The creative industry is not exempt from the principles of supply and demand, and in Newcastle, it can lead to birds leaving the nest as soon as they are able to fly. Every year, the University of Newcastle unloads a fresh batch of talented and enthusiastic designers onto the city but faced with limited prospects and the irresistible pull of Sydney and Melbourne as primary destinations to pursue ambitious yearnings, many of them find themselves leaving.

Carl Morgan and Lara Shubert chose to stay, injecting precious lifeblood into the local creative scene. “Joined at the hip,” Carl and Lara studied Design together, first at Port Macquarie TAFE, then at the University of Newcastle. By the end of their degree, they had worked on so many projects as a pair that “the next natural step was to make a living from it.” Zookraft was born soon after, in 2005. 

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Both coming from small towns, “it wasn’t so daunting coming to a city that wasn’t as large as Sydney. We can experience the diversity of a city with the features of a big country town and create a network quite easily.” On the other hand, although the creative scene appears to be developing, “there isn’t a lot of work for graphic designers here. It’s fairly limited and ultimately, it has the potential to get a bit stale.”

While staying in Newcastle and setting up a practice here was a deliberate decision, Zookraft is always seeking creative opportunities to balance the more frequent corporate identities and signage commissions. Commercial work is important and valuable but seldom the reason graphic designers get into that line of work. As a result, one can either despair about the lack of opportunities or create them by using Newcastle’s most precious resource: Talent. Not steel.

In 2008, Look Hear, an art and design conference was brought to life with the aim of sharing ideas and processes, bringing different creative industries together and “putting Newcastle on the map”. While the first series of talks had modest beginnings and a strong architectural focus, it has evolved to become more design oriented and is now hosted at the Newcastle Art Gallery.

It is the mix of art and design, emerging and established, local and visiting speakers that makes this event so engaging. “Look Hear can be so open because all the creative fields are related. Our focus wasn’t just about art and design but also getting a mix of creative professionals from Newcastle, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane whilst showing off Newcastle’s art scene as being part of the wider Australian art and design community.”

In 2010, Look See became a complement to Look Hear, running for the whole length of the Look Hear series. Look See is a visual art exhibition showcasing the work of students, emerging artists and illustrators alongside established practitioners, once again breaking down the barriers between cities and status. “It was about combining. We make a point of not separating. Student work is not necessarily of lower quality simply because they haven’t graduated yet.”

Around the time of the first Look See installment, Carl and Lara successfully applied for a Renew Newcastle space from which to run Zookraft and get a much needed separation between life and work. “We were living in our workspace, it was hard to turn off. We got into the habit of working 7 days a week and work just isn’t as good as it can be when you are tired. Having a dedicated workspace forces us to take those breaks.”

Zookraft occupy a small studio within a shared office space where they work alongside other creatives who, rather than working from home, are forming collective office environments within the very low-risk framework put in place by Renew Newcastle.

These clusters of Renew Newcastle projects are nurturing a growing sense of community amongst previously isolated creative professionals. While the number of opportunities may not have radically increased, the opportunities for visibility and collaboration are fostered in these environments where independent professionals are getting to know each other.

“We knew of each other but these initiatives are breaking down the barriers. We talk to each other, work together. It’s also important for students to have communities outside of Uni to be a part of” because in the end, that might be what convinces them to stick around just a little bit longer.

You can read reviews of the LOOK HEAR talks on Urban Insider : week 1, week 2, week 3 and week 4

If you are doing it for yourself in the creative industry, I would love to hear from you and help you get the word out there. Email me at contactaloud@gmail.com. 

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One comment

  1. I especially like the Street-Fighter inspired one with the blonde-haired girl. Truly talented.

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