Marcus Westbury turned up to the University of Technology Sydney last week to launch a book on the creative outputs that were and still could be driven from the university’s Creative Industries Innovation Centre.
The book, Creative Business in Australia: Learnings from the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, 2009-2015, captured the six-year lifespan of a creative innovation hub at UTS, funded and then de-funded by government.
It might have kept going. Brave people at the launch said the limited lifespan was always the understanding. The less brave said of course they had hoped for a stay of execution. But was it really the end? Nope. The spirit can live on and so too the learnings.
Now Westbury, who’s also featured in these pages a few times is very near, we reckon, to attaining urban-rock star status thanks to his new book, the incredible success he has had with his Renew Newcastle program now replicated in a list of struggling urban centres, and not the least with the program series Bespoke for the ABC.
This enchanting series had him touring the country finding centres of “maker” excellence in community and craft markets or hidden behind industrial premises, whether in Tasmania or off the main street in Melbourne’s North Fitzroy.
There is a boom in the makers market, Westbury says. It’s not really surprising. People might be quite sick of buying things over again because so much is built for redundancy.
Westbury’s concentration on local and creative businesses also speaks to the importance of social resilience, which comes from diversity – of businesses as well as people.
At its height in Newcastle, he told the UTS audience, BHP employed 20,000 people, a huge proportion of the local workforce in a regional centre of 150,000 people or maybe 200,000 depending on where you draw the boundaries.
When BHP departed it dumped its workforce and left the entire town high and dry. There’s a big lesson there, Westbury said.
Westbury’s solution in Newcastle was to “activate” empty buildings in the main street with local start ups and artists until the buzz attracted life back to the area, including the kind of life that brings cash with it, and starts the money circulation again.
At the Creative Industries Innovation Centre this kind of creativity led resilience was the subject of study and incubation. It was the Australian Government’s biggest investment in the creative industries and involved more than 1500 creative businesses.
Let’s hope it’s not the last.