Tag Archives: Collingwood Arts Precinct

Art Precincts

“A media release is not a creative precinct,” said the Minister for creative industries, Martin Foley, when he announced plans to spend millions to create the Collingwood Art Precinct centred around the refurbished old Collingwood TAFE building. Arts precincts are a popular idea in urban planning. But is there anything more to a precinct than an official artwash announcement designating an area of a city and repurposing old buildings into studios or performance spaces? How sustainable are arts precincts? And what is their impact on grassroots creative precincts?

Keith Haring mural at the Collingwood arts precinct

In the past local city councils often ambitiously declared an area “an arts precinct” and hoped for the best. The City of Yarra once proclaimed the “Smith St art precinct” on one side of a block with one art gallery, a couple of designers and a community radio station.

If we were to count the Collingwood Art Precinct, then Melbourne currently has several arts precincts, the main one in Southbank centred around the NGV, State Theatre, Concert Hall, ACCA, Buxton Contemporary. Melbourne also has a Sports and Entertainment Precinct around the Tennis Centre and MCG. And there is the Brunswick Design Precinct with the TAFE design faculty and Siteworks in a converted old school building and heritage house. These different precincts raise the distinction between the arts, entertainment and design in the collective consciousness as reflected by city planners and politicians and built into the city’s structure.

The Southbank arts precinct has changed from swampland to an area for popular entertainment. Wirth’s Circus and others used to pitch their tents where the Arts Centre now stands. It was a decaying area of warehouses in the 1980s; the old police horse stables are now part of the College of the Arts, and a brewery has become the Malthouse Theatre.

Southbank only has training facilities and high-end exhibition and concert halls, cutting out the mid-level entirely. There is very little street art, no artist-run spaces, and no commercial galleries. It is a high-end attraction for the urban tourist, full of institutions exhibiting highly finished art and expensive cafes beyond the budget of the arts and music students who study there and must walk twenty minutes to find an affordable place to eat.

Performance artists in ACCA forecourt 2016

Compare this to grassroots locations that spontaneously emerge in the inner city. One such area is around the Brunswick Tram Depot, between Moreland Road and Albion Street. It did not occur due to media releases but available and affordable space. It is light industrial on the edge of inner-city suburbs with lots of warehouse space, some of which have been converted into artist studios and a gallery. Neon Park is the kind of high-end commercial gallery with a stall at the Melbourne International Art Fair. There is no public space, and the closest thing to a park is a planter box. Still, it does have bluestone laneways that are regularly covered in fresh graffiti. And there is live music and cheap cocktails at Red Betty’s in Houdini Lane.

In spooky synchronicity, an artist working in that area sends me this SMS message as I write this. “You should get really topical and investigate how the local council funding of studios in Moreland, such as Schoolhouse and Pentridge, have adversely impacted the homegrown grassroots economies of all the independent studios in the region.”

So much for the guff from the Minister for creative industries. The point of arts precincts does seem to be the media opportunity for the politician. Generally to announce funding to convert the old building (or build new ones) rather than to support the arts where it already exists.


Intermission @ Collingwood Technical College

Intermission at the old Collingwood Technical College is three floors of an unoccupied school turned into a space for over thirty street artists to paint and install art in. Curated by Goodie the exhibition is a curious mix between contemporary art and the aesthetics of an abandoned building with the tags.

Sofles

It is a huge space and many of Melbourne’s notable street artists had pieces or often whole rooms to work with. It was good to see Astral Nadir working on a large scale. To see LucyLucy again on a large scale without the rest of the AWOL crew. And old faces like those of Mic Porter who was active a decade ago is back.

It had been raining for most Saturday afternoon but that didn’t put the public off. As only 200 people were allowed on the upper floors at a time and the public was queueing up out the building only an hour after it opened. After all this was great free entertainment: on the ground floor there were bands, DJs, VR movies and cans of Young Henry’s beer and cider being handed out. Fortunately it is not a one day only event and Intermission runs until 21 January.

In some ways it was a bit like Melbourne Open House for the old building. The art deco building has been left abandoned for 12 years – what a waste of space! The two bedroom caretaker’s flat on the top floor was a revelation. The event is an intermission as the Collingwood Technical College is about to be turned into the Collingwood Arts Precinct; Circus Oz and the Melba Spiegeltent are already out the back.

The exhibition was better than a whole stack of pieces painted on the walls inside a building as there were artists who had site specific work. Site specific is more than just placing their work in relation to the architecture but creating work that directly referred to the space. Heesco captured the feel of street artists painting in an abandoned building in his combination of installation and wall painting. 23rd Key referred to the location in a mural that mixed the face of Keith Haring with the Apollo Belevadere in tribute to Haring’s surviving and restored mural on outside wall of the Collingwood Technical College.

The inside and outside of a building might raise ontological issues between the words ‘street art’ and ‘urban contemporary art’ but I’m going to call it all street art rather than creating a useless lexicon and pretending that art and artists are always classified in a logical and accurate manner. After all abandoned building are a traditional site for graff and street artists to paint. As street art it was impressive and fun but it was weak as contemporary art. Sometimes it felt like a funky installation at an art squat in Paris or Berlin while at other times just another great Melbourne wall.

 


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