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September 14, 2023

Whatever happened to… Thinkers in Residence?

As the 10th anniversary edition of CityMag hits the streets today, co-founder and now creative director at kwpx, Josh Fanning, contemplates what's changed in postcode 5000 since the magazine began.

  • Words by Josh Fanning

Whatever happened to the Thinkers in Residence program?

Whatever happened to the Integrated Design Commission?

Whatever happened to Tim Horton?… the Integrated Design Commissioner, not the Canadian donut and coffee chain.

I don’t know, but things have changed.


Thinker in Residence Rosanne Haggerty, from New York, advised the government on how better to tackle rough sleeping homelessness. Her “Common Ground” program involved the multimillion-dollar construction of specialist inner-city apartments in Adelaide. Common Ground has now been adopted in other states.

Adelaide changed quite a lot because of, or at least around the time of, the aforementioned.

Thinkers in Residence was a weird concept for government. A roster of brilliant people (with a track record of changing cities for the better) were brought from all over the globe to live and work in Adelaide. They came to Adelaide to think about how their ideas could be applied here. After a couple of visits they handed the government their recommendations. And then the government (more or less) enacted them.

Anyone familiar with the machine that is government will appreciate just how incredible (or weird) that last part was.

The government asked for advice. And then took it. And things improved.

I believe the thinkers program is now shuttered. Maybe? I don’t research these articles.

All good things must come to an end. And tempting as it is to have a good old Adelaide whinge about that fact, I was instead reminded this week of the Doers in Residence who remain.

I saw Joe Hay last night at the programme launch for Adelaide Film Festival (speaking of doers — congrats to Mat Kesting and team!).

Joe currently heads up the UNESCO City of Music thing. But more than any job title, Joe is a guy who makes things happen. You literally point him at a problem and he will run full pelt at it until he breaks through. Or, sometimes, it breaks him.

Joe might have almost (maybe not) been described as a bureaucrat at one stage. He brought then-Premier Mike Rann to Ebenezer Place (back before Hey Jupiter) and toured him through the backstreets in and out of the studios and startups that were forming an emergent “creative economy”.

Joe connected the owners of Udaberri with then-Premier Jay Weatherill and then-AG John Rau who both took a keen interest in liquor licensing reform.

Joe connected Ianto Ware and a fledgling concept called Renew Adelaide with people who genuinely wanted to renew… Adelaide.

None of this was really Joe’s job. He just did it because he thought it would make a difference.

Joe does more or less the same for musicians in his new role: makes connections, finds keys to doors everyone else assumes are locked. And if he can’t find the keys, he picks the lock.

Adelaide has many Joe Hays. People you’ve never heard of. People who turn up for big ideas and people other than themselves. People who give more than they’ve got. People who invest in the city with the only return being hope… for the future.

When introducing Joe to Hugo Weaving at the Film Festival last night, I said, “Joe is the guy who laid down his cloak so we could get across the mud.”

Hugo said, “Sir Walter Raleigh!”

Joe said, “no, no, no” with real humility.

And he’s right. Joe’s not gallant. Joe is punk. Joe just wants to get shit done.

Cheers Joe.

(ed note: read Joe’s opinion piece in the print edition of CityMag out today)

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