Yesterday I was lucky enough to share some time with Naomi Hersson Ringskog from No Longer Empty (NLE), a New York based organisation with a focus on renewing and revitalising urban space.
Naomi’s background is in urban planning and it was fantastic to tell her about my home city in Newcastle, Australia.
As anyone from Newcastle knows, we have some seriously divine empty buildings, some of which are of a very large scale.
What kind of buildings, you ask?
Well there’s some heritage ones that come to mind which are the Post Office, two old department stores, local icon The Star Hotel and The Victoria Theatre. Oh, and the Ammityville Terrace house near Wickham Station, plus the big green empty terrace house next door to where I live. Oh, and Pigeon Palace, as I call it in Hamilton. These are such grand buildings (or would have been in their hey day), yet slowly slipping away right in front of the community. Here’s some pics for those who may not know Newcastle, Australia.
Luckily, we have Renew Newcastle supporting the good cause and making use of the spaces that can be matched with an eager creative industry business. This amazing organisation has helped launch over eighty creative businesses in many empty spaces with the heart of the Newcastle CBD.
My work with Street Art Walking has
been looking at the in-between spaces like laneways and blank walls. Or worse yet, grey walls. I’m also particularly interested in how arts intervention into these empty spaces can bolster the communities and businesses together. A good place, filled with art, is so much better than an empty space.
It was great to chat with Naomi about their process of interacting with a site to produce exhibitions or events that not only activate spaces but also engage in important dialogue. The NLE team go through stages of research such as looking at the phstical space, researching the history and interacting with local community groups and organisations to find out what the space means to the people within the area. There is a sensitivity to their process that I feel is perhaps the key thing I will take away from this meeting.
What’s a good place? Well, for me, it could just be a local moment, an event that celebrates the story of an area, it’s people and the history that is important to the identity of an area.
As I’m out and about in the streets doing my research (photographing and measuring up, are usually what I get up to in empty and disused laneways) I always meet someone who is curious about what I’m up to. When I get a chance to speak to them about my vision for what could be in the area, I’m met with such enthusiastic tones and excitement. And there is always a story. Or two. Or three.
One NLE project that resonates with me is Living Walls, The City Speaks which is an annual conference on street art and urbanism in the city of Atlanta.
There’s so many good links, resources and projects coming from NLE that I urge everyone reading this to follow them, if you aren’t already. Email subscribe, Facebook and Twitter follow and if you are feeling generous like I am, why not give a donation. It truly is nice to support a project like this and if I lived in this country I would certainly be heavily engaged with what they do as a punter, volunteer and anything else that I could be involved with. But for now, I shall continue to support this organisation online by clicking through to their articles and sharing with fellow ’empty space’ and arts enthusiasts.
I am inspired to come home and follow the path that I am on in intervening with empty slaves through arts based projects. A term that Naomi used yesterday reminded me of the powerful role we can have as ‘Agents of Change’. I had read the term before but hearing it out loud was validating and confidence boosting.
I realised after sharing my ideas, vision and current processes with Naomi that I am well on track with the revitalisation projects that I am working on. The main areas for me to pursue are now to engage with wider community groups beyond the arts sector such as historical societies, elderly citizens, youth groups and church groups. It’s time to find the mass community and start finding out what stories they have to share, as well as what ideas they might have for Newcastle.
On that note, I am pleased to be a judge for Newcastle2020, a local exhibition ran by young Novacastrians who want to inspire brighter visions for our city, as well as find out what ideas out cities young people have for their place.
I’m confident we (all the various groups and organisations) are well on-track with revitalising Newcastle and look forward to bringing together more people to help lift dreams into realities. We just need to bond and work together a bit stronger. Many hands make light work, as they say.
Thank you to Naomi for her time and feedback on the projects I am involved in back home. I look forward to continue to build on this newfound connection and will happily be a tour guide for NLE, should they find their way to Australia.
Don’t forget to follow Street Art Walking on Facebook www.facebook.com/streetartwalking
and Twitter @streetartwalkin