marcus westbury

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A quick Renew Newcastle reader

February 2nd, 2011 by marcus

MakeSpace – a Renew Newcastle project

I’m on the road for about a month in the USA and Canada and meeting a lot of people who are interested in Renew Newcastle but don’t know too much about me, Newcastle, the project or its history. I thought i should try my best to put a few links together that explain as much as i can about the project so people who want a quick introduction to both the outcomes and the thinking behind it can find it.


If you haven’t already read it, this post i set up for my US tour and the accompanying video attempts to give a single quick overview.

The bio section of this web site also does a pretty good job of explaining who i am.

Renew Newcastle itself

The Renew Newcastle web site is the best place to see exactly what has been happening. The Projects section profiles every project we have done and maps everything we currently have happening. The FAQ section does a good job of explaining the mechanics of it all and how we do what we do. The media section – though not always completely up to date – archives some of the enormous amounts of press coverage we have had in Australia and internationally. We also have a Facebook Group.


I spend a fair amount of my life writing, broadcasting about and commenting on culture. As a result you can see a lot of the origins of the thinking of Renew Newcastle in works of mine that pre-date Renew Newcastle itself.

Most particularly the essay ‘Fluid Cities Create‘ (PDF) which i wrote for the Australian journal Griffith REVIEW crystallises a lot of my thinking about cities, creativity and culture.  It’s probably not a coincidence that several of the key people i ended up collaborating with on Renew Newcastle had read that essay.

In 2007 i wrote and presented a TV series for Australia’s ABC TV called Not Quite Art that looked (in part) at the question of where cultures come from. You can download the episodes still from the ABC – some are blocked outside Australia though. Episode 1 of series 1 (Ipod size Mp4) made a direct comparison between Newcastle, Australia and Glasgow, Scotland which In many respects laid the groundwork for Renew Newcastle.

Throughout this blog are various posts that chart the evolution of the project. This post captured my initial frustration at not being able to find people actually trying to rent their vacant real estate in Newcastle. This post – from a few days later – included my first attempts to map the problem and reflect on it. Various updates about its evolution are to found if you dig here.

On initiative, cities and scale

A lot of my writing more generally has been about the role of small scale initiative as a driver of creativity, innovation and as a transformative force. Some of this writing relates directly to Renew Newcastle and some of it doesn’t.

Cities of Initiative, Cities as Festivals, Hammers and Nails was a recent blog post trying to explain how i came to the see the city in the way i did — as someone whose background is as a festival director and not as an architect or planner — and why might in hindsight be significant for Renew.

It’s older but when I was asked by the Australian government in 2008 to be a participant in the Arts and Cultural stream of Australia’s 2020 Summit (a gathering of 1000 alleged community leaders brought together to explore future directions of for the nation), I wrote this blog post pointing to how decentralised cultural production, media and technological change were combining with the unique properties of the “Creative Industries” to demand very different policy approaches.

Extremely early in the piece with Renew Newcastle, after our very first opening weekend, i wrote a piece reflecting on what i called (for lack of imagination) ‘The Problem of Scale‘ – which is in many respects the primary thing Renew Newcastle is trying to address. We live in a world (or at least i live in a country) where we are making it relatively harder to do small things.

I’ve also reflected on the role of “initiativists” – my own made up word – in culture and creativity in various places.

The role of Social Media

You will find many references spread throughout these articles about the role of technology and social media in both creating the preconditions for Renew Newcastle and also as an organising tool. There are a few places where i have fleshed that out a little more directly.

Specifically, i gave this talk for ‘How Facebook saved Renew Newcastle’ to the Victorian Association of Performing Arts Centres on the role of social media in both the Renew Newcastle and (still forthcoming) Renew Australia projects. It’s worth a read if you are particularly interested in that side of things.

Some of it also captured in this talk i gave on “Flotillas and Flagships” in Perth, Western Australia in 2009.

Reflection pieces

In 2009, mid way through the evolution of Renew Newcastle i was given the opportunity to give Hunter Valley Research Foundation lecture in Newcastle. The resulting speech was widely quoted and gives both a lot of local context on the project as well as a significant overview of the theory and the thinking behind it.

This essay ‘Tiny Revolutions’ for the Australian literary journal Meanjin was my most recent attempt to distill the thinking down into one (longish) thought piece. Specifically it argues that technological change – while globalising and homogenising everything else – is actually create forces that demand far greater cultural diversity and uniqueness at a local level. It looks at how Renew Newcastle responds to that particularly as a response to the problem of scale i’ve linked to above.

Anyhow, i’m sure if you google me, or follow, the links on many of the pages i’ve linked to here, you’ll find plenty more. Generally feel free to just drop me a line or bail me up for a chat i’d happy to expand on, debate or explain any of the above.

Oh, and there are some nice pictures of Renew Newcastle before and after here.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Leigh Blackall Feb 8, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Re Origins, I recall a meeting you attended with the West End Business Group (or whatever they’re called) in 1998 – where you articulated this idea. Something else pre dated this meeting, but I can’t recall what it was.

  • 2 Zane Trow Mar 22, 2011 at 9:17 am


    …good to see you and renew in the PPS email newsletter,

    best, Z.