Friday, 15 March, 2019


Economic and cultural benefits of investing in creative industries were discussed at the Hunter Economic breakfast on 1 March.

Our guest speaker, the Hon. David Bartlett, talked about ‘the MONA effect’. The opening of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart in 2011 boosted tourism numbers and spawned a range of other enterprises. Bartlett, Premier of Tasmania from 2008 until 2011, explained how MONA breathed new life into the State’s economy.

Tasmania received 1.3 million visitors in the 12 months ending September 2018. Around 347,000 (27%) reported visiting MONA during their trip, up from 28,000 in 2010-11.

Bartlett says that the MONA effect has meant more to Tasmania than just a boost in tourist numbers. The real MONA effect is to give people confidence about what they can do when they try something different.

The City of Newcastle and Hunter region more generally were recognised as ‘hot spots’ for creative industries in the Smart Specialisation Strategy for the Hunter Region, released in 2016 by Regional Development Australia Hunter. This strategy noted that creative businesses are typically not large, but, in aggregate, the sector can be a substantial employer. It contributes value to other businesses through product design as well as creative content for marketing, product positioning and branding.

Creative industries are already a key segment within the Hunter according to a recent report from a University of Newcastle project funded by the Australian Research Council. In 2016, creative industries contributed almost $1 billion to the Hunter’s Gross Regional Product.

Newcastle residents attend more arts events per ticket buyer than the national average, according to TEG Analytics, and they spend less per event. Newcastle also has a substantially greater share of people who attend arts events within the LGA – 41 per cent. The arts and creative industries that benefit from such attendance have the potential to play a central role in ‘place-making’ - improvements in city vibrancy, identity and tourism.

Tasmania’s experience with MONA is not an isolated instance, according to Andrew Hoyne, place-making and branding expert, who spoke at the breakfast. The concept of creative prosperity is being recognised by cities around the world, Hoyne said.

Return on investment in creative industries is low, but building the creative sector is actually an investment in entrepreneurship, innovation and new ideas, Hoyne explained.People who use creative ideas to drive new economic activity have a hugely positive effect on the greater community. When creative economies are given the opportunity to flourish, you get better restaurants and bars, better night life and music scenes, and you end up with a more engaged community.

Hoyne has seen huge investment in creative hubs, rejuvenated city areas and progressive business precincts in cities in the US. Cashed up IT companies are seeing the value, where recruitment and retention are critical issues. They want to be where smart young people are, who in turn want to be where the fun is.They prefer to be surrounded by like-minded people, entertainment and a variety of activities. On this front, creative prosperity is a core pillar.

These ideas were digested in a workshop, immediately following the breakfast, via facilitated discussion on identity and positioning for Greater Newcastle. The workshop brought together leaders from diverse sectors, including the creative industries. Participants identified the assets of the region and how those assets could be presented to appeal to investors, prospective residents or visitors. This collaborative effort progressed development of a compelling, strategic narrative for Greater Newcastle.

The HRF Centre will continue to facilitate such engagement with a broad range of stakeholders on questions that are critical to the region’s development. We seek to provide an evidence base of research and exemplars of global best practices to inform the decisions in government, business and the community.

Contact the Centre to find out more about our 2019 program of engagement and research, or to express interest in participating in future events.

This opinion piece appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 20 March 2019