Jenny Briscoe-Hough was standing at Coledale Markets watching an opera singer, backed by a choir of local singers, perform among stalls of vintage clothes and international food when a little boy turned to her.
"This is the best thing I've ever heard," he said.
For a long-term lover of the region's arts scene, the child's words were music to her ears.
"It was such a joyful moment," she said.
"It didn't just happen because of me or that boy's parents or the choir that formed to sing, it was all of us together as a community. I thought to myself, 'I want to live in that place'."
The idea of bonding people over creativity is the premise of Culture Bank Wollongong, a crowd-funding-based arts project devised in the region, for the region.
The bank's operation is simple - members contribute $10 a month, which is put in a pool and then divvied up between projects pitched by the region's writers, dancers, painters, filmmakers and musicians.
Interested artists have to apply for the money before nine Culture Bank members sit down at a dinner and decide where the funds should be spent.
Members are simply anyone who donates money - the bank does not have a set committee who vote on each proposal but ask different donors to help divide the funds whenever the kitty reaches $5000.
Briscoe-Hough, one of the bank's founding members, said the dinners often included robust discussion, with each member keen to throw in their five cents' worth.
"The dinners are great because they really show that every part of this process is creative," she said.
"The members generally don't agree, but that's okay - it's great to have somebody saying: 'Well I think we should fund this' and other people disagreeing; what is wrong with that kind of discussion?
"It's exciting and interesting - there's always people at the meeting who make sure everyone has their say, but it's a great dilemma to have to fight about where to give the money."
Austinmer performer Mel Wishart has attended one of the bank's dinners - along with an intellectual, an artist, a journalist and other creatives.
"It was such an interesting night because there was this diverse group of people," she said.
"It was such a mixed bag of people who would probably never normally come together. You've got people from all different walks of life who are getting together to talk about how to spend their money. There's people saying: 'I like that idea, no I like that one', it's fantastic".
Though Culture Bank was ultimately born out of a desire to boost the region's arts scene, Briscoe-Hough admits it was also motivated by sheer frustration with arts funding.
Illawarra creatives would often complain about the time-consuming, complex process of applying for grants, devoting hours - and reams of paper - to explaining why they wanted a measly $200.
"Artists spend so much time trying to get small amounts of money," Briscoe-Hough said.
"If you do get the money, you usually can't reapply for it so you have to come up with a new idea each time you want money - the whole process is so complex, so we just wanted to reinvent it.
"We wanted it to be simple and smooth - people want money, we have money to give away; we can't fund everything and we can't fund full projects, but we can support people and that's what counts".
Since its inception in 2013, Culture Bank has helped fund art tours offered by Studio 19, local film screenings, the launch of the Farmer and the Owl's record label and the expansion of the Wollongong Writers Festival.
Money was also given to this year's inaugural Honk! Festival - an event Wishart, who helped organise it, believes demonstrates Culture Bank's ethos.
"Honk! was just awesome," she said.
"It showed that there's room for people in this city to have fun and come together to put on something for the good of the community.
"Wollongong has a huge capacity for these type of events, but people might not know how to put them on or be able to afford it - Culture Bank gives me hope that we will be able to stage more events like Honk!".
Improving the Illawarra's cultural life has also long been a bugbear of Wollongong councillor Ann Martin.
A former arts co-ordinator and cultural planner, Cr Martin has been trying, since she was elected, to get the council to commit $150,000 per year for two years for artistic projects that directly engage the community.
"It's always been a battleground," she said.
"We don't think twice about spending $300,000 on temporary roadworks, but trying to get money allocated to artists' project is hard and it's something the council should be supporting.
"I think it's often easier to put money into other projects where the results are more tangible, but people appreciate that artists and writers and dancers need to work and they give something vital to the community".
Cr Martin has been a staunch advocate - and member - of Culture Bank since it began, believing it not only provides a ready-made audience for performers but also helps them in their fight for funding.
"If artists can show their projects are successful, then it makes them more attractive candidates for local or state government funding; it's a win-win," she said.
"I know how hard it is for artists to get funding - it's a lot of work and when they spend time filling out forms, they're not doing what they're good at.
"Culture Bank is a scheme where people can see - and be involved - in how their money is used, plus it provides artists with an immediate audience; it just means more opportunities and more ideas coming to fruition".
And the bank's work, along with other culture-based initiatives, are being felt in the community.
Wander the streets of Wollongong on a Friday night and you'll easily sense a definite vibe in the CBD - there's live music coming from bars, murals painted on once-bare walls and artists showing in galleries, cafes and shops.
"Anyone who tries to tell me Wollongong hasn't improved in the last two or three years is living under a rock," Cr Martin said.
"The city has a nice little buzz to it now, there's stuff happening and Culture Bank is part of that driving force".
Briscoe-Hough agreed, noting no-one could ignore the cultural shift.
'There are things happening here, the wheel is turning," she said.
"Culture Bank is just a small cog in that wheel - we want a place that's vibrant to live in; we're really about saying 'let's support that, let's be part of that movement.'
"Not everyone is creative, but we can all benefit from a creative community."
But the region's artists can't be the only ones driving - and coughing up the cash - for the change.
Cr Martin believes the business community has a role to play too and has put the call out for Illawarra operators to dig deep and help the Culture Bank reach its goal of 2000 members.
"Business owners go to films and enjoy small bars and live music so they're benefiting from all this," she said.
"If everyone gave a little bit, just imagine what we could afford and what a difference it would make."
For more information on Culture Bank or to join, visit www.culturebankwollongong.org.au.
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