FRESH EYES: Artist Ellie Kaufmann and Cooks Hill Galleries director Mark Widdup with some of the work in the We Get By show as Widdup prepares the hanging. Picture: Jonathan CarrollTO survive in a tough business environment, it takes good ideas and execution.
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It’s doubly hard in the arts, but Newcastle is giving it a good shot.

Not only have new commercial galleries been opening their doors, but the long-established Cooks Hill Galleries has freshened its approach.

Cooks Hill Galleries director Mark Widdup, who has been in business in Newcastle for 40 years, is reaching out to a new audience with his second presentation of We Get By, an invitational show featuring 50 emerging Australian artists that opened Friday night.

The call-out drew more than 240 entries from throughout Australia, with finalists including artists from Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria – as well as a significant number of Hunter Region artists.

The Varley Group provided $4000 in prizemoney.

Largely driven through the gallery’s Facebook site (where the people’s choice votes will be tallied), We Get By is a conversation starter about a new generation of artists. The Facebook site has registered more than 550,000 visitors on the We Get By posting as of Tuesday.

“The benefit is the spin-off and energy that comes to Newcastle,” Widdup says. “It is putting Newcastle on an arts culture map.”

All artwork in the show is for sale, with prices starting from $200.

In conjunction with the show, Widdup has secured the rights to present the Before I Die public art project.

Created by United States artist Candy Chang, the concept involves a public wall (12 metres long across the frontage of Cooks Hill Galleries) where members of the public are invited to (anonymously if they wish) write their personal aspirations down in coloured chalk for all the world to see.

“We want We Get By to be fun and exciting,” Widdup says.

“Before I Die is a first for Newcastle. We want to engage an audience and get a response.”

Widdup says he can feel the arts market is ready for a change, with collectors keen to refresh their collections and support new work.