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Make/Shift Spaces making a difference

Monday 16 December 2019

In less than five months, Make/Shift Spaces has made its mark as a popular pilot programme, bringing together empty retail spaces and Nelson’s creative and community groups, resulting in an enlivened cityscape.


Since revealing its first project in August 2019, Make/Shift Spaces has featured:

- 300 Dolly Parton wannabes

- 250 individual artworks featuring 10c coins given away to the public

- 200 post-it notes with brilliant Big Ideas about our city’s development

- 24 happy babies

- 12 fantastical edible (and totally delicious) architecture cakes

- 10 very contented cows

- 4 mask-making workshops

- 1 pop-up park, complete with potted plants, table, chairs, umbrella and beanbags

- 1 very astute butcher (watched by 3 hopeful dogs)

As a not-for-profit organisation, Make/Shift Spaces isn’t about putting in “pop-up” retail spaces, but rather it’s about creating opportunities for artists, creatives, community and special interest groups who can fill a space with vibrant installations, activities and stories.

Make/Shift Spaces is part of a global movement to re-use, re-invigorate and re-present un-used spaces in our fast-changing urban environments. Make/Shift Spaces facilitates temporary takeovers of empty retail spaces, bringing life and creativity and stories to our smart little city.

Currently, Make/Shift Spaces has three projects:

- The Bird Butcher Shop of Trafalgar Street – working with Nelson Provincial Museum, the shopfront has been transformed into a giant storyboard featuring one of Nelson’s most successful colonial businesswomen. This is the perfect example of how an exterior ‘skin’ on the window allows for refurbishment work to continue inside.

- Viewfinder Window in Trafalgar Street – this is an independently-run exhibition space in the window – again, allowing for refurbishment work to continue inside. Viewfinder presents a monthly turnover of local artists. www.viewfinderwindow.com

- Sally Burton’s White Gold in Bridge Street – Local artist Sally Burton created White Gold for the Suter Gallery in 2009. Now this stunning parade of much-loved cows is back, filling the wide shopfront with their beauty, elegance, commercial connections and humour.

Make/Shift Spaces is an independent not-for-profit organisation that calls for submissions, manages the selection process and matches suitable temporary tenants with empty spaces, as well as facilitating the tenancy. This is not a new concept. There are many like-minded projects around the world that use this idea as a way of revitalising urban spaces. The results show a more vital environment that has benefits for the people directly involved, as well as for the surrounding retailers, property owners, and broader community.

Make/Shift Spaces is building relationships with property owners and real estate agents who are keen to be involved in bringing life and creativity to our smart little city. While some of the spaces can be accessed for activities (like Nelson Arts Festival with its mix of shows and workshops, and the Festival of Architecture with its drop-in space), many of the spaces require maintenance and refurbishment between tenants. This creates a perfect opportunity for storytelling on the windows, such as the Ann Bird photo and story in Trafalgar Street.

In late 2018, Nelson City Council commissioned Anne Rush to investigate what could be done with the high number of empty retail spaces in the city centre. Even with property owners actively looking for tenants, the process often takes months or even years, with the empty spaces quickly appearing neglected and abandoned. NCC asked Rush to explore some short-term solutions that might have long-term effects. Rush began talking to the property sector to gauge their willingness to make their spaces available on a temporary basis, rent-free. The response was positive, especially because the properties would remain on the retail market available to let at any time. Rush saw the need for a middle party, who could broker between the property owner and the temporary tenant, and so Make/Shift Spaces came to be.

Rush has been pleasantly surprised at the responses. “It’s been an incredible process where I’ve been met with genuine interest every step of the way,” she says. “The concept has been tried and tested in cities around the world, with some extremely well-documented examples in Australia. We’re looking at these projects and creating something unique to Nelson. Make/Shift Spaces has the potential to make a real difference to Nelson, and we’re already working with some wonderfully creative people, community groups and organisations who are jumping at the opportunity for temporary space.”

Chair of the Board for Make/Shift Spaces Alison McAlpine is excited about the potential of Make/Shift Spaces to have a impact on the cityscape as well as the broader community. “Make/Shift Spaces is a win/win situation. We’re particularly enthused with the seemingly endless possibilities, both in the range of property owners, and especially in who we can work with to fill the spaces. We’re confident that Make/Shift Spaces will have an impact not only on local people and businesses, but also on visitors, who will surely admire the project and see it as an apt representation of Nelson’s ingenuity!”

Make/Shift Spaces is looking for a broad range of temporary tenants that can use spaces in creative and imaginative ways. Make/Shift Spaces is already developing relationships with some of the city’s key organisations including Nelson Provincial Museum, Suter Art Gallery, Nelson Arts Festival and Light Nelson, as well as organisations and community groups in education, environmental, cultural and manu when.

Nelson has a proven history of community creativity – as seen in World of WearableArt, Nelson Arts Festival’s Mask Parade and Light Nelson. These organisations called on local artisans and creatives and the community as a whole, and quickly became high profile events that continue to have a real impact on our people and our city. Make/Shift Spaces has the potential to help redefine our smart little city as an incubator for new thinking, ideas and actions, and to challenge and inform what constitutes a civic environment in the 21st century.


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