Profile: Letting Space
Could you describe your organisation and the work you perform?
Wellington-based Letting Space is a seven-year old public art and urban revitalisation organisation.
We empower artists to create projects that work in conversation with cities and have staged more than a dozen major projects in partnership with property owners, businesses and the public.
Five years ago we established a service called Urban Dream Brokerage. This service connects arts and community groups with the owners of vacant commercial space to create innovative new community spaces in cities.
These have ranged from a political hair salon to a people’s cinema, a ‘free store’ to an Imaginarium play-space for all ages, a natural beauty salon to a citizen’s fresh water testing lab.
Urban Dream Brokerage now operates in Wellington and Dunedin and has provided a platform for over 70 projects including programmes in Porirua, and latterly, Masterton.
We work in close partnership with local councils and also assist with commissioning projects.
What are the core values of your organisation?
We believe in diversity, collaboration, participation and community, and see artists as playing a key role in creating living spaces in cities that foster these values. Great cities thrive when citizens can pool their strengths through participation and collaboration we want to help provide spaces for this to happen.
To this end we see the artist as a facilitator, who can bring together different fields and disciplines. This cross-discipline work is central to Wellington’s identity as a city, and perhaps to New Zealand’s arts culture as a whole. They are the agents of change, connected and connecting.
By working outside conventional venues like theatres, galleries and auditoriums, artists can create new kinds of common
spaces where the public and businesses can meet, connect and share.
We see this as hugely important in a time of environmental crises, when cities and the needs of their citizens are changing.
To this end we look to support projects that explore new ideas around the way city spaces work as living spaces that foster diversity and community. The projects must also respect their social and cultural environment, the importance of Mana Whenua for example, and consider the legacy they might enable. We want cities to be inclusive and inspiring.
Unsettled, Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem with Letting Space, Wellington, 2017. Image: Gabrielle McKone
How would you describe the profile of your (prospective) audience and customer?
The nature of our work and our variety of locations means we engage a wide and diverse audience – or public participants as we like to think of them. This ranges from those who are simply passing by one of our installations in an otherwise vacant commercial space, to followers of the artist involved in the project. A deliberate and an incidental crowd.
Rather than having an age or wage bracket in common, our participant share a love of the arts, and want to be part of a community in the cities and spaces in which they live.
How do you currently engage your (prospective) audience and customer?
Social media has become a very important audience engagement tool for us over the last seven years, particularly Facebook and Twitter. We have built up a strong following on the Letting Space and Urban Dream Brokerage pages, and we have a large email database collected from all our projects.
In terms of artists, we use our network across the arts community to engage talent as well as having open calls for projects.
For Urban Dream Brokerage we have relationships with dozens of property owners and organisations such as the Property Council of New Zealand. We are constantly on the lookout for new spaces and businesses so these networks come in handy when trying to identify the owners of buildings we would like to utilise.
We occupy a space between the arts, the city and the public, and that can mean working in what we think of as ‘cracks in the paving stones’.
How do you bring together parties and help them find their match?
We occupy the space between and are very proud of the process we have established.
This involves an advisory panel to assess the proposals from artists, which pays particular attention to the project’s innovation and participatory goals.
We then take the lead in brokering the property and spaces for these projects and assisting in their development. This might mean navigating regulations and procedures to enable artists to open up spaces, engage new audiences and inspire change.
Could you describe the value shared and received beyond the dollars?
It is immeasurable. The social elixir that brings all in the city together to share, discuss new ideas and exchange – to create living spaces beyond shopping – is vital to business, social and cultural wellbeing. When people feel good about their city and feel they have freedom in its spaces, they engage. Wellington, where we are based, has a strong history of enabling this, but it relies on valuing the space and resources artists need to help drive change.