Episode 51: Cr Jess Scully

Cr Jess Scully in conversation with Penelope Benton about the importance of having more creative people in politics and in government and how to get involved at a local level.

Portrait of Jess Scully, brown hair and glasses

Cr Jess Scully. Photo by Linda Mateljan, 2018.

Local government is the sort of neglected cousin of government, and so important.

Arts funding, a lot of that comes from local government. It's an astonishing percentage. It's obviously different in every local government area, but also it makes creative spaces and spaces for performance and rehearsal and all of that sort of stuff. That can all often be managed and provided at a local level, but there's also no statutory obligation in New South Wales that I know of for local government to do that. So that means it can fall off the radar, and if a local government is strapped for cash, as many of them are, sometimes it's the first things to go.

If you don't already have a culture in a local government of providing that, or you don't have strong advocates from a political level, it's easy for that to be lost, and I think it's in local communities that you can actually see the benefit of having creative production kept at a local level. So I think sometimes it's easier to make that case locally, but yes, we need advocates.

Jess Scully is passionate about empowering everyone to participate in the life of their city, connecting people with creativity, and preparing communities to take advantage of the opportunities a sustainable and inclusive future could offer us all.

For the past twenty years, Jess has charted a unique career as a leader in the knowledge and creative economy, directing ground-breaking festivals, bringing organisations together to expand access to culture and creativity, enhancing public space to transform people’s experience of Sydney, and supporting the industries of the future. 

From 2009 to 2017 Jess was the founding director of Vivid Ideas, Australia's largest creative industries event, a 23-day event which enlivens the city with talks, workshops, exhibitions and events. Jess has curated creative sector events including Junket, TEDxSydney and Curating Participation. Jess was a founding contributor to the Sydney Culture Network, a city-wide collaboration of cultural institutions coordinated by UNSW Art and Design, launched in late 2017. 

In 2016 Jess was elected as a Councillor for the City of Sydney as part of the Clover Moore Independent Team, where she has focused on several issues she is passionate about: supporting the revitalisation and growth of Sydney’s nighttime ecology, exploring new models to address the housing crisis, nurturing a transition to the workforces and workplaces of the future, and protecting our digital rights in the public realm. In 2019 Jess was elected Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney.

She is committed to opening up local politics to younger and more diverse people, to expand who plays a role in shaping the life of the city. As part of her council duties, Jess is the co-chair of the Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel, chair of the Curatorial Advisory Panel, deputy chair of the Cultural and Community Committee, and member of the Audit Risk and Compliance Committee. 

In the past, Jess has served as an arts policy advisor to the NSW Minister for the Arts, directed the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards and the Creative Cities East Asia project, established 2SER’s so(hot)right(now) weekly arts radio show, curated public art projects, and began her career as editor of creative industries publications including Yen, Empty, SummerWinter and Hotpress.