Why is culture important to a city? Five takeaways from Sydney Unlocked

July 8th 2016

Sydney Unlocked Panel 1

There’s no denying that Sydney is in a state of change. Nightlife in the city has taken a hit with the imposition of lockout laws, and there have been questions about the future of Sydney as a cultural hub. The current climate was laid out frankly (and hilariously) by Jan Fran in her opening speech for our Vivid Ideas event, Sydney Unlocked.

From there, we started to dig into what it is we’re missing. What is this ‘culture’ beast all about – and why does it matter? How do you rebuild a city’s culture? FBi’s Marty Doyle sat down with Lisa Havilah (Carriageworks), Ianto Ware (City of Sydney), Jaimie Leonarder aka Jay Katz (Mu Meson) and Esti Zilber (Sounds Australia) to chat about why culture and community is so vital to a city.

Here’s what they had to say. Listen to the whole discussion and read some of the key points below.

  • Sydney Unlocked :: Why is culture important to a city?


Culture Creates Community

Esti Zilber of Sounds Australia on the importance of culture: “It’s about community. It brings people together, it gives you a voice and helps you find other people who are like-minded that share that voice. It also puts you in a room in a community that you maybe wouldn’t have otherwise been in. You go to a live music venue and it’s so diverse, these people that are sharing this cultural experience with you.”

Jaimie Leonarder: “It’s the pulse and heartbeat of a community, and I think it’s an absolute necessity. If we don’t have culture, then we don’t have a society that is able to interlock and work together.


Culture needs an underground

A lifelong champion of the alternative, Jaimie Leonarder points out the role underground culture plays in shaping ‘the mainstream’:

“If it weren’t for underground culture, there would be no friggin’ culture, there would be no mainstream. If we go back to the 70’s here in Sydney, half of Surry Hills was squats. There was the Yellow House of McClay Street where Bruce Beresford, Martin Sharp and all of those people cut their teeth. Some of these people are the establishment behind Vivid today.

If there isn’t an underground, then the mainstream doesn’t have anything to be drip-fed or exploit! (laughs) The underground culture is where the truth, the passion, and not the bottom line – drives things.”


Culture allows us to connect with the world around us

For Carriageworks director Lisa Havilah, culture is as much personal as it is communal: “I think that it’s very important that I, as an individual, understand my place and the people around me, and how I engage with them. Culture for me is about connection and engagement.

“At Carriageworks we have ensured that our programming actually reflects the community in terms of diversity. We have been open to collaboration, and made collaboration the core of our practice… We make it a space where people can come in and deliver on their ambitions and deliver programs for their own communities. We feel like an active supporter, collaborator and enabler.” 


Culture requires planning and practical policy

Given the rapidly changing face of Sydney, urban planner Dr Ianto Ware suggests that there needs to be a more practical and integrated approach to policy:

“We have a radically different city where we need to start thinking about the small scale. I think the way we do that is to have a cultural policy that connects back to planning policy. So instead of having the classic ‘arts policy’ that’s about institutions or organisations – that’s important to have, and they do important work. But we need to have cultural policies that look at what happens when someone tries to open a venue, or when they try to book their first show, that says ‘this isn’t an arts funding issue, this is a planning issue related to this set code or this piece of liquor licensing’, that has the expertise to figure out which bits of laws need to be changed in which way.” 

Lisa Havilah believes in an integrated approach, supporting past, present and future cultural endeavours: “It’s about how major new development corridors support the existing communities and enhance them, but also make space for future cultural activity as well. That type of thinking is really critical, that integrated thinking. Going into new development – it’s not just about protecting what’s there, it’s about allowing new things to happen.” 


Culture needs support to grow with its city

So what needs to happen for creative culture in Sydney to thrive?

Lisa Havilah: “We need to make sure that culture grows in line with population growth and the broader growth of our city. We need to make sure that the whole ecosystem is protected, from the small to medium sector, to major institutions… We also need to make sure that all of that infrastructure is accessible and inclusive. Critical and open dialogue about how everyone is performing and how everyone is contributing is vital.” 

Esti Zilber: “The people in power should be listening to the voices of the sector. If you want to talk about culture, have a conversation with people that are personally invested in culture… We have a strong passion and understanding of what culture is. How do we make that broader and more inclusive so that people fight for us and with us, and have their voices heard?”


Stay tuned for further discussions from Sydney Unlocked as we continue the conversation about our city’s cultural future.



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