A new creative precinct in Sydney’s lower north shore has attracted 70 artists with the sort of patronage once seen in renaissance Italy – pay your rent with one artwork a year.
TWT Creative Precinct in St Leonards is the brainchild of Tina Tian, the 35-year-old founder of TWT Property Group, also a developer of residential projects at Ultimo, Pyrmont and Bondi Junction.
While residential studios in St Leonards rent for more than $400 a week, the artists under contract at the Chandos Street development enjoy Medici-like patronage and pay only the outgoings on their 50-square-metre studio spaces, with the rent covered by one artwork they provide to Ms Tian’s collection each year.
The millions in foregone rent is actually good business, according to Ms Tian, whose proposed ”New Life” development of about 600 apartments across three blocksadjoins the Creative Precinct in St Leonards town centre.
“Once you have artists working and studying and living here as residents it makes life different. People will come here – we’re changing the character of the suburb,” she told The Australian Financial Review.
“In the future we’ll have permanent studios, galleries, and museums. St Leonards will become a destination. This isn’t just altruistic, it is also good business.”
Sculptor Caroline Rothwell moved into the precinct from a 30-square-metre space in inner-west Chippendale last November.
“What is great about this studio is space. Previously if I wanted to work on a two-and-a-half-metre sculpture I had to move all the other objects out. Now I can work on three or four things at once, I can ruminate on a piece while it sits in the background,” she said. “The light is great, and I’m on the ground floor. For sculpture that’s really important because I’m often lugging 20-kilo bags of plaster around.”
Goodwill on both sides
Upstairs from Ms Rothwell is visual artist Abdul Abdullah, whose previous space was in a 25-studio warehouse in Alexandria that was taken over by residential developers late last year. “Finding studios is a huge issue,” Mr Abdullah said. “Without a studio it’s really hard to have an ambitious practice, or a practice where you can work at any type of scale.”
The artwork-for-rent arrangement, which Ms Tian instituted last November, would work well provided there was goodwill on both sides, Ms Rothwell said. “Most artists are art rich and cash poor, so it should work really well. My conversations with TWT have already begun about the kind of work Tina might like for her collection. I obviously can’t just hand her a scribble on a piece of paper, it’s valuation needs to be a fair reflection of the benefit I’ve received from being here.”
The more than 70 artists and creatives already practising in the TWT Creative Precinct are in fields ranging from dance to film to music production. Contemporary visual artists set to join creative hub on art-for-rent basis include Tom Polo, Joan Ross, Karen Black, Jason Phu and Aly Indermühle, whose microprocessor-driven light installation already adorns the building.