RETHINK BATHERS BEACH ART PRECINCT
Fremantle Council made the right decision a few weeks ago about the Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Instead of just handing the DADAA Beach Street building over to Noongar people and see if the centre would work better in a different location from the one it occupied at Arthur Head, Council decided it actually needed to find out first what our local indigenous people want and need.
I believe Council should take the same approach to the Bathers Beach Art Precinct concept because it has not been working as well as it could have.
First Council needs to be very clear if they really believe a tavern at J Shed is appropriate for the arts and heritage precinct, because the WA Planning Commission and State Administrative Tribunal both don’t believe a tavern is the appropriate use for the A-Class reserve.
The arts precinct idea is nice but it lacks an outcome-based concept. All we keep hearing from Council is that they want to activate the area, but that cannot be achieved by packing amateur artists into residential small cottages at Captain’s and Mrs Trivett Lane.
The only truly professional outfit on top of the hill has been the Glen Cowans Photography Gallery, most other attempts have been dismal failures up there.
Arthur Head is already well activated with 135,000 people visiting the Roundhouse annually. That deserves more support and more thought from the City of Fremantle on how it can promote that tourist attraction better, hold more evening events in the historic building and how we can better connect the precinct with Victoria Quay and the Fishing Boat Harbour.
J Shed has been working very well as an arts hub for many years, but professional artists are not performing circus animals and that is where the Bathers Beach Art Precinct fails and the concept is wrong. One cannot expect artists working on sculptures and ceramics to have their doors open to the public daily, as they simply do not have the time to engage with the public and interrupt their public art commissions. Even artists need to make a living!
The new Art in Freo gallery that took over the woodworkers No 4 studio works well and does children activities during school holidays, and holds events and classes, while Jenny Dawson and Greg James in the studios next door most of the time share their spaces with other international and Aboriginal artists.
Sunset Events ‘new’ proposal for the No 1 Studio is not very different at all from the one rejected by two state authorities and Fremantle Council. They have just given it a different name and now the tavern is supposed to be only a family restaurant with a tavern license with strong emphasis on culture and heritage. And pigs do fly.
Fact is that Sunset Events have only taken out the open air concerts part of their proposal and everything else is very much the same as it previously was, and was rejected.
Fact is also that nothing can stop Sunset Events from applying for so-called one-off events, such as large outdoor concerts on the reserve, and we all know that applicants often want to make changes once Council has approved a planning proposal.
So are we supposed to take Sunset Events’ word for it that the family restaurant won’t quickly change into a tavern with concerts when they realise the profit margin for a restaurant is too low for their investment? Yes pigs do fly indeed.
Fremantle Council needs to take the Arthur Head activation plans back to the drawing board, as they did with the Aboriginal Centre, and stop putting the cart before the horse. It needs careful consideration and more support for those who are already there, and much better quality control of who can lease the Pilots Cottages.
Working artists studios will never significantly activate the area, but professional art and craft galleries might. One also has to consider if selling tourism related goods would be a better option for the cottages because the markets in Fremantle are only open on weekends and many visitors to the area often ask for markets.
It is not going to do anyone any good to stubbornly hold on to the arts precinct idea when something else might just work much better.
Above all, let us not forget that Arthur Head is one of the most significant historic precincts in Western Australia, with the Roundhouse the oldest public building in the state.
Back to the drawing board and a think tank with artists, the tourism industry, etc. Freo Council!