Vibrant Compositions: Atmospheres of creativity in Sydney, Australia

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Copyright: Critchley, Alyssa
Successful creative activities are generally supported by an enabling ecology. For the informal creative spaces studied here, ‘good vibes’ are often evoked in an approximation of the complex set of expectations, actions and emotions that align to make the vibe and the atmosphere ‘feel right’. Recent cultural policy debates on creative cities hinge on how best to create the most desirable atmospheres for events in the city, yet the aesthetic experience of urban spaces is becoming increasingly controlled. While much effort is expended to achieve the right atmosphere, this vague and ineffable collective-subjective experience has eluded theory and commentary alike. This thesis addresses this oversight by theorising atmospheres that surround sites of informal creative activity. Building upon authoethnographic data gained through attending events at informal creative spaces over the past decade in Sydney, Australia, and ethnographic interviews with operators, performers, event promoters and patrons, this thesis attunes to the ‘vibe’ that makes informal creative spaces vibrant and creative, yet complex and paradoxical achievements. The sites for this thesis have been impacted by forces of gentrification and allied policies. These venues skirt compliance with planning and building regulations and liquor licensing in ways that maintain them as forms of Michael Taussig’s notion of the ‘public secret’. Such secrecy and precarity are examined as co-constitutive atmospheres, alongside homeliness and the atmosphere of ruination associated with such spaces’ occupation of semi-derelict warehouses. A concept of atmosphere as a co-constituting phenomenon generated in the relation between multiple bodies and objects, including the more-than-human, is built in this thesis via affect theory, public feelings scholarship and non-representational geographies. Atmosphere is a fundamental condition for life, with the power to prime bodies for certain kinds of interaction, to constrain or enable creativity in urban spaces. In Sydney, debates about the vibrancy and creativity of ‘global cities’ are pitched amid an incompatible property boom and increased regulation of entertainment. This thesis proposes appreciating atmosphere as a co-constitutive phenomenon is vital to cultural policy making. It concludes with cautionary recommendations for policy and regulatory interventions regarding the difficulty of replicating good atmospheres conducive to true creativity.
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Critchley, Alyssa
Kearnes, Matthew
Muecke, Stephen
Scheer, Edward
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PhD Doctorate
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