Artists versus Blight: Newcastle, Australia and Cleveland, Ohio


Marcus Westbury in

Visitors to Newcastle’s Hunter Street Mall in recent weeks have noticed a sudden abundance of new activity. Since February the not-for-profit company Renew Newcastlehas been taking over some of the 150-odd empty shops in the Newcastle CBD and making them available to artists, cultural projects and creative enterprises.


Renovating a shop front, Newcastle. Courtesy of

Renovating a shop front, Newcastle. Courtesy of



We’ve convinced private property owners — from the large and publicly-listed GPT Group down to local small business people with only one empty shop — to lend us their vacant spaces. We take them on a rolling temporary basis, keep them clean, spruce them up and fill them with creative initiatives. In Newcastle we’ve placed 15 projects by artists, craftspeople, artisans, jewellers, architects, designers, and publishers. What were until recently empty shops and eyesores are now full of original, local, creative activity. We have about 10 more projects in progress that will open later this month or early next.

Alexandra Alter in the Wall Street Journal:

Artists have long been leaders of an urban vanguard that colonizes blighted areas. Now, the current housing crisis has created a new class of urban pioneer. Nationwide, home foreclosure proceedings increased 81% in 2008 from the previous year, rising to 2.3 million, according to California-based foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac. Homes in hard-hit cities such as Detroit and Cleveland are selling for as little as $1.

Art City

Greg Ruffing/Redux for The Wall Street Journal – An opening-night event at the Arts Collinwood gallery in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood.

Drawn by available spaces and cheap rents, artists are filling in some of the neighborhoods being emptied by foreclosures. City officials and community groups seeking ways to stop the rash of vacancies are offering them incentives to move in, from low rents and mortgages to creative control over renovation projects.

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