The state of the night-time economy in Sydney has deteriorated since the introduction of the lock-out laws in 2014. This has negatively impacted the creative sector in Sydney, as artists struggle to attract audiences, due to a lack of nightlife in the CBD. Brand X is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to overcome this issue by providing subsidised performance spaces for artists. One such example is their The Flying Nun initiative, which offers fringe performers the opportunity to perform at the East Sydney Community and Arts Centre (ESCAC). The City of Sydney supports this program with space and funding, in the hope that it will stimulate the night-time economy in the surrounding area of Darlinghurst.

Since the introduction of the lockout laws in 2014 (NSW Government 2014), Sydney’s night-time economy has declined, demonstrated by the net loss of 176 venues across the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross (Taylor 2018). The 10% reduction in the number of young people (under 35 years of age) visiting Sydney since 2013 due to a lack of nightlife (City of Sydney 2019a) further demonstrates the impact of these laws on the night-time economy in Sydney. Consequently, analysis has shown that Sydney is potentially missing out on $16 billion a year due to its underdeveloped night-time economy (Wade 2019). These figures present a need to develop strategies to improve Sydney’s night-time economy so that it reaches its full economic potential.

Furthermore, Brand X recognises the lopsided funding available in the creative arts industry, specifically the lack of funding for ‘tier three’ artists. In response to this, they have created a program for fringe artists to develop and test their work (Brand X 2019c). In turn, this program contributes to the creative arts industry in Sydney, due to its promotion of creativity and the crucial experimentation process (Winter 2019). Established in January 2018, The Flying Nun is one of Brand Xs’ current initiatives, offering artists the opportunity to perform at the Eastern Sydney Community and Arts Centre (ESCAC) in Darlinghurst (Brand X 2019c). The location is significant since there is a distinct lack of available performance spaces in the Sydney CBD for fringe artists, which has led to a large number of displaced alternative artists (Winter 2019). Hence, The Flying Nun program solves this problem by providing a space for these artists to explore their craft and test their performances with a proper audience for the first time. In doing so, Brand X creates a platform for the progression of third tier artists in Sydney (Winter 2019).

The survey was conducted over 10-days engaging attendees of 3 performances at The Flying Nun, and received 66 responses. These responses have shown a range of demographic, financial and analysis about those who attend.

The age of attendees was largely varied. The largest age bracket was 47 years or older, which made up over half of all attendees. In comparison, the smallest age bracket, with only 9%, was 25-32. Despite this, the large variance of age shows that The Flying Nun appeals to all ages, which enables a greater impact on the night-time economy of Sydney.

The primary data showed that almost two thirds of respondents lived within a 5km radius of Darlinghurst. This demonstrates that The Flying Nun is having a positive impact on the local residents, providing them another entertainment option on Friday and Saturday nights. While the majority of attendees live in the close vicinity of Darlinghurst, the reach of The Flying Nun is quite far, as one of the attendees had travelled from near Canberra and another from Katoomba. Interestingly, both of these attendees stated that they would not have gone into Sydney that night if not for The Flying Nun. These statements show the wide geographical reach of The Flying Nun.

88% of respondents cited their attendance at The Flying Nun as their primary reason for visiting Darlinghurst, with only 12% of these individuals stating they would have gone out that night regardless. This showcases The Flying Nun’s role in encouraging individuals to go out at night and spend money, rather than staying at home. This also demonstrates that The Flying Nun project is providing benefits to the night-time economy in Darlinghurst, as it gives individuals an incentive to go out by providing a good entertainment option for both locals and visitors to Sydney.

Individuals were also asked where they spent money in the Darlinghurst area that night. Most individuals visited food and beverage venues in the vicinity of ESCAC and Oxford Street. This further demonstrates the benefit of The Flying Nun to these businesses, as it encourages more patrons and spending in the venues surrounding ESCAC, benefitting the small businesses that make up the Darlinghurst night-time economy

The average spend for attendees was $87 per person. This demonstrates the positive impact that attendees are having on the economy in Darlinghurst because on average each attendee is injecting $67 into the night-time economy (minus the $20 ticket to performances). Most of this spending would not have occurred without The Flying Nun since most attendees stated that The Flying Nun was the sole purpose of their visit to Darlinghurst. This data provides an excellent example of the positive multiplier effects on the night-time economy that have been generated by The Flying Nun. It encourages increased spending in local venues before/after the show because people are more likely to go out before/after for a meal and/or rather than just returning straight home. As The Flying Nun currently attracts an average of 52 attendees per show (Winter 2019), the average spending of attendees each night averages almost $3500, demonstrating the positive economic impact of The Flying Nun as it attracts more people to the local night-time businesses surrounding ESCAC.

The survey revealed that 94% of those who attended stated that they are likely to return to Darlinghurst at night. Theatre was cited as one of the main reasons closely followed by bars and restaurants. This implies the indirect effects of people attending The Flying Nun, as they have a tendency to return to Darlinghurst at night, further benefiting the night-time economy. This demonstrates The Flying Nun’s role as a catalyst in encouraging people to return and support the local night-time economy in Darlinghurst.

Almost two thirds of those who responded to the survey have attended The Flying Nun more than once. This demonstrates that attendees enjoy The Flying Nun, since they are returning. It also shows the strong ongoing support that Brand X has from their audience base who in turn are contributing positively to the night-time economy in Darlinghurst on a regular basis as they attend shows.

When asked if they believed whether there was a lack of entertainment venues in the City of Sydney, 85% of survey respondents said yes. This indicates that there is a demand for more entertainment across the City of Sydney, particularly at night. Moreover, it demonstrates the importance of The Flying Nun as it contributes to a more diverse range of entertainment in the City of Sydney. Thus, The Flying Nun is beneficial as it is helping to reinstate Sydney as a vibrant and cultural city.

Furthermore, when asked what type of entertainment venues they would like to see more of, the most common answers were small performance venues for live music and theatre, as well as performance venues and small bars that are open late at night. This indicates a lack of provision of this type of entertainment currently. This highlights the important role of The Flying Nun, as it is helping to meet this demand by providing a venue for small performances. However, it also highlights the need to develop a larger range of venues such as bars and restaurants that can open later in the area to complement The Flying Nun and encourage higher attendance and benefit to the night-time economy.

Based on the evidence provided by the primary data, the report concludes that The Flying Nun has had a positive economic impact on the night-time economy in Darlinghurst. This impact is likely to grow as Brand X generates a larger base of repeat attendees. It is recommended that Brand X should take advantage of the tendency for attendees to return to The Flying Nun by implementing incentives for repeat attendance. These incentives include the introduction of a subscription service to encourage regular attendance with special discounts. It is also recommended that Brand X promote the local night-time economy to attendees by partnering with local businesses to offer specials to its members and attendees. This stimulate more spending in Darlinghurst at night and improve the positive economic impact on the night-time economy.

Report written by Tom Isherwood, Niruban Jeyamohan, Corey Oag, Elizabeth Stone & Sai Vimalanathan (18 October 2019)