Does Gentrification make boring art?

Does Gentrification make boring art?

Residents of Beck Road, E8. Photo: Edward Woodman (1989)

Residents of Beck Road, E8. Photo: Edward Woodman (1989)

After watching British critic Jonathan P. Watts’ recent film on Frieze about the relationship between artists and the co-option of vacant space, I have had a bunch of questions floating around my head.

There Goes The Neighbourhood describes a number of ambitious arts projects and art spaces in London which have influenced, as well as been complicit in, gentrification.

Art and artists often use, and directly benefit from the development of towns, cities and communities. The flipside of urban development is that artists - as well as almost every other community that bring diversity - are pushed out of affordable space to live, work and socialise.

I have been wondering how this might relate to Wellington as the Urban Dream Brokerage, where I work as broker, is working within a facet of this ‘urban regeneration’ industry. I know that in the 90’s and early 2000’s the top end of Cuba St and other pockets provided a hot house for art and creative talent, with studios and flats affordable: germinating ambitious emerging artists, developing our art and culture landscape to what it is today. There are stories of Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jo Randerson and half of the Wellington art and music industry being active at the top end of Cuba St, Cable St and Newtown around that time. This prolific period was also assisted by the development of other successful initiatives like the Pace Scheme - affectionately dubbed the ‘Artist’s Dole’ - brought in by Labour, the growth of the Fringe and International Festival and spaces like Enjoy, BATS and Taki Rua-Depot, which allowed for the development of artist-run projects across the visual and performing arts. Numerous events, projects and galleries took on alternative project spaces.

Like BATS, Enjoy is still running (about to turn 16!). It is hard to imagine it’s artist run origins as it plays a vital role as contemporary public gallery within the arts ecosystem. So where then, do we go to find the ambitious, experimental, alternative and flat-out risky projects that exist outside of the established institutions?

Each year we see a bunch of student run exhibitions pop up around town. In traditional, alternative and vacant spaces, it is a refreshing few weeks in the art calendar. It reminds us that it is possible for experimental artist run spaces to exist.

Just recently, I brokered the Urban Dream Brokerage’s forty-second project. Yet I still wonder where the rest of the participatory work is hiding. We have just been through an incredible festival season, with the Fringe, the Performance Arcade and the New Zealand Festival. All of which have been excellent contributions to the art landscape in their own way, but I wonder if this festival-centric culture is discouraging or distracting people from generating the really successful, genuine, grassroots projects. The kind of artworks, performances or ideas that are resourceful. Ideas so good, that you want to realise them no matter what. Maybe we need to be less careful with our ideas in terms of imagining them being big budget productions - we need to test, pilot and present these ideas. Take more risks with our work and practises.

A lot of incredible proposals and projects are seeking funding to be realised. Would they happen if the funding isn’t obtained? If the art relies on the funding to exist, then funding makes very little art at all!

It’s increasingly important that as artists we remain ambitious, but also, resourceful. I am not convinced it is more funding or artist run spaces we need. In Wellington Enjoy, City Gallery, 30 Upstairs, Toi Poneke and the dealer galleries all continue to do their thing. It is very specific and refined. What we are lacking in Wellington is experimental arts projects. Resourceful, flexible, site responsive projects. We have such a vast and varied art community in Wellington. I see Urban Dream Brokerage as a keen facilitator and advocate for anyone with an innovative idea for the use of vacant space. We have seen many exhibitions in vacant space - it is now a tried and true model. What we want to see is exciting interactive/participatory work that can really contribute to our cultural landscape, its feeling and energy.

Urban Dream Brokerage is the sum total of its parts. It is a body of work that adds to a successful notion of utilising unused space in our city whilst simultaneously opening access to the arts, for public and practitioners. Making common ground. There are a couple of projects that for me, really exemplify an innovative concept and use of space.

The ‘go to’ for me has been Moodbank. Vanessa Crowe and Sarah Baker’s project, initiated in a former bank in Manners Street and now gaining new incarnations, is an incredibly well developed and thoughtful conceptual artwork that is extremely accessible - because of its slick design and installation, not in spite of. It really shows how a significant artwork can present an alternative system and use in our rather linear thinking neo-liberal society.

Moodbank - Vanessa Crowe and Dr Sarah Baker - Image credit: Gabrielle McKone

Moodbank - Vanessa Crowe and Dr Sarah Baker - Image credit: Gabrielle McKone

Another stand out, Amy Church and Hayley Jeffrey’s Imaginarium. An incredibly simple project that placed cardboard boxes, tape and some pens in what was Whitcoulls in Courtenay Place. All that was required was a little nostalgic creativity.

Imaginarium - Amy Church and Hayley Jeffery's - Image Credit: Garielle McKone

Imaginarium - Amy Church and Hayley Jeffery's - Image Credit: Garielle McKone

And then there was Political Cuts by Barbarian Productions, a very well crafted participatory performance. Free haircuts and coffee in exchange for some thoughtful political discussion. In the bringing together of its different parts this was a significant artwork.

Political Cuts - Barbarian Productions - Image Credit: Gabrielle McKone

Political Cuts - Barbarian Productions - Image Credit: Gabrielle McKone

We have plenty of incredible vacant spaces. So, I arrive at the point of challenging artists, students, community groups, designers -  anyone with an innovative idea, to mobilise.

As well as seeking funding. As well as putting your proposals into the established spaces, think about how you could expand your practice. How you might expand your ideas and engage a public or community in a meaningful way.

Art is provocative right? We should share it. If we rely completely on established spaces we consign art to artefact - we allow it to become disengaged, boring. We need to avoid the gentrification of ideas by focusing on critical, relevant, experimental work. New ideas that push out far beyond the gallery.

Ground Zero: 17 Tory Street

Image: Fourth birthday pot luck, 17 Tory Street, Helen Kirlew Smith

Image: Fourth birthday pot luck, 17 Tory Street, Helen Kirlew Smith

This month is the fourth anniversary of 17 Tory Street, the "open source community gallery" created by Concerned Citizens Collective back in 2012 out of the energy that the occupy movement in Wellington created.

Its success is testament to the support, on the one hand, of property owner Michael Baker and post Christchurch earthquake regulations that have effected the buildings tenancy, and on the other the consensus decision making model (employing Loomio) that has allowed it to be voluntarily managed and pay host to 100s of events of every kind. Over that entire time collective The See Here has shown remarkable installations in a front window exhibition space.

The mandate of 17 Tory Street has been to say "yes to as many as proposals as possible". It has embodied openness and generosity, providing (to crib the expression of Kava Club who have worked from here) "a safe place for unsafe ideas". It has continually inspired newcomers to find ways to replicate its values in their own communities.

We have christened 17 Tory Street Urban Dream Brokerage Project #0 - this recognises that while it predates the setup of the UDB in late 2012 this was the first property Letting Space brokered beyond those it had done so for its own art projects. It also recognises that this was where Letting Space was based for two years, a space that encouraged our own openness to considering new models.

The other Friday we had a pot luck dinner, and while I was setting up a woman came in to pick up her fruit and veges from the long running coop. She seemed to have little else to do with the space, yet expressed in her interest in our slide show an inspiration gained from being plugged in in a minor way to the space. That night at dinner I met two individuals currently involved in running Tory Street who I'd previously only encountered online - generous, full of energy and good ideas (kia ora Lucy and Grace) they were testament to how this space attracts change agents and allows them to grow. Unlike more rigid, hierarchical structures there's a flow here which makes succession arguably easier. Here's to the key individuals who keep that flowing.

Happy birthday Tory Street. For more information on getting involved go here.

Mark Amery

A commission opportunity for artists in digital and physical space.

Biophilia, Tane Moleta, Urban Dream Brokerage, Wellington 2013. Image: Gabrielle McKone

Biophilia, Tane Moleta, Urban Dream Brokerage, Wellington 2013. Image: Gabrielle McKone

The digital environment now connects us in ways that as children we could barely have dream't of. Geographies and landscapes collapse and offer new potentials for sharing and collectivising, while also bringing us together in physical space and connecting physical spaces.

Letting Space through its Urban Dream Brokerage service is pleased to be able to offer creatives everywhere a commission of $2200 per project to create a data-rich project that has a physical node in a vacant Dunedin city space.

The commission follows Dunedin winning the national ‘Gig City’ competition in 2015. As such all projects must involve digital installations that use technology to deliver their outcome. There are two deadlines for you to catch: 31 March 2016 and 13 May 2016.

Since 2010 Letting Space has placed over 70 projects in more than 30 vacant spaces over six New Zealand cities both as curators and as providers of the Urban Dream Brokerage. A UDB service was established in Dunedin in late 2015.

Two examples of previous data rich Letting Space or Urban Dream Brokerage projects, accessible online and in physical space are Vanessa Crowe and Sarah Baker’s Moodbank, in Wellington and Auckland (Wynyard Moods) – see - and Bronwyn Holloway Smith's Te Ika a Akoranga.

Read the criteria here and (but of course) apply online here. You don’t have to be in Dunedin but the work must be based physically in a vacant space there.


Festival fever - An Update from Letting Space's UDB

Young Visionaries, The Old McDonalds, Porirua. Image: Robbie Whyte

Young Visionaries, The Old McDonalds, Porirua. Image: Robbie Whyte

Its festival fever time, with the Fringe hitting both Wellington and Dunedin, and the Performance Arcade and New Zealand Festival off the mark in the capital. Diaries are filling, and so are vacant spaces with culture.

In Dunedin the UDB kicked off this year with the wonderful Wee Book and Upcycles projects, receiving lots of local press and support. Go here for images and links.

Over summer in Wellington The Performance Arcade's Performance Lab have been enjoying the use of the high profile former Sandwiches Bar on the corner of Majoribanks and Kent as an office and space for participating artists to test out their new works. A rich and diverse program has been offered for the artists community ranging for work in progress showings, forums and presentations.  Performance Arcade is on now on the Wellington waterfront and is looking really strong this year.

Scratch Naut took over a Wellington City Council space on the swanky Clyde Quay Wharf for the public workshopping of new works last week -  a flagship Fringe event. Those are just two of five UDB projects that have kicked off the year in Wellington with many more in train. You can view them all here.

Our Porirua pilot finished at the end of January having placed 12 projects in four spaces over a six month period. Independent artist spaces The Living Room and Toi Wahine, had a great reception over summer and we're stoked to see the Toi Wahine collective now continue in Hartham Place under their own steam. They're currently taking submissions from young people aged 5 to 18 for an upcoming youth exhibition. Meanwhile round the corner in the windows of the Old McDonalds David Cook and Leala Falesuega's superb project with Russell and Discovery Schools incredibly continues to be exhibited in the windows of the Old McDonalds, 1 Cobham Court. Check it out when passing through.  

Our thanks to the generosity of property owners in Dunedin, Wellington and Porirua for helping make our cities sing.

Introducing Dunedin Broker - Tamsin Cooper

Hi, I’m Tamsin Cooper and I feel very honoured to have been appointed broker for the inaugural Urban Dream Brokerage Dunedin pilot.


I grew up in the small rural town of Waikouaiti where I was fortunate to have had a wonderfully creative childhood. In fact it was my father and his work that first introduced me at just 8 years old to the idea that art can transform and engage the community. He helped set up The Creative Arts Trust who worked with mentally disabled people, recognising creative expression as a basic human right.

I worked away from Dunedin for many years but have come back in the last few to live with my sons Hugo & Louis and we love it here! There is just so much going on for such a small city, it affords an amazing lifestyle and education, with access to a stunning natural environment and an ever inspiring creative community.

I have had my own fashion label for the past 12 years and during the course of my business have worked on several creative collaborations on a national and international level. Highlights have been working with the Royal New Zealand Ballet on several projects and just last month helping manage the first ever NZ/Vietnam Fashion show and competition for design students in Ho Chi Minh City to mark our 40th Anniversary of bilateral relations. In the past I have worked as Community Arts Advisor and Business Development Advisor for Film & Fashion for Dunedin City, managed Planet Media at Otago University, marketed the International Science Festival and worked as the Youth Coordinator for Dunedin. I am a theatre graduate and have a personal passion for performance, public speaking and TV presenting.

I firmly believe that public art can lift the soul of a city and those that reside within it. I love collaborations and working across disciplines to create the truly extraordinary. I welcome wholeheartedly all the knowledge, talent and experience that the Letting Space team and founders have and hope that I can learn much from them to help broker some fantastic projects for Dunedin.

Submissions are now open for projects starting in 2016.

Please apply on-line at:




Introducing Wellington Broker - Robbie Whyte


I am almost as proud as my Dad to introduce myself as Urban Dream Brokerage Wellington’s new Broker, Robbie Whyte. 

As many of you will know, I am stepping into some rather large and particularly competent shoes. I would firstly like to make it known how appreciative I am of the opportunity, but more than that, what an incredible job Helen Kirlew Smith has done and continues to do as Manager of the Urban Dream Brokerage over the last two and a half years. 

I have arrived as a bright eyed Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate, passionate about social and public art. As I was described just the other night, I am a bit of a dreamer, the kid who wants to change the world, today! I imagine this is one of the reasons I am perfect for this job. My enthusiasm is going to be integral to my journey with UDB if I have any chance at keeping up with Helen, Mark and Sophie. These three passionate and tenacious individuals have made an influence on Wellington’s Art and Community landscape that is hard to ignore. The work that has been done thus far between Letting Space and UDB is exactly as both projects describe in their mission statement - significant and innovative - I believe they are part of a radical change within our culture. One that is centred around social consciousness, sustainability and hopefully; a public that is actively engaged in the arts and the betterment of our society. These are the things that I am passionate about as an artist and agent for social change. 

As an artist I am interested in the intersection between art and social practice. What does it mean to take a conceptual artwork, an idea, and engage a community or public? I can tell you right now, I don’t have the answer, but I am on a mission to find out.  

Puke Ahu / Cooks Mount - Robbie Whyte, 2014.

Puke Ahu / Cooks Mount - Robbie Whyte, 2014.

I want to make significant work that activates space, people and public beyond the white walls of the gallery. Work that actively makes a difference to the world. You can only imagine what it means to be working with this inspiring bunch then. My hope is that the Brokerage continues to see projects and people proposing that have a similar mission, to make the world a better place. The interesting thing about social practice, is, that it never looks like anything. It doesn't have a shape, or form, or an aesthetic. It is genuine. It is accessible. It is real. This is why I love what UDB do, and why I would like more people to get involved, make projects and proposal, to contribute to our social space. Because community engaged art isn't exclusive to any type of art or artist. It is for any art, any artist that wants to actively engage people and communities with their work. 

The Colourist’s - Sophia McKinnon, 2014.

The Colourist’s - Sophia McKinnon, 2014.

For their work, Urban Dream Brokerage has just received revised funding from Wellington City Council. This revised funding has put a focus on art and culture. The terms art and culture, are pretty expansive, how I read that is, basically anything that is relative to engaging people through ideas! I would encourage anyone thinking about proposing to consider how they can engage their community, to expand their idea, its reach and effect. We are lucky to have an abundance of creatives actives in the CBD, now lets come together and see how we can engage the rest of our city. Helen said something today that eloquently described what I feel when she said, “art changed my life and as a result of this, the majority of my work has been about breaking down barriers for others to engage in or participate in it too”.

For me, that quote speaks to amazing projects that the Urban Dream Brokerage has facilitated, like the Mood Bank, and Letting Space’s Projected Fields by Siv Fjaerestad. 

Mood Bank - Dr. Sarah Elsie Baker and Vanessa Crowe, 2014.

Mood Bank - Dr. Sarah Elsie Baker and Vanessa Crowe, 2014.

Projected Fields - Siv Fjaerestad, 2014 (Letting Space).

Projected Fields - Siv Fjaerestad, 2014 (Letting Space).

We are calling for proposals now, and I know there are plenty of Artists and ambitious members of our community with projects developing as we speak! So if you do have an idea, get a proposal in here:




Tamsin Cooper comes to new rôle as Broker for Dunedin

Urban Dream Brokerage opens for business in Dunedin

For immediate release Monday October 5th 2015

Letting Space public art organisation has appointed well known designer Tamsin Cooper to become the broker for creative projects and empty commercial sites through the Urban Dream Brokerage, Dunedin from this week.

“It is a bit of a coup to be able to work with someone as experienced as Tamsin Cooper” says Letting Space co-director Sophie Jerram.  “With her creative as well as business networks, Tamsin is a dream broker for getting rapid action in this terrific city.” 

Cooper has run her own international fashion label, Tamsin Cooper, and is known to the arts community through being the Community Arts Advisor for Dunedin in the late 1990s.  She will continue to keep her fashion interests alongside the part time broker role.

The Urban Dream Brokerage service has been running in Wellington for 3 years and brokered 36 projects in this time.   In Dunedin the service is funded from Ara Toi Otepoti – Our Creative Future, Dunedin’s Arts and Culture Strategy.  The service will be seeking engaging projects and willing landlords this month.

Dunedin City Council Group Manager Arts and Culture Bernie Hawke says “We’re really looking forward to the brokerage connecting landlords with local artists, writers, performers and members of Dunedin’s arts and culture community to enliven vacant spaces around the city.”    

“Dunedin has a strong history of collaborative partnerships and urban revitalisation and it’s great to be able to speed up the connections through this pilot brokerage,” says Sophie Jerram.

People with ideas for projects should consider how their ideas open and enliven public space when proposing themes.  Ideas are considered by a panel consisting of artistic, academic, and property interests.  


For more information or photographs please contact, or Sophie Jerram on 029 934 9749 ENDS

Broker for Dunedin - job applicatioNS closE 25th September

We are looking for someone to help us with a pilot brokerage for Dunedin!  READ ON for the job description. 

Advertised Position: Broker

Want to help revitalise Dunedin City? Are you passionate about the role the arts can play in society? Feel you can talk to both artists and property owners as equals? This is a role to create new opportunities for the arts in Dunedin and help change the face of the city.

Letting Space is a public art organisation looking to employ a self-motivated person to make a real contribution to the revitalisation of Dunedin city. Through the Urban Dream Brokerage service the Broker will process applications by artists and creative thinkers with dynamic projects for vacant properties. They will work with owners of suitable properties, liaise with owners and agents, and negotiate with both parties to secure properties under temporary licensing arrangements.  They will promote Brokerage projects through strategically designed communications.

The broker will be strong at making contacts with business people, artists and the media. They will be good at spreading the word about this innovative programme. This is a paid part-time contract available on flexible terms.

Application due:     5pm, Friday 25 September, 2015

Interviews:         Between 9-5pm, Wednesday 30 September, 2015

Start work:    5th October 2015, reviewed December 2015, anticipated to continue until June 2016

Job description

Broker Role

The primary purpose of the role is to successfully coordinate the placement of fresh, unique and creative projects into vacant commercial spaces within the Dunedin city region.

The secondary purpose will be to advocate and promote these projects, helping lead to the revitalisation of Dunedin city in the eyes of the arts, property and business worlds alike.

Your role will involve:

1. Implementing strategies to maintain buy-in from property owners and to promote the benefits of the brokerage.
2. Developing a marketing strategy with assistance from Letting Space and promoting successfully brokered projects to a wide audience.  

3. Promoting the brokerage to artists, meeting and discussing criteria with potential applicants. 

4. Liaising with other key stakeholders such as the Property Council of New Zealand Dunedin branch, arts and business groups, Dunedin City Council Chamber of Commerce and key individual affiliates connected to the property industry.

5. Research, document and maintain a database of applicants and property owners.

6. Develop and write editorial relating to successful projects, and develop newsletters or other informative material. 

7. Negotiate License Agreements and Special Conditions with property owners

8. Arrange property inspections to assess condition of sites and suitability for their use.

9. Coordinate repair and maintenance works and contribute to Property Risk Management procedures

10. Develop initial relationships with further potential funders/partners of the Brokerage.

11. Maintaining excellent relationships with property owners and artists.



The Broker will be expected to be able to work independently, but will be briefed and guided by the Brokerage's manager Sophie Jerram, in consultation with the Brokerage's advisory board and Letting Space producers Helen Kirlew Smith and Mark Amery, and the trustees of the Wellington Independent Arts Trust.


This is a position for an Independent contractor for an Initial Period of three months (12 weeks) with the potential to extend for a nine month period (45 weeks approximately) until 1 July 2016.

This is a part-time contract for service available on flexible terms but averaging 25 hours per week (pro rata $52 000 pa).

The position is expected to start on 5th October and run until at least the end of June 2016.

Selection Criteria

This position involves being able to work across the creative, property and business worlds. The successful applicant may have their principal experience in either of these areas, but in bridging these interests will bring an understanding and appreciation of all of them.


1. Passion for the renewal and revitalisation of Dunedin city and a belief in the important role that artists play as agents of change.

2. Excellent verbal, and written and personal communication skills

3. Good thorough documentation skills

4. Good budgeting and project management skills

5. Confident, dynamic, tenacious and self-motivated personal qualities


1. Understanding and appreciation of the business and property worlds

2. Project management/coordination experience

3. Understanding and appreciating of the role public art can play in urban development

4. Experience/background in real estate, creative and property industries or urban development

5. Experience in negotiations

6. Experience with maintenance/building/property service providers

To apply

Please email the following documents:

1. CV – no more than 2 pages

2. Your written response to all the Selection Criteria

In the subject of your email please include the words: Job Application: Brokerage Coordinator [insert your name]


Email as above or phone Helen Kirlew Smith 027 378 7432

The Wellington Independent Arts Trust supports experienced Dunedin arts managers by providing an umbrella for significant independent arts projects. Mark Amery, Sophie Jerram and Helen Kirlew Smith are also managers of Letting Space (for more information see

This position is funded with the support of the Dunedin City Council.

Community Award

Trumpet time! On August 25 at Te Papa Letting Space was the Arts and Culture category winner and the Supreme Winner at the Wellington Airport Regional Community Awards for Wellington City. We'd like to thank all the artists we've worked with over the last six years, and the hundreds of volunteers who have helped realised Letting Space public art projects and the Urban Dream Brokerage - this award is for you all. Its wonderful to get recognition as a contemporary art programme alongside so many amazing community organisations as we work to explore how artists can be agents of social change and work to make cities living spaces.

Dawn Sanders and mayor Celia Wade Brown with Letting Space's Sophie Jerram and Helen Kirlew Smith (Mark Amery absent)

Dawn Sanders and mayor Celia Wade Brown with Letting Space's Sophie Jerram and Helen Kirlew Smith (Mark Amery absent)

Wellington City Council mayor Celia Wade Brown comments on the award here.

Looking for a new broker for Wellington

Kia ora te whanau

It's time for us to add some more fabulousness to the mix at Letting Space by recruiting a part time Urban Dream Broker.

We are advertising for a broker who will work along existing Brokerage manager, Helen Kirlew Smith and receive some communications direction from Sophie and Mark.

Job applications close on Monday 24th August.   The job is for two days (16 hours) at present and after 3 momths we will review the position with view to keeping it going til June 2016.

Advertised Position: Broker

 Want to help revitalise Wellington city? Are you passionate about the role the arts can play in society? Feel you can talk to both artists and property owners as equals? This is a role to create new opportunities for the arts in Wellington and help change the face of the city.


UDB pilot for Porirua

Current work by Michel Tuffery in Cobham Place, Porirua

Current work by Michel Tuffery in Cobham Place, Porirua

With the support of the Porirua Chamber of Commerce Letting Space are piloting an Urban Dream Brokerage programme in Porirua for the second half of 2015. Ideas for innovative creative and community projects are being sought for vacant retail premises in the Porirua city centre - initial proposals are due by Monday 20 July. 

As part of the programme in vacant spaces a multipurpose pop-up space is also planned. Called Open Plan it is for the use by the community for events and gatherings that don’t exist in the city centre currently.

Celebrating its 50th year, Porirua is diverse and has the youngest population in the country but the oldest part of its city centre has struggled in the shadow of the building of a shopping centre, Megacentre and new public facilities like Pataka, and Te Rauparaha arena and park. At the same time this centre with a remarkable range of cultures and small businesses provides space for needed community initiatives and commons areas - to draw together the energy of a city of many villages. Meanwhile Porirua City Council are encouraging inner city living.

“This project is part of a new chapter in the story of our city centre development,” says Porirua Chamber of Commerce CEO Tracy Johnson. “It’s about experimenting with what works to assist everyone, so everyone can see positive change. We want to see empty space used creatively to attract communities into the CBD, and from that attract business. This will also bring new interest to existing businesses.”

Proposals for Urban Dream Brokerage Porirua need to be different to existing services in the city centre - fresh, dynamic, and accessible to Porirua’s diverse communities and identity. Ideas are welcome from outside of Porirua City but it’s vital they involve strong local collaboration. Projects may look to activate a space temporarily (for a matter of days, weeks or months) or look to negotiate for longer term. 

One of these planned spaces is Open Plan, a multipurpose pop-up space created for the use by the community, free of charge, for events, discussions, gatherings, exhibits, workshops, rehearsals, meetings, classes, exchanges, and services - in fact Letting Space want you to add to the list, helping shape the city with what you’re passionate about. “This is about making connections and exchanging ideas, with the people of Porirua helping shape the future of the city,” says Amery.

The Porirua Chamber of Commerce is a business network designed to create, promote and seek opportunities for Porirua businesses to be their best.

Letting Space are also developing a major public art event for the end of this year in Porirua which will bring together artists, both local and visiting with local community groups to explore through innovative art projects new ways of working together across the city’s diversity. More details on this are to be released soon.

Public Programme at the Surveillance Awareness Bureau

Surveillance Awareness Bureau, Modelab, 1 Grey Street, Wellington, 27 May - 13 June 2015.

Surveillance Awareness Bureau, Modelab, 1 Grey Street, Wellington, 27 May - 13 June 2015.

1 Grey Street, Wellington CBD

Open Talk: Thursday, June 4, 5.30 pm.
Ubiquitous surveillance: The digital footprint of lost privacy

Thomas Beagle is the spokesperson for Tech Liberty NZ, defending civil liberties in the digital age. He works in IT and is also the chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties.

Kathleen M Kuehn is a lecturer in media studies at Victoria University. Her research centres on digital media and cultural production. She is currently working on a book about mass surveillance and privacy in New Zealand.

Moderated by arts writer Mark Amery

Privacy enhancing tools workshop (BYOD): Saturday, June 13, 2.00pm

Matthew Holloway is a part-time security researcher and programmer. He recently launched to reveal information about leaked information in files.

Artists' talk: Saturday, June 13, 3.00pm
Hemi Macgregor, Terri Te Tau and curator Claudia Arozqueta

For project details go here.


Help make winter in the city more interesting


Wellington’s Urban Dream Brokerage are calling for proposals by Friday 22 May for the innovative use of Wellington’s vacant retail spaces this winter. The call is out to community groups, artists, fledgling businesses or anyone with something new to share with the city.

 “As more people live in the city and retail changes our needs in cities change,” says the Brokerage’s Helen Kirlew Smith. “We’re interested in helping ensure Wellington is a diverse, creative and people-centred city by giving space to new ideas that need to meet their public - as well as providing a showcase of the potential of these spaces to new kinds of tenants.”

With new applications priority is being given to projects commencing in June but enquiries, say the Brokerage, are welcome anytime. Since March 2013 there have been 34 Urban Dream Brokerage assisted projects in 24 different properties across the city. they have included a people-run cinema, a hairdressing salon where your political views are canvassed, open arts workshops, a yoga taster space, a koha cafe, a mood bank, a youth carving space, and a provocative fashion boutique.

“We also see this as a way of developing new talent,” says Kirlew-Smith, “the innovative businesses and creatives that will help shape the identity of the city in the future.”

Urban Dream Brokerage is run by Letting Space and funded by Wellington City Council and Wellington Community Trust. It is one of many such publicly funded initiatives occurring worldwide, and in recent years say the brokerage, there has been increasing interest from other local authorities in establishing schemes to assist urban revitalisation through the use of vacant space.


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: 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 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.



Read More

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 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.