A letter to our city, our artists, our property owners, our supporters.
We have loved changing Wellington City’s dynamic through Letting Space’s Urban Dream Brokerage service - with thanks to some remarkable creative people, property owners and the funding of the Wellington City Council and Wellington Community Trust.
Over the past five and half years, Urban Dream Brokerage in Wellington has placed over 300 creators and artists in 45 spaces with 61 projects. Images and details of these can be found here, including three new, current projects. Some have been short, others have lasted much longer – the amazing group Coliberate have just finished 18 months running a mental health gym in Featherston Street, for example.
On 30th June we come to the end of a three-year contract with Wellington City Council for the delivery of the service. Letting Space has made the decision not to renew this contract. Rather we will do new work under the auspices of our trust, the Wellington Independent Arts Trust.
We all continue to look for ways to make Wellington a diverse and people-oriented place. In terms of the brokerage, property owners will tell you they are facing unprecedented issues with earthquake strengthening plus a far higher demand for retail spaces in the city than when we began, during a recession. It has got harder and harder for us to find spare spaces in a popular little city.
It remains key work to provide infrastructure for independent artists. This is our challenge to council, to organisations, to all: if you wish Wellington to remain creative you need to prioritise directly supporting the city's most dynamic artists, through funds or resources such as space. It is in their hands, not established organisations or events, that the future lies. This needs new and different energies right now.
We also need to celebrate and thank our city. The UDB projects have seen artists and other creatives consistently and uniquely challenge the expectation of the city’s offerings. They have helped us recognise that our city needs to provide diverse living spaces for all, where many people feel included and new ideas can take shape. Where artists and other creatives have the space to grow new enterprises and ways of working, developing their own interaction with the city.
This has led to us working in Dunedin - where a programme now thrives, and programmes in Porirua and Masterton, as well as providing inspiration and advice to other cities nationwide and overseas. We’ve helped along the way with the development of proposals with many groups and in this last year have offered a monthly lunchtime gathering and podcast and, currently, a mentoring programme.
We’ve loved working with artists and makers, helping them see their ideas to fruition. Many have gone on to develop stronger practices and businesses as part of the city.
We continue to believe this kind of work is vital and special to Wellington’s identity. A place where artists feel they can be part of the city’s fabric. It’s something that helped the notion of being a ‘creative capital’. We’re thrilled to see artist run spaces like Te Haukāinga, meanwhile and play_station join others in the CBD in the last two years – artists are stepping up and taking on property. Others also need to lead and some are looking for space.
In May 2017 we conducted focus groups and surveyed of artists with experience in working in unconventional spaces about what they really need to stay active and sustained in Wellington. A report on this can be found here.
We think it’s time to heed the lead of authorities like Dunedin City Council currently and work actively to see how artists can be more embedded in infrastructure.
Artists need more than event presentation space and promotion - they need space for development, where they can collaborate and be more part of the city. They suffer from a lack of the working spaces and connections that other creatives are gaining from co-share working spaces.
Artists need to be funded to be artists - to develop, think and contribute to Wellington’s public, private and government institutions. It’s about artists working to be more embedded dynamic activators of the city. And it’s about recognising artists’ time and need for development potential, rather than seeing them as temporary pop-ups, or as free agents of lightweight cool projects. It's about seeing them as contributors to our city’s development.
We hope Urban Dream Brokerage has helped challenge what exchange means for Wellington’s CBD - non-commercial activity as a vital part of the urban infrastructure. Projects like Moodbank, People’s Cinema, Co-Liberate, Political Cuts, to name a few, have gone on to have lives in other places, following the legacy of Letting Space produced and curated projects in the city like Kim Paton’s Freestore. Temporary sometimes leads to permanent, but even without physical legacy we think the traces of the network that has been created have a lasting resonance for many creators in Wellington.
Urban Dream Brokerage ends in June but we are encouraging others to pick up the challenge to do this work. Never underestimate the generosity there is amongst property and business owners who understand how value in a city needs to work in different ways and are committed to Wellington’s arts ecosystem. Expect knockbacks, but hold to your vision!
We are making our resources, forms and processes available through Creative Commons for anyone to pick up. A link to these will be posted on our website, our blog and through our social media threads soon.
All three of us are looking forward to continuing to work with our many dear friends and valued colleagues to continue to make Wellington such a special place to live and work. Thank you for the amazing work you do.
Helen, Mark and Sophie