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Wednesday night is culture night

Gina Fairley

Sydney’s major arts and cultural organisations join forces. Is this the way forward for cultural tourism in Sydney and beyond?
Wednesday night is culture night

Forget culture within business hours. Wednesdays nights are now culture nights at Sydney venues; Australian Museum

Nine-to-five is so last century. With increasingly busy lives, greater work flexibility and being part of a global economy, much cultural activity now takes place at a time that used to be after last drinks.

Millennials, in particular, are frequently just getting ready to go out when  their parents are winding down for the day.

Sydney’s major arts and cultural organisations are no longer shutting their doors just as many people are getting ready to go out.

A new initiative by the NSW Government called Culture Up Late will see eight major cultural organisations opening late on Wednesday nights this summer (11 January to 22 February), with more expected to join the trend.

Culture Up Late is about embedding culture in our everyday lives, a kind of “diary branding” to the public, just as Thursday night shopping has been for decades.  

Michael Brealey, Executive Director of Arts NSW explained: ‘This is one of those initiatives about accessibility – we want to create more space and more time for the people of NSW to enjoy what we have on offer.’

It is the first time a number of Sydney’s key cultural organisations have worked collectively together on a common strategy: the Art Gallery of NSW, the Australian Museum, Carriageworks, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (the Powerhouse Museum and Sydney Observatory), the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, State Library of NSW and the Sydney Opera House.

‘We are not going to survive if everyone stays siloed. We need this collaboration to rekindle a grassroots scene across the arts,’ said Genevieve Clay-Smith, who is part of the NSW Government’s recently formed Arts and Culture Advisory Committee.

The committee, which advises the Arts Minister on how the profile of arts and culture in the state can be increased, recommended extending hours as a way of appealing to new audiences and improving accessibility for existing audiences.

Clay-Smith said Culture Up Late broadens the opportunity for Sydney-siders to enjoy their city’s own cultural assets, as well as appealing to local and international tourists.

‘This makes it so easy for people to engage. We have a damn good art scene, and we need to own it as a nation. Let’s value arts as much as late night shopping. And if we can shift the culture here in Sydney by embedding the arts more in the everyday, then we can potentially shift that thinking nationally.’

Clay-Smith said late night access was valuable for people who could not get to museums or galleries in traditional hours.

‘The initiative is really about making the arts accessible to everybody and not just high-brow art lovers with an arts degree. It is about creating another point of access, and to create more time for people to enjoy what is on offer.’

This is just the start, agreed Brealey. ‘The totality has more worth than the parts of the whole. I think this is a fabulous opportunity for institutions to capitalise on the work that they do individually by cross-promoting and working together. It is a far more effective way to go.’

Culture Up Late at the Australia Museum is drawing new audiences over the summer; supplied

Tapping into the night-time economy

Creative cities don’t close up shop at 5.30pm. If anything, they slip into culture mode after business hours, as people head off to a movie, listen to live music or swing by the library. These are very normal activities, but we don’t tend to brand them as embracing culture.

Brealey said Culture Up Late is part of a push to integrate the arts into people’s lives. ‘There is a real interest from me, and our Arts and Culture Advisory Committee, around the arts in the everyday and arts for everyone, that is placing culture as much a part of our lives outside work as say the cricket or football or staying in and watching television.’

‘As the government body responsible for promoting arts and culture, we have to harness what is already out there and help promote it to the broadest possible audience.’

Culture Up Late unites those offerings under a single banner and taps into current city-wide conversations about what makes a viable late night economy. After all, an underlying imperative of culture is its entertainment value, and as the leading state for cultural tourism, and home to the country’s largest cultural institutions, we are well positioned to make an impact. 

‘Arts and culture play a really central role in promoting the night time economy. We hope more cultural organisations and events get behind Culture Up Late. It will be a really big part of helping to grow audience uptake into the future,’ said Brealey.

A generation of night owls

A key advantage of evening activity is its appeal to younger audiences, said Clay-Smith.

‘As a Millennial myself, this is something that I know my friends and peers will engage with. The grassroots arts scene is a bit worse for wear right now. Music venues like the Hopetoun, the Annandale and Metro Screen have all closed – grass roots organisations that put on things for our generation. 

‘These larger cultural institutions have come up with Culture Up Late to provide an alternative and engage this generation in the arts, and feed those interests at that grassroots level.’

Brealey said this Millennial demographic was definitely considered when planning Culture Up Late. ‘We thought about the time that young people have available and when they are out and about.’

He made the point that the initiative is attractive to a range of audiences, including a demographic of young families with children who also stay up later over the summer and are hungry for activities. 

Clay-Smith hopes social media will spread the message that ‘Wednesday night is culture night’. 

‘This is an opportunity to make culture fun rather than pouring over the meaning of an artwork. So many young artists are on Instagram – we want them to own it. We need the influencers to get the word out; we need to be engaging with our youth to be writing about it in their blogs - It’s a big collective effort.’ 

Brealey sees the initial eight participating organisations as the beginning of a much bigger campaign. ‘We would like to grow it next year with more events, and slowly and surely raise the profile … and perhaps even extended beyond the city organisations.’

Catch Culture Up Late on Wednesday evenings until 22 February 2017.  Visit venue websites for tailored public programs, or follow them on Instagram for daily posts.

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.

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