Urban Dreams Wellington: A Review 2017

A review of the needs of artists working outside conventional venues


Unsettled, Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem, Letting Space May 2017. Image: Gabrielle McKone


This review has brought together the feedback of artists and arts producers across arts disciplines with extensive experience working in public space outside conventional venues (theatres, galleries and auditoriums). We believe this to be a vital, distinctive aspect of Wellington’s cultural identity past and present.

This is part of an organisational review of the Urban Dream Brokerage (UDB) service in Wellington, run by public art and urban revitalisation organisation Letting Space.  Letting Space and the UDB have played a strong role in the last seven years in brokering spaces and facilitating projects that work in this area. We are two years into a three year contract with Wellington City Council and want to ensure our work is meeting the needs of the diverse, strong practice of artists of all kinds working outside resourced venues, and provide some wider advocacy on their priorities.

Consultation was undertaken with 65 experienced respondents, with a written survey and two two hour hui.


“Artists are the life and soul of the city, yet there is no infrastructure for them to develop their companies. There needs to be support for them to be sustainable businesses, like there is support for start-up tech companies.”



Strong calls were made for:

  • More access to development, performance and presentation spaces that allow companies to work together and learn from each other.

  • Mentoring at all levels, with more fluid models. Despite extensive experience, 66% of survey respondents would find mentoring of use in developing professional practice working in new spaces in the city.

  • The establishment of mixed-use spaces that allows for collaboration, community, experimentation and development of audience across producers.

  • More active work by WCC and others in support structures for emerging artists.

  • Involving artists in urban design and other place-based work from early in the process.

  • The retention of a brokering role that assists with negotiating property, public space use and regulatory requirements.

  • The sharing of resources and information between producers and with local authorities, using digital and physical means.

  • Assistance with funding management/applications and process.

  • 89% of respondents would like more opportunities to work in space outside of existing venues in Wellington

  • 41% of respondents do not have sufficient access to affordable space for their practice.

  • 28% said they have sufficient access to affordable space for their practice most of the time but there are times when they could do with more.


“For us the issue is in accessing large spaces which are already there e.g. the St James or Opera House. Because they are run by PWV, they become very difficult to access, financially and also with management.”


What is needed for artists working outside conventional venues in Wellington? Ground-up responses


There have been dramatic changes to Wellington over the last 15 years which have impacted on the ability for artists to contribute to the city. Respondents have commented much on the conditions that allowed the development of artists and arts organisations in the city in the 1980s and 1990s and how conditions have changed.

It is perceived that there were less regulatory issues to doing work outside venues in the 1980s and 90s that led to a fertile emerging culture. Property was easier to access, event culture less formalised, it was easier to survive as an artist financially and contribute, and the media and cultural communities were less soloed and more artist-run. More recently access to property has become more difficult due to constraints placed by the 2011-12 and 2016 earthquakes.

It was acknowledged that their have been strong artist-run initiatives established in recent years in terms of visual and performing artist studio, office and exhibition space, yet there is a pervading feeling that artists feel less permission to exercise their use of public space. 


“Engage Pasifika and Tangata Whenua in decision making processes about how space is used... The art world can have very fixed ideas about how space and resources should be shared. We need to learn about having face to face conversations, hui and meetings. At which we welcome and feed people.”


Common concerns

Generally there was a very strong call for working more in public space, enabling artists to be relevant and have strong social and political connection in people’s lives. An opportunity was recognised by many in independent feedback for Wellington to be far stronger in how it enables artists to contribute to the city. Respondents felt Wellington could really lead in the way in how it approaches funding and considering artist’s regulatory needs in working in public space, building on its solid reputation with innovative art in public space initiatives.


  • Building on Wellington’s ‘liveable city’ image in enabling the arts to lead in sustainable resource use.

  • Platforms for Maori and Pacific Island practitioners and processes with which they feel comfortable.

  • More mobile, pop-up venue options developed

  • Stronger mechanisms to get mana whenua feedback and meet mana whenua and hui.

  • Changes to the Positively Wellington Venue Subsidy scheme to allow more Wellington artists to use these venues - as venues have become more developed access has also diminished.

  • Clarity on regulations in the use of public space and an agency to assist with this.

  • Artists working in residence and as part of planning from early on in process with WCC and businesses.

  • Dealing to the gaps for artists coming out of university education and transitioning into building professions - there were seen to be more pathways created by these emerging artists themselves in the 1990s

“Forums or open conversations where people who have less connections can meet other artists and/or pitch ideas and gain collaborators... Additionally, offering feedback and/or mentoring artists through application processes for unconventional venues might be helpful.”


Survey results in graphic form


Verbatim - a selection of comments

“I think the need for UDB / Letting Space is more urgent than ever. Because we now live our lives on-line, we are all part of fractured audiences and our common civic conversation is on the brink of disappearing.”

“As an artist I end up being an administrator, facilitator, and negotiator. I need support with these elements so I can focus on my work.”

“Publicly funded spaces which afford full autonomy. Toi Poneke is a fantastic example of the more formal model that could be adapted. 19 Tory St etc... We shouldn't have a single artist leaving art school without access to space to develop and show work.”

“WCC need to invest in real estate for artists… use more empty space around town, Wellington seems to have heaps (indoor and outdoor). Temporary projects (sculpture garden, open studios, short term residency space for locals with community engagement). We would like to shortcut getting more art in people’s lives, visible to a general audience.”

“Prepare to partner up together with allies and resource share to help make new spaces more viable for people to create their work within.”

“Artists often struggle to build relationships with property managers directly.”

“Some more opportunities for temporary sculptural interventions supported by the Council would be ideal.”

“Greater collaboration between local and Wellington-based businesses… there are almost no New Zealand-based corporate responsibility programs that have a focus on engagement and support of the arts... Collaborating together, this partnership would definitely deepen the role of arts to make it a vital part of our city.”

“Discovering new spaces that are opened up for public or artists allows a deepening and a connection to a place… I want artists to be valued and given trust, time and resources to develop those deeper and more visible roles…”

“Potentially UDB could do a 6 monthly PI mini fest........it would help get the word out and also give a variety of performers a chance to investigate what it means....”

“Encourage artists to be bold and creative within our city-bounds, and resource them more financially, so that they can really commit to telling their stories, and sharing their love of the city, and be less stressed on just surviving. We can't dream effectively if just there for survival. It really is a time of student artists and young artists being forced out by rising rents… WCC must step up and acknowledge we are in the midst of an economic crisis that will drive artists, arts agencies and youth out of Wellington.”

“At Tory Street Studio we have been working closely with the council and our neighbours to reinvent our block of Tory St since being cordoned off after the earthquake. We are thinking about our place in the city and our sense of belonging and finding ways to contribute from the very earliest stages of planning. We see potential for this process to be used again in other sites. We need to re-connect with audiences. People are no longer so committed to attending at commercial venues. People want to engage with work in public spaces.”

“See the council working actively with a range of artists when working on public projects (community centres, public space development, etc) involving the extended arts from the beginning in projects.”

“There needs to be more visible platforms to create momentum and lift the profile of what artists are doing. Regularity and consistency is the best way to support growth. Currently I don't think the arts are well connected with each other in Wellington.”

“Spaces that encourage development in audience and art form. Spaces that don't gobble resources that could be used more effectively in helping to pay artists and performers. Spaces that enable and encourage art practice.”

“Working with different industries: scientists, politicians, economists, medical profession, food and nutrition industry to look at ways in which the arts can respond to and communicate issues that exist across our society. Encouraging discussion around issues, engaging communities who feel strongly about issues to speak and aiding in making them heard.”

“Over the last couple of years we have attempted to make connections with some of Wellington's migrant communities, and to encourage for those communities to present concerts at Pyramid Club. A concert of Persian music last year was an example of a real, positive interaction between a community of fairly recent migrants and the community of an independent arts space. I would love to be able to instigate more events like this.”

“Need to keep producers in Wellington, for Wellington-made events - need more support with this - exciting to imagine a space where producers can work/network/share resources.”

“If we want citizens to engage we need to educate them about the complexities of urban problems. Then we need to unleash the utopian vision. Why not start with kids?  Kids, Schools. Maori and Pasifika communities are doing some of the best work in this area.”

“You have changed the landscape of people using public space and done many good things. I think you need to expand your artists you work with and consider the processes you use to get people involved. I also think you need to protect artists and their projects…  I would like to see a more collective and open approach to developing in the future. People from diverse communities are the ones who know what those communities need. How can you partner with community leaders to listen to and learn from them?”

“The extent of the ongoing positive effects of your work is immeasurable. I have seen many many people transformed through the work carried out in Porirua City alone. There has been a dramatic shift in the city and community thinking which has been amazing to witness and be a part of.”

“I would encourage UDB to go deeper to understanding the needs of the communities of artists with which they work, to make sure that their agreements between building owners and artists work with the needs of the artists.”


5. Conclusion and a call for action

Wellington is known for its the multi-disciplinary arts and culture projects that occur outside of conventional spaces. This has a rich history, past and present through events, festivals and artist run spaces. It has been vital in shaping the city’s identity but also fundamental in the development of our stellar artists and their producers. It is our belief that conditions that allow artists to grow as part of the city is vital to any city’s health. Wellington is a city that artists want to be in conversation with, and this has been recognised by the leading role taken by Wellington City Council in public art, and in the growth of some cornerstone event and festival based organisations.

We would like to work with other organisations towards :

  • A programme of mentorship and ongoing conversations that inspire artists to share resources and feel more permission to interact with the city.

  • Advocating and assisting with the activation by artists of public space and underutilised space (as well as vacant commercial space) that speaks directly to the city’s future needs and is in conversation with its history and environment.

  • Clarifying and communicating the requirements for artists wishing to use space outside conventional venues.

  • Assisting in the growth of more artist mixed-use spaces for collaboration, development and presentation.  

  • Advocating the distinctive role in Wellington artists have in a creative use of urban space that involves innovation and participation.      



The online survey

Sent to 100 identified artists and producers across all disciplines with strong experience working outside conventional venues. We had 35 strong responses. The full survey responses are available as a spreadsheet (anonymous) here.

The respondents (individual comments are not attributed): Claire Mabey  and Andrew Laking (Pirate and Queen, Litcrawl, Loemis), Gabrielle O’Connor (artist), Sam Trubridge (Performance Arcade), Kedron Parker (artist), Sian Torrington (artist), Anton Carter (DANZ), Gina Matchitt (artist), Jordana Bragg (artist, Meanwhile), Jo Randerson (Barbarian), Erica Van Zon (artist, WCC), Robbie Whyte (artist), Gina Matchitt (artist), Barry Thomas (artist, Yeti Productions), Joel Baxendale (Binge Culture), Ania Upstill (artist), Jhana Millers (artist, 30 Upstairs, The Seehere), Sian Torrington (artist), Andreas Lepper (musician), Leo Gene Peters (theatre, An Isolated Dog), Bryce Galloway (artist, Massey), Ebony Lamb (musician), Kerry Ann lee (artist), Daniel Beban (musician, Pyramid Club/FREDS), Debbie Fish (producer, Goldfish Creative), Hannah Smith (Trick of the Light Theatre), Kirsty Lilico/Ruth Thomas Edmond (artists, Tory Street Studios), Linda Lee (artist, produced Shared Lines), Lucy Marinkovich (dancer, Borderline Arts Ensemble), Malia Johnston (choreographer, Movement of the Human), Marcus McShane (light artist), Mark Williams (Circuit), Paul Forrest (artist), Ruby Joy Eade (artist), Sherilee Kahui (Hank of Thread), Sian Montgomery-Neutze (artist, Toi Wahine), Sophie Davis (Enjoy Gallery) and Tanemahuta Gray (choreographer, Kahukura Taki Rua Productions).

B. Two two-hour Hui

These were held with an open invitation and attended by 30 people. We were very pleased with the interest and the high calibre of experience brought together. We identified projects historically that have been significant and considered the conditions that enables them, shared our dreams for the city and discussed some practical tools going forward. The combined minutes of these hui are below.