Cultural capital: The growing role of arts and culture in retail
Sep 7, 2019

In the battle for consumer attention, cultural opportunities that enrich and resonate with local communities have never been more crucial to the success of retail real estate.

From partnering with arts festivals and hosting exhibitions to offering live music and crafting workshops, our centres are adapting to the growing desire for experience. The evidence that investment in arts and culture programming has the power to provide multi-tiered benefits - for individuals, neighbourhoods and our industry – is mounting.

Creating thriving communities

Citing cultural assets as being “part of a neighbourhood ecology that promotes social wellbeing” a recent study by the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that access to cultural opportunities and resources can have a measurable impact on a number of levels: improving education, security, and health outcomes, among other factors. This has been found to be particularly so in less advantaged neighbourhoods, where cultural resources are typically fewer.

Closer to home, research published by the Government of NSW’s arts body, Create NSW has also shown that engagement in arts and culture motivates children and young people to participate more frequently in civic activities, and that cultural spaces encourage people to gather, collaborate and innovate together, promoting community identity and stewardship.

Perhaps most importantly for the culturally, economically and geographically diverse communities that we serve across Australia, this research shows that when art is accessible in the public realm it can play a vital role in reducing social barriers (generational, class-­based, ethnic, religious) in areas that are becoming more diverse or fragmented.

Design begins with culture

Targeted investment in arts and culture has established itself as a staple in the shopping malls and ‘lifestyle centres’ of Asia, which are indispensable to locals as a key place to socialise, meet, eat and relax. This is abundantly evident at Lane 189 in central Shanghai’s Putuo district. Designed by QICRE collaborator UNStudio , the mall has been dubbed a “vertical city centre” and plays host to a steady program of stand-up comedy, live music and art.

In Hong Kong, New World Development’s soon-to-open K11 MUSEA has been designed to anchor the area’s established art and design district. Features will include a rotating “world-class public art collection” as well as a 2,000 sq ft amphitheatre-style event space hosting everything from cultural events to film festivals and live music. While the “museum-mall” concept certainly isn’t new in China, K11 MUSEA will be one of the region’s biggest yet and speaks to the market’s appetite for aesthetically rich, experience-led retail interactions.

At our centres, Melbourne’s Eastland is providing locals with a vibrant mix of public art, cultural events, educational workshops and dining offers from some of the city’s biggest food icons. The centre has hosted Melbourne Food and Wine Festival events and Lunar New Year celebrations , appearances by notable chefs such as David Moyle and Stephanie Alexander , kids’ creative workshops with author and illustrator Beci Orpin, and live in-centre performances by the likes of US YouTube personality Jojo Siwa, the latter attracting around 16,000 spectators .

At Canberra Centre, recent partnerships with landmark local arts festivals have also proven to boost visitation and brand awareness, drawing new audiences and cementing the centre’s reputation as a key venue for arts and culture in the nation’s capital.

Bringing art to all

In 2018, the Canberra Centre partnered with the annual DESIGN Canberra festival, acting as its CBD hub and hosting signature exhibitions and events for the festival. This proved fruitful in raising the centre’s profile, attracting new audiences, and increasing sales by 2.8 per cent during the campaign period. The centre also partnered with Canberra’s Enlighten Festival in 2018, introducing the festival’s innovative light experience to the capital’s CBD for the first time. Customer visitation to the centre during the 2018 event period increased by 6.5 per cent from the same period in 2017. 

Elsewhere in our portfolio, Watergardens is inviting locals to take the stage at talent shows, Robina has welcomed a street art festival and is tempting locals to get lost in immersive ‘trick art’, Noosa Civic offers a dedicated mindfulness sanctuary for women, Westpoint has wowed young and old with jellyfish-themed light shows, and Woodgrove has hosted educational play for kids and interactive art projects.

Several centres have commissioned both high profile and emerging artists to produce in-centre artworks, with highlights including New York-based artist Nick Thomm’s beauty-themed murals at Canberra Centre, David Bromley’s work at Eastland and the evocative Culture Wall at Toowoomba’s Grand Central, which features eight large-scale pieces painted by local women from a range of cultural backgrounds.

These initiatives are all part of our vision to create vibrant and culturally relevant third spaces that provide convenience and life essentials alongside opportunities for connection, belonging and experience.

Find out more about the importance of storytelling through culture in our interview with fashion photographer Margaret Zhang.