Freo's View

FAILED FREMANTLE ART PRECINCT

Posted in city of fremantle, fremantle by freoview on October 8, 2014

Round House 1

 

 

The Fremantle BATHERS BEACH ART PRECINCT  is one-year-old and has failed to do what it set out to do; activate the area. That only comes as a surprise to those naïve Councillors who came up with the flawed concept that artist studios would be huge attractors to the Freo community and tourists. They were never going to be and the small residential heritage Pilot’s Cottages were never going to attract top W.A. artists, simply because they are unsuitable and too dark for studios and too small for serious art galleries.

The BBAC is also always flawed because it tries to incorporate three significantly different areas. There is the top of Arthur Head at Captain’s Lane, the J Shed down at Bathers Beach, and Kidogo Arthouse at the Old Port Project. The historic significance of the area was ignored because some young Councillors decided it would be perfect for an arts precinct. It never was and never will be.

The only business that has worked up at Captain’s Lane is the Glen Cowans Photography Gallery, and one only has to walk in to see why. The place just oozes professionalism and class. This is as good a gallery as one can get in a tiny cottage, with great displays, furniture and outstanding photos, all printed and framed to very high quality. Wander next door though to the Wild Twig artist collective and one is in a different world. Yes, they try hard but they lack the style and class the Cowans gallery has.

Next door to that Mutima tried very hard and had a lovely gallery but their concept was bewildering because they also sold clothes. But at least they did have music and movie events that actually attracted new people to the area.

The Aboriginal Cultural Centre is also struggling to attract sufficient visitors’ numbers to warrant existence and I am not surprised about that. It was always just Wadjela-white people- patronising tokenism to put something as significant as our City’s indigenous centre in a shitty little residential cottage that formerly was the office of the harbour pilots. Our Nyoongar brothers and sisters deserve something much better and more prominent, in a better inner city location, and I feel sorry for the delightful Brendan Moore who is trying to make the Centre a success.

It shows how serious the City of Fremantle is about our Aboriginal Centre that the yearly funding for it is less than the money spent on the once a year four-hour Wardarnji Festival. Appalling!

J Shed at Bathers Beach has housed successful professional artists for over twenty years, so why was there suddenly the eagerness that sculptor Greg James and his artists in residence, and ceramic artist Jenny Dawson and her collaborating artists had to become performers, open to the public? These are professional business people who work throughout the year on public and private art projects worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that was not good enough for those who don’t understand the arts industry.

The main attractor at Arthur Head is the Round House, our State’s oldest public building. More than 110,000 people come through the door there every year.

It is kept open by less than 40 Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides, who have an office, lunchroom, kitchen and toilet in a small cottage at Mrs Trivett Lane. These mainly elderly volunteers open the Round House-hail or shine-363 days of the year from 10.30 to 3.30 and fire the cannon at 1 pm, but that is not good enough for the COF officers who have told them that to get a new lease on the cottage they will have to share it and one of the rooms of the cottage needs to be activated and opened to the public. Why?!

Before the Bathers Beach Art Precinct started there was 24/7 activation of the area. The Harbour pilots did their day and night shifts, the Crookes family kids brought friends home from Lance Holt school to play on the grass, the family had friends over and barbeques and engaged with passing tourists. Many overseas visitors were introduced by the kids to our local bush tucker when the lilly pilly were in abundance.

The Fremantle Society held their meetings, let other organizations use the cottage, created heritage festival events at Arthur Head, community Boche nights, Australia Day fireworks BBQ, etc. and I lived there as the care-taker, but they, like the Crookes family and Fremantle Port Pilots, were not good enough for the City of Fremantle. The area needed to be reactivated with artists studios, and what a flawed concept that is.

Where are the activation events of BBAP? Where is the art market, why is Wardarnji not held up there but at the Fremantle Arts Centre, why are the community Boche nights in collaboration with FICRA not re-introduced?

Instead of activation of the area we now have a nightly ghost town up there that attracts anti-social behaviour. Most cottages are only open from 11-5 Thursday to Sunday, the Aboriginal Centre is not open on weekends, and on weekdays only from 9am to noon. On the long Queens Birthday weekend only the highly professional Glen Cowans Photo Gallery was open on the Monday, and of course the Round House.

Activation does not happen, it has to be inspired and organised and real money has to be spent by the City of Fremantle to make it work. Why not have a pop-up bar one evening a week as they do in Lemon Lane in Claremont, for example.

The one summer event that really and highly activates the area is the Saturday Bathers Beach Sunset Food Markets. It attracts many thousands of people who are all loving it, and it is of course a private enterprise because at Freo Council they wait and see and do the same old, same old festivals each and every year, and none of these festivals embrace the west end of town with any significance.

I love art and I have been advocating for an indigenous centre in Freo for many years, but unfortunately the Bathers Beach Art Precinct is another one of Council’s  flawed ideas. And now the new silly idea is to put a live music venue and micro-brewery at J Shed. Yep, let’s ignore the heritage significance, yep, let’s ignore it is an art precinct, let’s now try an entertainment precinct instead. Do you have any more bright ideas, Freo-thought bubble-Council?

Roel Loopers

Disclosure: I am a volunteer guide at the Round House and also involved in the Bathers Beach Sunset Food Markets.

19 Responses

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  1. freoview said, on October 12, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Yes the concept was alright Freddy, but the branding was not as most people entering would not see or know the fair trade aspect, so hence we see what should be an art gallery, after all it is an art precinct, selling clothes and imported baskets.
    I supported Mutima from the very beginning although I found the concept flawed. Your events were good and that might have become the focus for your space; movies, music, etc.

    My criticism is with the City of Fremantle who did not support you and the others who are now there. Their lack of promotion and focus is very disappointing and why did they charge you so much rent when according to Councillor Sullivan it will be decades until the art precinct is a successful reality.

    Roel

  2. Freddy said, on October 11, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Hey Roel,

    I am a bit disappointed in reading that you called our Mutima concept bewildering.
    Because we sold clothes? Did you miss the Fair Trade aspect, baskets from West Africa, handmade crafts from India and sustainable clothing that we promoted as well?
    We had 5 successful exhibitions there and the only reason we did not succeed there was the overpriced rent.
    Just to say that Glen Cowans rent is a whole lot less than ours was or did you forget that?
    Did you also forget that we were planning a small coffee shop but choose not to do so we because found out that the council initially wanted on a short term.
    Just a shame to hear that you forgot what we were about.
    Thanks

  3. Cr Josh Wilson, Deputy Mayor said, on October 9, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Paul,

    I love your sheep maternity metaphor – but it just doesn’t pass muster in this case. The Arthur Head precinct wasn’t “de-activated” … in fact as everyone acknowledges, it wasn’t fabulously active in the first place, and the important activity that is provided through its attraction as a major heritage/historical site and the presence of arts/culture practitioners like Glen Cowans, Greg James, Jenny Dawson has of course continued throughout this process.

    It’s nonsensical to say that Council shouldn’t be surprised about a “vacant art precinct” when Arthur Head is fully tenanted.

    As I have pointed out above, arts & cultural production and enjoyment is the first priority of the hub, and getting greater activation is really about ensuring that more people are drawn to enjoy the arts & culture and to travelling through Freo en route to that beautiful limestone knuckle.

    The tenancy changes have occurred over a period of time and the addition of the Aboriginal Cultural Centre and other arts/culture practices will continue to deliver new activity … as will the ongoing development of things like Kidogo, Sunset Markets, J-Shed music venue, Vic Quay. There’s no lack of focus on building the vibrancy of the hub as soon as possible (though this is a shared task and not the City’s responsibility alone), and there is no lack of interest in, or sympathy with, the welfare of the tenants (though it’s not for the City to guarantee the success of artists or businesses who choose to apply for a tenancy at Arthur Head).

    Josh

  4. Diana Ryan said, on October 9, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Excellent comment.

  5. freoishome said, on October 9, 2014 at 8:59 am

    It seems that the process of change hasn’t been either well thought through of not implemented very well. Recognising and planning for a gestation period is critical. If it is a flock of sheep, then they all get pregnant within a few days, all give birth within a few days of each other, but that isn’t the way mankind does it, we don’t want our maternity wards to have to cater for everyone giving birth in just one week pa. But it seems that the CoF has a vision based on the mankind model, ie gradual change over a long period, but has implemented as if it is the flock of sheep. Eg, as of date X everyone needs to vacate all the premises, all the contracts need to be reviewed replaced, than a new dawn begins! But the new dawn hasn’t happened. So the area was de-activated on mass, but the reactivation hasn’t occurred in what seems like a generous time of 12 months, and now we are told it wasn’t envisaged that way, and hence isn’t likely to happen. So just like the vacate shops that Brad talks about on his blog, where the first vacating shops leads to others following, why should the Council be surprised that the vacant art precinct looks like it is dying from the same disease?

    The prisoners cottages, much same. Deactivate the whole lot, then do nothing much! It impacts the whole feeling of the Henderson St market area!

  6. freoview said, on October 9, 2014 at 4:01 am

    I agree Jayne that whatever business occupies Arthur Head buildings need to realise that being part of the art precinct does not mean all the promotion and advertising is done by the City of Fremantle and that of course they need to do a business plan, market research and have funds to sustain a new business for the first year or so without maybe making profit. But when a City creates ceratin hbs to activate an area it also has the responsibility to make them work, promote them and support them through combined activity. Of course the arts businesses should also collabprate. There is no reason for example why an art market needs to be organised by the City. It could be done by the art precinct itself.
    It is however the City’s duty to put good way-finding signs around the city and that has not happened. There are no indications at the railway station that there is an art precincts when you walk to the right, and neither are there signs at Victoria Quay, the Esplanade, Fishing Boat Harbour. The first signs start at Bathers Beach near Sweetlips and then small round stencils on the path, and a large signs is below the Round House when one is already at the location. But there are no others along High Street.

    The City puts signs and large stencils along Marine Terrace to point out the obvious; that cars share the road with bicycles, but does not point out the less obvious of an art precinct and a gorgeous inner city beach. Why?

    Roel

  7. Jayne said, on October 8, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    I actually found Roel’s post and Josh’s comment to both be interesting and informative so thank you. The whole area could easily be improved with plain and simple directional signage (here I go again about bloody signs). This would surely enhance the experience for visitors and assist galleries in increasing pedestrian traffic. But I don’t understand Roel why you believe the Council has any responsibilty for generating income for these artists, or any others frankly. Artists may not like to address operational issues and marketing but neither do many other creatives, retailers and service providers. Nevertheless, people who run a business and want customers must take the time, money and effort to communicate with their markets regularly and provide desirable products – or risk failure. Instead of blaming others, it might be time to look within and ask what is being done by the artists to generate interest and income (if that is their aim).

  8. Lionel said, on October 8, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    ‘Arrogance or ignorance’ should be the new City motto!

  9. freoview said, on October 8, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    My main concern here are the artists. I have no personal involvement in Arthur Head but as a photographer who has exhibited, curated and was a partner in an art gallery, I know how hard it is to make a living out of art. To say they just have to cop it and stick it out for a few decades till the Bathers Beach Art Precinct hits its straps is either arrogance or ignorance. If the City of Fremantle is serious of making the BBAP work they should subsidise good professional artist to move there so that it will start to get a reputation and a must do on the bucket list. Or is this just the old attitude that good artists have to suffer financially because that is what artists have been doing for decades.
    The artists up there need and deserve more support. The City is not a business and on so many occasions we hear that they do not have to make a profit. Support BBAP seriously if you are serious about it!

    Roel

  10. Diana Ryan said, on October 8, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Not one of your better responses, Josh, in fact its downright bureaucratic, a public servant’s response to an area being administered by a bureaucracy staffed by persons whose welfare will not be affected either way, I should imagine, by how long it takes for a plan’s envisaged outcome to eventuate.

  11. freoview said, on October 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    I agree that my remark about age was inappropriate Josh and happy to apologise for that to 42 year-old oldies like you. I do have an issue though with Andrew Sullivan saying this is a project that will take decades. Did anyone tell the artists that before they signed a lease. Did Mutima know they just had to stick it out for 5-10 years without making a profit or earning enough money to pay the rent, do the Wild Twig artists know and David Giles who has just moved in?

    The Aboriginal Centre does not pay rent, is not supposed to make a profit, and is run by City officers.

    I also disagree that it has to take years to set up a weekly art market there, do events especially during the summer months, etc. The City is happy to use consultants for about everything else, so why not ask market operators like Georgie Adeane, Growers Green, Kylie Wheatley, etc. to come up with plans for markets up and near Arthur Head, that way the over-worked officers of the City don’t have to stress about it.

    Roel

  12. Cr Josh Wilson, Deputy Mayor said, on October 8, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Roel,

    I know this is an area and an issue that means a great deal to you, and that it’s a precinct in which you have been strongly involved in for a considerable time. But to be fair, it’s also an issue where you have often been inclined to see the worst at the earliest opportunity. Surely it’s unreasonable to judge the precinct (and especially the ACC) as a failure after such a short period of time?

    You are also judging the precinct and the strategy on criteria that Council has not set for Arthur Head. The primary purpose was not activation everywhere, all the time … but rather to provide more space in the City for artists and for arts & culture uses, and to establish a structured, clear and equitable basis for the tenancies in relation to a whole set of buildings that over time had come to be allocated, occupied and rented in an extremely un-focused and inconsistent manner (and, for that matter, with virtually no process or community consultation, either within or outside the precinct).

    The Cultural Development Working Group which included a number of significant and experienced Freo arts people, and only two ‘naive’ Councillors (myself and Tim Grey-Smith), did not believe or expect that artists at Arthur Head would be “huge attractors”, but rather saw the potential in making the precinct dedicated to arts & culture, with better management of the tenancies and tenancy mix, greater investment in the public realm, and the addition of at least some activation/attraction (at one end of J-Shed).

    It’s wrong to say that the heritage of the area has been ignored. For one thing, the creation of the ACC and its location at that special part of Fremantle is deeply respectful of the place’s heritage. And I am disappointed to see again your narky reference to ‘young’ Councillors. I’m happy to be regarded as young (at 42!), but if you really think that my judgement is ‘flawed’ on the basis of my age, that’s a sad perspective … and as I have said before, how would people respond if a person’s ability to make judgements was sneered at on the basis that they were old?

    Activation of the precinct is an objective we continue to work towards as a City/Council and, I hope, as a community, but not to the extent that artists should be expected to compromise their practice in order to be ‘performers’, and certainly not beyond the extent to which this is in the natural range of their activities, interests, arts/business needs. The City has included criteria in the licensing guidelines that help staff consider artists and arts uses that do have a public-access/activation component in recognition that Arthur Head does have a greater degree of accessibility and public prominence than other tucked-away studios (e.g. those in Old Customs House). As you know, existing artists like Greg James and Glen Cowans have always had an open and interactive aspect to their operations.

    The Sunset Markets, which Council has supported and facilitated, and Kidogo, and the future J-Shed music venue, and maybe one of Mr Barnett’s shark nets, and even the development of Victoria Quay, are all likely to play a role in increasing the future activation and vibrancy in the precinct. But it will be an evolving picture over the time ahead, and to say it has already failed and that it will never work seems a very hasty judgement.

    Josh

  13. Kel said, on October 8, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I agree with you Roel.

    Andrew its the visions and lack of it that is the problem.

    These visions appear to be coming from only a few people.

    To use your terminology:

    The Arthurs Head “seed” had already grown into a “Family Tree” as noted in the comments by Roel above Andrew. It was a” healthy “Tree!

    All that was needed was a little “vision” and “fertiliser” and “maintenance” by the City of Fremantle and its elected members to establish a beautiful Park in front of “J” Shed to reactivate the area and connect it to Bathers Beach and the Round House and cottages.

    Maybe that “Public lift” from behind “J” Shed to the top of Arthurs Head which you have part designed could have been incorporated in that vision also Andrew?

    I think your “glysophate” (otherwise known as weed killer Roundup) was used (dare I say it) by the greenies about a year ago to kill of the family tree!

    The controversial Sunset Events “J” Shed DA/lease as passed by Council many months ago has not been forwarded to the WAPC for approval which under normal circumstances happens within 7 days of Council Resolution.

    I was advised this by a City officer recently that Sunset Events were still “negotiating” with the City.

    Sunset Events have since obtained a 21 year lease on the old Fly by Night Drill Hall from the National Trust.

    Is there a possibility that the controversial Sunset Events “J” Shed proposal may not go ahead Andrew? You seem to have your finger on the pulse.

    Bathers Beach House is looking good!

  14. freoview said, on October 8, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    are you really as stupid as you sound when you make comments on this blog, Pete?

    If you would actually read my articles about parking, most of it is about what I call “perceived parking problems” but you might not be intelligent enough to differentiate.

    Roel

  15. freoview said, on October 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Yes, and like the retailers in the CBD none of the art businesses can wait that long and will close down well before the City has implemented all the things you claim you will be doing. As so often is the case at COF it is putting the cart before the horse.

    Roel

  16. Andrew Sullivan said, on October 8, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Its like giving up on a one year old baby!!

    In any case, while all the buildings are now leased, there is still a lot more to come, more physical work, more ephemeral activity, more and varied land uses etc etc. None of the areas in the vicinity were over night success stories and no one imagined the Arts Hub would be any different. Indeed, those involved in establishing the vision clearly recognised it would take some considerable time and by that I mean in the half and whole decades!

    One of the really obvious issues for the Arts Hub is that despite its great potential as one the key attractions on a continuous and connected route linking all of our waterfronts and city centre, it is currently still quite physically isolated despite being visually at the end of our number one street. This can only be overcome as areas around it, including the west end of Victoria Quay, are improved over time – and I mean over a long time!!!

    Its a seed thats germinated – water it, nurture it, don’t glysophate it!

  17. Pete said, on October 8, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Turn it into a carpark. Would solve parking problems you’re always banging on about?

  18. freoview said, on October 8, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Bulldoze our most significant heritage area, Pete?

    Roel

  19. Pete said, on October 8, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Bulldoze it.


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