María José Sanchez-Varela Barajas - Philosopher, dancer, entrepreneur


María José Sanchez-Varela Barajas is a Mexican philosopher, dancer and entrepreneur. She’s the co-founder of Art Thinking - a collaboration of media art, technology and innovation

Maria moved to Newcastle from Mexico in 2021. The Landing Pad’s ‘maker’s space’ has been the epicentre of some of her projects and collaborations.

“I was surprised at how many creative people there are here - having this space - the Landing Pad in I2N is a place to make new friends with people who care more about innovation than just jobs. We can collaborate on projects here. There's an opportunity here for collective thinking.”

Like a lot of newcomers, Maria values the innovation hub’s ready-made community and supportive network.

“If you move from another country and you put everything into a city, you need support. After a year I can say it has been worth the risk because we have the right environment and encouragement.”

Among Art Thinking’s numerous projects is the Future Innovators Summit 2022 (FIS) which was held in September and brought together young minds aged between 4 to 19 from all over the Hunter, for a round-table discussion on the future of work, cities, learning and humanity. The young innovators will present their ideas to local-decision makers, making them part of the community of changemakers for a better Newcastle.

“The Future Innovators Summit is not just a think-tank but a ‘do-tank’ for social innovation. The program focuses on young voices - because who is more qualified to discuss the future, than those who will be living it?”

Maria and her team hope to make FIS an annual event to develop young people’s ideas so they’ll become the next generation of mentors.

Coming originally from the crowded Mexican city of Guadalajara with six million inhabitants, Maria also appreciates the way she can move around Newcastle so much more easily.

“In Newcastle you can move quickly - you can swim at the beach in the morning and then ride your bike to a meeting or the maker’s space. It’s very liveable. Newcastle has that mix of beach and bushland plus this innovation hub. It has helped create a healthy ecosystem.”

With more projects in the pipeline, Maria is excited about the future of her own work and new home.

“I am ready to give - I am not afraid of collaboration. I want to make a difference. I can do that here. It motivates me every day to know I have something to contribute to society and that I can share my culture and continue learning about this incredible city.”

We are inviting you to join our innovation community in Newcastle, for free!

We are offering domestic and international innovators a three-month free membership at the Landing Pad, until June 2023.

The membership includes hot desk passes and/or a two person office space with access to the maker space, seminar and event spaces, various software platforms such as Adobe and Office 365, commercial business address and more. Explore facilities and membership options here.