22 October 2012

Hey Maker! creatives rejuvenate Murwillumbah town centre

When Ellie Beck and four friends noticed that 32 of the 70 store fronts in their home town of Murwillumbah, NSW, were empty, they decided to do something about it. By mobilising friends, family and artists around the region, they are developing a creative Hub in their town, and bringing fresh blood and life to their wilting town centre. The entirely community-funded Hey Maker! initiative encompasses a pop up shop selling locally-made products, a series of workshops, and art installations.

It's amazing and inspiring to see what these women have been able to achieve in such a short time; a template that we could apply across all our regional areas and even outer suburbs and neglected inner city spots. I'll let Ellie do the talking...

Let's start with the elevator pitch. What is Hey Maker! in a nutshell? Do you have a mission statement or goal?

Hey Maker! is a group of five passionate creative women who came together with the mission to change the the vacant spaces of our town, Murwillumbah, in Northern NSW. We are Jo Olive, Belinda Smith, Kathy Egan, Christy McLeod & Ellie Beck.

Our goal is to defy 'small town' thought about art and modern craft, and show people that the act of gathering and sharing in a creative manner can bring about change in any environment. We wanted to bring a little bit of inner-city zest into our beautiful art-deco streets.

Basically we facilitate pop-up art events and community gatherings, based around people's creative needs. We hope to show people that art, design and craft are accessible and affordable, and something that everybody can participate in (especially using recycled materials).

We are lucky that we live in one of the most creatively diverse regions outside of any metropolitan city in Australia. It must be the (extinct) volcano that drives such a strong artistic community. Most of these creatives live out in the hills, and work from their studios at home. We aim to bring those people into our town's cbd and share their love and handcrafted goods with the wider community. 

Where is your shop and where do you hold your workshops? When can we start attending?

Our shop is in the spectacular Austral Building, right at the entrance to Murwillumbah. It's on the corner of Commercial Road and Proudfoots Lane. Look out for the art installations in our windows!
Our workshops and retail shop share the space harmoniously, with a cane lounge for enjoying a cup of tea, some crafting, and gossip! Our doors opened on the 12th October 2012. You can book workshops instore, or through our online shop

I was amazed to read that 32 out of 70 shops in beautiful Murwillumbah are empty. How have you managed to secure some of these spaces? Was it difficult?

Yes, there are so many empty shops. It's sad walking along the streets and seeing all these once thriving businesses closed down, and vacant shops standing quietly waiting. This is a reality for many towns, and it takes a little bit of imagination and a lot of hard work to change things. It has been difficult to talk with real estates and land lords, who don't want to lower their rents or allow pop-up shops (which to bring light and fresh air into their empty spaces). We'd love to sit down with them all and hear their stories, but often that doesnt happen. Luckily we knew someone who knew someone, and we have found our beautiful shop for our pop-up. We truly believe that by bringing fresh paint and creative eyes to this long-vacant shop, that people will look at it in a new way. Even now, before we've officially opened our doors, simply setting up the space has created colour and vibrancy on the street corner. 

Hey Maker!'s aim is to help other creatives host their own pop-ups; we'd love to build relationships with the landlords and work together to change the look and economic situation of our town. 

Have you had any support from your local council for this project? Are they also excited about creating an artistic hub in the town?

Council is mostly very excited about what we are doing. Unfortunately there is always a lot of red tape and endless talks to make things happen within council structures. We do hope that within the next year things can change and progress in this manner. Until then, Hey Maker! is content to forge ahead.
We've had a lot of support from our local Chamber of Commerce, and other organisiations from the valley and surrounding villages. We're forming connections and partnerships. There is lots of talk about a Creative Hub or Precinct for Murwillumbah, and council is very much a part of this.

How far is it to Murwillumbah from Brisbane, the Gold Coat and Ballina/Byron?

Less than 2 hours to Brisbane city, and about 45mins to Byron Bay (South) or Gold Coast (North). The drive from Brisbane through the back roads past Natural Arch is particularly stunning. Murwillumbah town is about 15 minutes to Mt Warning National Park; the iconic mountain, called Wollumbin by the local Aborigines, catches the first sunlight in Australia.

How long will you have your shop and workshops space open to the public?

Our pop-up is from 12th October, right up to Christmas eve. We have workshops and social gathering events through out this whole time, as well as our retail space showcasing handcrafted work of locals (and wanna-be locals!). After that time, we'll see what happens. Hey Maker! has grands plans for many events, gatherings and creative pop-ups, as well as art installations and public art throughout our town.

Do you have any advice for other creative souls in regional areas or outer suburbs who would like to create their own art hubs?

The biggest thing for us has been to keep at it, despite the hard work and long hours (mostly volunteer). We wanted to make something happen, and knew that we just had to go for it and push through any obstacles to make it work. Once we started, it seems everyone around us wanted something like Hey Maker! to happen, yet it's a hard thing for most people to get going on their own. The strength of five women is pretty amazing! Forging connections and making relationships with other creatives is super important as well. Talk with everyone, share the love for what you do - there's many more out there wanting to do what you are doing, but have no idea how.

Also - we took the chance on setting up a campaign through Pozible, and asking people to donate for our dream. Reaching our goal was wonderful - what was even better was connecting and meeting people, and finding our community. For us, community is really what it's all about.

Congratulations to Ellie and team on an amazing job. If you are in Northern NSW up until Christmas, make sure you check out the Hey Maker! website for workshops and store opening hours. This week kickis off a great series of Creative Business Talks featuring inspiring locals Jess van Den (Epheriell Designs), Peta O'Neill (Love Mae), Christy McLeod (Creative Village) and Jen Djula (Blue Caravan) - amazing! Maybe you can take inspiration from the Hey Maker! model for your own area? If you, do, please let me know!

Images: Hey Maker!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Steph! Thanks for sharing the love and highlighting our achievements here in Murwillumbah. As one of the Hey Maker! crew I would just say to anyone wanting to bring about a creative change in their town that you just need to be tenacious and find the people willing to listen to your crazy plans - they are out there and probably just as excited as you are about cultural revitalisation. It may not be easy but it will be soooo worth it! xoxo Jo Olive


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