Interview: Newcastle Art Station
Leah Fawthrop and I meet at the Jones Girl Cafe in Broadmeadow. Leah is one of the brains behind the idea of Newcastle Art Station: turning the old Newcastle station into a multi purpose area to be used for arts, events, markets, cafes – anything. Leah elaborates her idea,
“We don’t really have a place where the community can gather and have true festivals. We have the Foreshore but that’s basically a big open field. We don’t have a site where rain, hail or shine we can go ahead. We have those lovely long platforms where you can do temporary flooring between the platforms and maybe add a roof.”
It’s not a new idea for Leah, she’s had this thought for quite some time.
“Regardless of the train line closing I’ve always thought that Newcastle definitely needs a cultural hub. It needs a place where events can be run, so the site itself runs events but if outside groups, say Octapod or Newcastle Community Art Centre, wants to run a festival they can go to that site and run them there.”
It’s not an original thought either, her inspiration came from places like Carriageworks in Sydney and the Salamanca Arts Centre (SAC) in Hobart. The SAC admits an estimated 250,000 people annually with approximately 200 staff who are employed by various arts organisations operating at the SAC. The contribution made by these organisations to the Tasmanian economy has been estimated at $25 million. The SAC has been a non-for-profit organisation since 1975 and has been leasing the space from the Government since 1976.
Carriageworks is more modern, it opened its doors as an arts disciplinary centre in 2007. It is host to events such as the Finders Keepers Markets, the FBi Sydney Music Arts & Culture awards as well as numerous arts exhibits, markets and live music events. Carriageworks partners with Sydney Festival, Vivid and the Biennale and the 2013 event Tim Etchells’ Sydney Contemporary 13 art fair brought in 29,000 people. Leah has big expectations for Newcastle train station,
“The legacy of shutting the train line should result in a beautiful, community driven site where we can hold events. I guess I’m sick of going to Sydney to see Vivid or Sculpture by the Sea. We just don’t have that at all.”
At recent consultations Urban Growth advised they wanted to turn the station into a farmers markets. Leah pointed out that Newcastle already has a farmers market,
“There’s already an existing farmers market which is successful, so why are you trying to squash their business or replicate it when it runs successfully in Broadmeadow. It’s purpose built for those markets, they’ve got space for the trucks to get in. When I asked UrbanGrowth how they were going to get all the trucks in or how they would get their heavy pumpkin or bag of potatoes to their car they said “Oh we’ll deal with that”. Why not go that bit further, I think Newcastle is mature enough for something like Newcastle Art Station.”
In their reports Urban Growth has said they want to turn the Newcastle Station into a “dynamic destination”. Leah doesn’t want the Newcastle Art Station to be just about one art form but to be a culture hub, and she offered her suggestion at one of the community consultations. Of her experiences Leah remarks,
“I was really heartened at those sessions, we walked around the area and broke off into groups and I thought “I’m just going to shut up and I’m not going to say what I think.” There were other people piping up, you know, “I want to see some kind of cultural centre here” and “maybe we could have old train stations where we could have pop up markets”. They were basically proposing what I’m proposing, it felt great because these were people who were not related to arts in any way, shape or form (I know because I ended up asking). I think that what myself and others are talking about would be something really positive for Newcastle.”
Now imagine walking along the Foreshore to where the old station still stands. During the rainy season markets such as The Finders Keepers or the Olive Tree Markets can have somewhere to run. Temporary stages can be built around the platforms so as to enlarge the area while still maintaining the original facade. The space could be used to hold unique art exhibits or performances, there could even be old train carriages being used for artist in residency programs or perhaps live showcases featuring glass blowers and other creative forms. It can be done, with most artists per capita than any other city in Australia Newcastle sure does have the resources.
More than that, Newcastle is increasingly receiving more and more recognition as a trendy up and coming city. After years of a lifeless Hunter Street Mall the efforts to rejuvenate the area have been accomplished by the likes of Newcastle Now and Renew Newcastle. Lonely Planet listed Newcastle as one of the top 10 cities to visit in the world. It was also listed as one of the top five hipster meccas (read: good coffee, beer, food) by the Seattle Globalist.
Rather than another farmers market, the space at the Newcastle station has limitless potential to not just be artistic but also to bring more people to Newcastle. Leah tells me about the importance art has in our everyday life,
“These are the people that make a city alive and happening; it can’t just be all steel it has to have life and events. Art is in every single person’s life, no matter what they think. The shirt that you bought, someone designed that. Those earrings that you’re wearing, someone designed that. The car you’re driving, someone designed that. There is art in every single part of life. Even the way you choose to dress, or the earrings you choose to put on.”
Newcastle has already proved its love for arts and its forward motion as a city. “Newcastle Art Station is a gift to Newcastle. It’s a gift and should remain a gift, so that we don’t get dotted with some horrible insult.”
Interview by Jodie Millard on behalf of Culture Hunter.
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