and many of our projects lead to new tenancies for these buildings.

The businesses of the creative people who use these spaces have also been developed. Jewellery studio Occupation Artists, for example, has now taken up a long term lease.

Over the last four years statistics from Colliers International show that, while there has been recent growth in retail spending, there has also been a steady increase in retail and other commercial vacancies, with most of that increase in the heart of the CBD. The most recently published figures show vacancies at 13.7%.

Proposed projects for the Urban Dream Brokerage need to be unique, innovative, bring life to the city and be open to the public. Projects may be temporary one-off trials or designed to be ongoing. Our job is not to replicate what already exists. This is an opportunity to develop new ideas with the public.   

Project proposals can be submitted on the Urban Dream Brokerage website - see here for more details or email Helen Kirlew Smith at urbandreambrokerage@gmail.com for more information.   

Broker's Blog - A Year On

For the last 15 months or so I have also been privileged to meet with over 30 or so individuals and groups who have come to talk to me about their ideas to activate vacant space in the city. Some of whom found spaces for themselves, went back to the drawing board or couldn’t proceed for one reason or another. Either way, I was blown away with the number of people who wanted to work outside the usual theatre and gallery walls. I receive many calls and emails a week enquiring about how to do what we do.



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Documenting New Public Spaces

The last two Urban Dream Brokerage projects, Moodbank and The Waiting Room, complimented each other well running concurrently and both received a lot of public interest and participation. Media reports were also really gratifying - congratulations to The Waiting Room's Victoria Singh and Moodbank's Vanessa Crowe and Sarah Baker. 

Martin Patrick provides a contemporary art context for The Waiting Room in his review on leading visual arts review website eyecontactsite.com here.

Meanwhile both projects had strong articles in the Dominion Post: Moodbank here and The Waiting Room here. The DomPost Waiting Room story features a gorgeous video of Te Aro School children waiting.

Creative ideas for vacant sites sought

Public art ideas for vacant commercial space in Wellington are being sought by this week by the agency Urban Dream Brokerage, established this year by public art programme Letting Space.

Funded by the Wellington City Council's Public Art Fund, the Urban Dream Brokerage assists in the revitalisation of the city through brokering the
use of vacant commercial space by artists and the creative industries.

While submissions are welcome at any time for projects needing space, the Brokerage is asking for a new round of initial ideas for public artwork to be submitted by 16 August. Details and an online application can be found athttp://urbandreambrokerage.org.nz/for-applicants. Enquiries can be made to manager Helen Kirlew Smith aturbandreambrokerage@gmail.com.

Urban Dream Brokerage founders Mark Amery and Sophie Jerram emphasise they are working as brokers rather than curators of projects. While artists will be responsible for developing and managing their projects,  as an agency Urban Dream Brokerage locates potential spaces for the projects and handles negotiation, licensing and the provision of insurance.

"Where many artists come unstuck," they say, "is in the relationships with property owners and covering aspects like insurance when their use is short term use. It works for landlords, enlivening space and suggesting new uses to potential tenants, enables new business growth and the development business skills in the creative sector, and encourages a more lively, mixed used urban environment - something thats vital to a creative, future-looking city."

Since its establishment at the beginning of the year Urban Dream brokerage has brokered eight projects into vacant spaces The last was Gabby O’Connor’s giant iceberg work *Cleave *at the bottom of Wellington’s Victoria Street across from Civic Square, and two projects (*Occupation Artists* and *People’s Cinema*) are ongoing. Other projects have been by by Tessa Laird, James R Ford, Daniel Webby, theatre producers A Slightly Isolated Dog, and Barbarian Productions. To see more on these projects go to www.urbandreambrokerage.org.nz

Any individual or group developing their own original work or idea are eligible to apply to the brokerage as long as their work, product, services or process is distinctive and unique. While the Brokerage is being established to support all original work and creative businesses, until a further funding base is secured, priority is being given to public art projects (see below for the Wellington City Council's definition of Public Art).

Applicants must:

Bring life to Wellington. 

Projects should be fresh, dynamic and open to the public. 

Priority will be given to those with a ground floor presence and accessibility (i.e. not projects that are about storage, office space, or that are rarely open). This can be anywhere within Wellington City Council boundaries - not just the CBD. 

Provide the unique and innovative. We are not interested in turning the city into another copy of itself or one type of gallery or space. Part of the selection process is the encouragement of mixed use, diversity and variety. Artists and the creative industries actively contribute to the thinking, use and design of urban spaces. 

Projects will also be helping ensure more diverse communities are represented publicly.

Demonstrate professionalism and a very clear idea. Projects should have future potential for growth, and individuals/organisations should demonstrate that they are ready to look after a space professionally and responsibly.

Pay attention to their project’s context. Projects should demonstrate an awareness of Wellington city’s current usages, issues and history. This includes, where applicable, recognition of mana whenua and the city's Maori whakapapa.

For a project to happen it also needs someone with a suitable property to get behind it. The Brokerage may not always be able to find such a space.

Public art is defined in the Wellington City Council Public Art Policy as:

- artists contributing to the thinking and design of public places and spaces,
- art concepts and/or artworks and/or design features integrated into urban design developments (including buildings, streets and parks),
- artists working in and with communities in public spaces,
- art processes and artworks in the public sphere that may be variously described as sculpture, murals, street-art, performance, new-genre public art, relational aesthetics, and/or installations.

Current Urban Dream Projects:

People’s Cinema: 57 Manners St 

Property Partner - The Wellington Company
Runs - throughout 2013
Opening hours - (varies) see http://www.facebook.com/PeoplesCinema

Occupation Artists: Level One, The Grand Arcade, Willis Street

Property Partner - Grand Complex Properties Ltd /Jones Lang LeSalle

Runs - throughout 2013
Opening hours - (varies) Monday-Saturday


Beyond Advertising and Graffiti

What vision do we have beyond advertising and grafitti for the many bare walls along Wellington's streets? Artist Tessa Laird offers us one with her poster-wall project Scales of the Serpent, which has appeared on a long concrete block wall in lower Tory Street. 

Scales of the Serpent offers a moment of magic in the everyday, with its sometimes dull pedestrian trudge. It's on one of Wellington city's less glamorous but most sizeable vacant walls, the back of a large car parking block. Laird presents a series of hand-screenprinted posters in a range of sizes, styles, reflecting a diversity of cultures, ideas, and opinions. A far wider diversity than we usually see in our city's streets. The posters are pasted in layers to the wall and ripped back, like a genuine street poster wall, but all bear the handmade mark of the artist. In fact the first genesis of the work was presented inside a gallery: the now defunct but popular Snakepit, in Auckland's High Street in 2012. 

Scales of the Serpent is the third public art project in Wellington in 2013 to be be arranged through Urban Dream Brokerage, a new agency set up, with Wellington City Council funding to enable the creative industries to grow in vacant commercial space in Wellington. The brokerage is headed by Letting Space, a national temporary public art programme, who have produced a host of projects in vacant space in Wellington in the last three years. Letting Space believe there is a strong role to be played by artists and new creative businesses, in close partnership with property owners to enliven the city and explore the mixed use potential for the city's different spaces as it grows and changes.      

Auckland artist Tessa Laird has a Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of Auckland and is a professional teaching fellow at Elam. She has exhibited extensively in private and public galleries over the last ten years.

Scales of the Serpent, Tessa Laird, from 29 March. Opposite 19 Tory Street. Property partner: Reading Cinema and Care Park

Purging the Worm

Sophie Jerram writes on her experience of getting a consultation and making a t-shirt with Daniel Webby in his Urban Dream Brokerage project Your Message Here

I had thought it was going to get very complicated, this finding my perfect slogan. 

In visiting Daniel Webby every day during the five days he was installed at 86 Victoria St I had seen people writhing, in sweats, twisted and perplexed. By observation, the process of talking with him seem to be equivalent to meeting with a monk or holy man who was going to purge out a symbolic worm. When he came to killing the worm, Daniel’s process was very rudimentary; naming it and printing it, coarsely in block print, on a t-shirt.

In actuality, my experience felt very clean and simple. By Friday afternoon, Daniel had got his technique honed to a fine art. I had decided my real bugbear was the amount of time and energy I was spending in an online, as opposed to a physical, offline world. I felt hypocritical talking to my kids about spending too much time on the computer when I would dive onscreen for social, logistical, income-earning and unassailable reasons. This was my issue, and Daniel began to talk about this and write words down on his whiteboard.

Very quickly we were talking about the illusion of leisure that the revolution in whiteware consumer goods (dishwashers, washing machines and ovens) had promised in the 1970s. The promise that once installed in our home, these labour-saving devices would enable people to become better educated, take part in community activities and increase the general pool of ‘leisure time’. To some extent this took place but it’s been accepted that time that was freed up has been used by many people to “work all day, to get you money to buy you things” (as The Beatles put it).

The promise of the digital world has been an equal bedazzling mirage, I held to Daniel. We were not choosing to spend time freed by efficient communication, in quality activity but wasting spare time on unnecessary Facebook posts, ‘tweeting as Rome burned’ as a friend once put it.

Daniel came straight to it. “You know about the hierarchy of needs?” “Maslow’s, I said? Of course!”

I’ve had a growing aversion to Maslow’s hierarchy ever since being taught it as gospel it in an economics class in 1984 – the start, of course of the West’s affair with neo-liberalism. My teenage grasp on the teaching of Maslow’s notion was thus: our basic animal needs for food and shelter had to be met before safety, love and esteem needs and finally self-actualisation occurred. Later in university-level marketing courses, Maslow’s hierarchy was used to infer that the path to enlightenment was through the passage of individual consumption and convention. Knowing some very poor and underfed friends closer to enlightenment than many fat cats with all their ego needs met has eroded my faith in this teaching.

Well, Daniel said, here it is then. And he drew an inverted pyramid where we could imagine our own categories of need. He labelled it Hierarchy of Needs.

Simple. Worm purged. Nice t-shirt. Thanks Daniel. You have a great gift.

What's on your mind today?

Your Message Here, Daniel Webby. 86-96 Victoria Street, 10am-4pm, 11 - 15 March. Property partner: Prime Property Group

In the second Urban Dream Brokerage public art project of 2013, Your Message Here, artist Daniel Webby invites you to sit down with him  in a currently vacant Wellington retail space for an "identifying statement" consultation. The project is open for you to visit at 86-96 Victoria Street (opposite Civic Square) 10am to 4pm Monday 11 to 15 March. Webby explores and workshops ideas put forward by visitors to distil a specific phrase, and the phrase is then hand stamped onto a t-shirt for them to take home. There is no cost to take part.

"While I do see this as a service being offered," Webby says, "participants are showing a great deal of generosity by sitting down to speak with me. The process is collaborative - I start with my own set of ideas, participants enter with theirs - what is produced is something where these ideas meet."

Webby is interested in engaging the public in the creative process.

"In this project the conversations are in themselves an outcome. The t-shirts are really just a way of documenting the encounter."

The space for the project has been brokered in Wellington (it was first presented at Snake Pit Gallery Auckland in 2012)  by Urban Dream Brokerage. Urban Dream Brokerage, currently running as a six month pilot with support from Wellington City Council, brings together property managers and the creative industries in Wellington to lead creative development and urban revitalisation through the temporary use of vacant space by innovative projects. 

The first Urban Dream Brokerage project in February and earlier this month saw three kinetic artworks by a leading emerging Wellington artist James R Ford play out in a small window in Wellington's entertainment district, Courtenay Place. All paired an item of play with a motorised household object as metaphors for our everyday existence and work-life balance: a pull-along toy on a treadmill, an inscribed cricket bat on a record player and a pair of dice in a foot spa

The Brokerage is rolling out a series of surprising and diverse public art projects in Wellington over 2013. In April a long grafittied wall in lower Tory Street will be the site for a posterwall project by Auckland artist Tessa Laird who will presents a series of hand-screenprinted posters in a range of sizes, styles, reflecting a diversity of cultures, ideas, and opinions.

From a toy tortoise to a foot spa

Status Quo James R Ford

120 Courtenay Place                         

8.30am-5.30pm, 11th February - 3rd March 2013

Property partner: Frank Wong on behalf of Wong Wung Partnership


A pull-along toy on a treadmill, a cricket bat on a record player, and a pair of dice in a foot spa: absurd but poignant, three new kinetic artworks by leading Wellington emerging artist James R Ford play out in a small window in Wellington's entertainment district. It's the first public art project to be brokered in a vacant commercial space by Urban Dream Brokerage, a new Wellington organisation dedicated to the creative use of vacant commercial space with support from the Wellington City Council.

The space is a small hole in the wall on Courtenay Place, just down from the corner with Taranaki Street and smack in the middle of the bar and restaurant district. All three works, pair an item of play with a motorised household object as metaphors for our everyday existence and work-life balance and appear one per week over three weeks 11 February to 3 March, operating like good little workers between 8.30am and 5.30pm. We expect bemusement at first from regular passerbys and then hopefully some growing recognition that the work might have something to say about their daily grind.   

Status Quo features, in order, a slinky on a treadmill (Road to Nowhere, 2013), a painted cricket bat on a record player (Quandary Phase, 2013) and a pair of dice in a foot spa (Total Paradise, 2013).

James R Ford is a Wellington based artist whose varied practice includes drawing, assemblage, installation and film. Recent work has been of an existential nature, contemplating the workings of the universe and how we spend time, using everyday materials and absurd scenarios.

"Performance of one kind or another is central to much of Ford’s work," Lily Hcking of City galleyr has recently written, "whether the performing body is the artist’s own, that of a stand-in, or the audience themselves. In 2010 he staged an event where members of the public were invited to aid him in destroying his cursed Nissan Primera; another project bore the instructive title 33 things to do before you’re 10 (07-09) ; and an earlier work saw the invention of a new home based sport (www.housegymnastics.com).’ A video work of his recently appeared  at City Gallery Wellington. 

Ford (b. 1980, UK) studied at Goldsmiths College in London and has exhibited widely throughout New Zealand and overseas and his work has featured in a variety of national and international publications. Recent solo exhibitions include Snake Pis, Blue Oyster Gallery, Dunedin (2012); Tongue-Tied and Tired, {Suite} Gallery, Wellington (2012); Air of the Irrational, Christian Ferreira at the Wapping Project, London (2011); and Zero Expectations, Peloton Gallery, Sydney, Australia (2011). Ford recently curated a national touring exhibition of contemporary male artists based in NZ, entitled Never Mind the Pollocks, featuring creatives who employ intellect, keen observation and a lightness of touch in their work.

Our first media release

Wellington pioneers the free use of commercial space for public art


A new agency that promises to enliven Wellington City by utilising vacant space for no cost has opened in the capital. The Urban Dream Brokerage is a pilot project that connects creative ideas with empty city sites, including office and retail spaces.

With retail vacancies at a record high prior to Christmas 2012, the brokerage has been welcomed by property owners. By providing space free of charge, artists and other innovators are able to experiment with new ideas, while property owners can gain exposure for their buildings.

The Brokerage is staffed by co-ordinator Helen Kirlew Smith, an experienced arts manager. The pilot is funded by Wellington City Council’s Public Art Fund and has been established by Sophie Jerram and Mark Amery, who have gained experience working with building owners through their public art programme Letting Space.

The brokerage is part of a wider international movement to utilise spaces in cities that have fallen fallow to assist in urban renewal (see www.http://urbandreambrokerage.org.nz/blog/ for examples).

“Wellington City is one of the first places in this region to see the potential in the creative utilisation of empty spaces, and we predict it won’t be the last”, says Helen Kirlew Smith.  

The Urban Dream Brokerage itself operates from a vacant retail site at 19 Tory St. The building owner is happy to support the UDB project until the space is leased.

Since opening just before Christmas, the UDB has received 14 written proposals for a variety of creative uses, some of which will be brokered into vacant buildings or public land early this year.

Proposals for creative use of space are welcome at any time until April this year, at which time the continuation of the UDB will be assessed.  “We are hoping that the freedom to use these spaces will attract and sustain exciting and innovative projects in Wellington and lead to the further enrichment of the city as a whole,” says Kirlew-Smith.

The UDB has an advisory panel to vet and support the proposals that come, comprising property owners, artists and WCC officers. For more information and criteria see


What UBD offers property owners: the Newcastle example

One of the most outstanding success stories in brokering vacant space is the role brokers Renew Newcastle have made to the rejuventation of this northern New South Wales town. While there are literally hundreds of vacant space brokers around the world Renew Newcastle is a model that has proven highly effective spawning many other brokers around Australia, including Renew Australia. Here's a video clip that introduces their work from a property perspective.