Emma Fielden in her PAS studio. Photo Alex Wisser
The highest need identified by artists in the Western Sydney region is for spaces to create artwork, according to Executive Director Arts NSW, Michael Brealey.
In fact, the need is so strong that applications for studio spaces have quadrupled in the past four years at Parramatta Artists Studios (PAS).
PAS was one of the first collaborations in NSW between a Council and the State Government to create studios for artists.
The NSW Government is again helping to meet that demand with $400,000 for a new program to help local artists access facilities in their communities, and encourage partnerships to develop new creative work spaces.
The Western Sydney Making Spaces Initiative is now open to professional artists, arts organisations and businesses to apply for grants of up to $60,000 over two years to make those spaces happen.
Studio space is highly competitive in Parramatta because many artists want to be based in Western Sydney, viewing it as a rich melting-pot of cultural opportunities.
‘We no longer think of Parramatta as “out there”. It’s a place that has good connectivity and incredible growth,’ said PAS Co-ordinator Sophia Kouyoumdjian.
‘The Making Spaces Initiative is about highlighting - and responding to - the need for more production spaces and matching that gap to under-utilised spaces.’
Rosie Dennis from Urban Theatre Projects (UTP) in Bankstown said audiences in Western Sydney were hungry for contemporary stories.
‘There is a really massive audience in Western Sydney that goes to cultural events, but they go to events connected to their own culture or faith. Making Spaces is about thinking how those two worlds can intersect, and having art in public spaces is a great way to start a conversation.’
What is the Making Spaces Initiative?
Empty shops and dead spaces don’t serve anybody well. The Making Spaces Initiative is designed to encourage property owners or managers to offer new or unused spaces for making and programming art works in 2017/18 and 2018/19.
This may include new pop-up venues, artist studios, residencies and rehearsal spaces – essentially spaces outside those currently funded for arts activities.
Its primary goal is to increase the footprint of arts-making and participation in Western Sydney, one that is better matched to the population mass and local aspirations to become an innovation and cultural district.
Brealey said: ‘Artists often lead the way in rethinking new and old spaces and transforming them into innovative work zones. This new program will support locally-driven artist-run initiatives and provide an additional boost to the creative life of Western Sydney.’
Applications are currently open for The Western Sydney Making Spaces Initiative.
The Tribe, Hazem Shammas. Photo: Catherine Cranston The Tribe by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, adapted for stage by Michael Mohammed Ahmad and Janice Muller. An Urban Theatre Projects Production presented at Sydney Festival 2015.
Connecting with communities
Cultural precincts and place-making are now much discussed globally, but keeping these strategies authentic and truly connected to community is one of the challenges of big-picture planning.
Arts NSW’s recent discussion paper Integrating Arts into Innovation Districts promotes the value of incorporating arts and culture into the early planning and construction phases of urban regeneration projects, particularly burgeoning innovation hubs and districts that offer great cross-over potential.
It highlights a number of best practice case studies nationally and internationally for arts-led place-making, that tick the box of both authenticity and economic stimulation. Arts NSW is working closely with UrbanGrowth NSW to ensure those methodologies are rolled out for the White Bay Power Station Project in Rozelle, which is currently on the drawing board.
Dennis said: ‘I think it is definitely a buzzword around local councils, but UTP has been doing work around place-making for years. Essentially, it is about the process of making the artistic process transparent.’
A game-changer for UTP was its program Bankstown Live, which has staged productions in the front and back gardens of locals’ homes over the past four years.
One highlight was The Tribe based on a novel by local writer Michael Mohammed Ahmad and which premiered in 176 backyards in 2015. It was bought to Surry Hills the following year in partnership with Belvoir, and will tour to Victoria this March, presented by Castlemaine Festival and The Substation, Newport.
‘That work is completely about this place - Lakemba, Belmore, South Western Sydney,’ said Dennis. ‘The driver was to debunk this idea that contemporary practice is somehow elite or not accessible, by putting artists in residence in really open spaces and to show that making process.’
Most recently, UTP completed Home Country for the 2017 Sydney Festival in collaboration with Blacktown City Council and Blacktown Arts Centre, which activated several levels of an urban parking station.
’You could see out to the city and to the base of the mountains – if anything, that is place-making! People came to Blacktown for the first time to see that work,’ said Dennis.
Integral to the project was eating – everyone had to come together at interval and eat. ‘The car park turned into a pop-up restaurant feeding 200 people a night. It was an experience of generosity – of cultural generosity.’
Dennis was also behind the MINTO: Live Project (2010) that activated a struggling shopping mall in Campbelltown by working with management to embed contemporary artists in vacant shops.
‘Do you want to come and be in residence in a garden, a backyard, a post office or café? It is not every artist’s cup of tea but increasingly we are finding artists respond to that challenge,’ said Dennis.
‘While it is good to have ideas and bring people into those spaces, you also have to respond to those people and remain open and see what might evolve and emerge, and then what you are doing will really be connected to that place.’
In the same vein, Arts NSW is encouraging applications from artists, as well as property owners, businesses and community organisations, said Brealey.
The Making Spaces Initiative gives the opportunity and the finances to bridge those gaps and to start to build capacity for deeper, cross-community engagement through culture.
Challenges of making space
Kouyoumdjian said that for place-making to work, the role that artists play, and the connection they have with the city, has to be a very strategic decision. The opportunities for creative engagement can be overwhelming. ‘I have to constantly remind myself that our core activity is the studios and the artists. The challenge is that Parramatta is essentially a CBD – a landscape of typical office spaces not typical artists’ spaces. Our success has been in making that work for artists.
‘We have a very professional-looking space but it has all the practical requirements of good lighting and services that an artist might need,’ she said. ‘Being right in the city has heightened the level of professionalism of artists.’
PAS has 13 studios offered through a tenancy program (run via annual application) and another studio for national and international residencies. PAS also runs a professional development program attracting visiting curators and collectors, alongside more community-based projects through the residencies, such as the Parramatta Lanes Festival and Parramasala, to ensure that contemporary art has a place in these broader festivals and city events.
Whether in CBD office blocks, malls, laneways, carparks or shop fronts, it is simply about bringing people together to create cultural vibrancy and identity. There are no rules or recipes – success is about being genuine and making spaces work for you.
How to apply
To apply for the Western Sydney Making Spaces Initiative, you must submit a completed online application form before 5pm on Monday, 6 March 2017.
Projects must commence on or after 1 July 2017, but can run until 30 June 2019.
For more details review the Western Sydney Making Spaces Initiative Guidelines.
Increasing arts and cultural opportunities in Western Sydney and regional NSW is a key part of the Government’s Create in NSW 10-year policy framework. Other initiatives include the Western Sydney Arts Fellowships and the Western Sydney Live and Local music festival program.