News & Reviews
The Sydney Morning Herald; Contemporary arts precinct planned for Collingwood Technical School site
1st November 2014
The Victorian government is to create a contemporary arts precinct in the inner north, Fairfax Media can reveal.
The former Collingwood Technical School site on Johnston Street, already home to Circus Oz and the Melba Spiegeltent, will be transformed into a creative hub for artist studios, galleries and public spaces for exhibitions, performances and events.
Minister for the Arts Heidi Victoria said the government had kick-started the project, which has been in development for several years, with $4 million. Further funding has been pledged by philanthropist couple Daniel and Danielle Besen, with others in that sector expected to embrace the project.
As she led Fairfax Media on an exclusive tour of the site, derelict since its closure in 2005, Ms Victoria described being able to reveal the government's plans as "one of the most exciting days for me as Arts Minister".
"I've been wanting to talk about it for years," she said.
She said the precinct, whose permanent tenants are yet to be finalised, would alleviate pressure on arts organisations increasingly driven out of the city and inner suburbs by rising rents.
"This project will provide a secure space where small-to-medium arts organisations can have security of tenure. As a government we did the revitalisation here for the new home for Circus Oz; this completes the dream of having a wonderful incubator, where artists can cross-collaborate."
The site opened as the Collingwood School of Design and School of Art in 1871, before becoming home to the Collingwood Technical School in 1912. The parts to be redeveloped include three buildings with a total space of about 5000 square metres, and a central courtyard.
The empty classrooms, many of them large open spaces where trades such as plumbing were taught, lend themselves perfectly to studio and exhibition spaces.
The hub will be managed under a social enterprise-style model, inspired by a Canada's ArtScape in Toronto, which would operate the site independently of the government. New charity Contemporary Arts Precincts Ltd has been set up to drive the redevelopment.
Building works will begin this month and the precinct is expected to be completed in two years.
Melbourne property developer and philanthropist Daniel Besen, a former director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the Heide Museum of Modern Art, described the project as an exciting part of the area's evolution.
"The vision is that it will be not only arts practices happening inside but also that people can engage with it through exhibitions and performance spaces. It will be a wonderful, engaging space," he told Fairfax Media.
"Arts Victoria has put together some robust studies to look at how to incorporate studio spaces, dance spaces, performance spaces, exhibition spaces ... they've been engaged with the arts community comprehensively and inclusively," he said.
Besen and his wife Danielle have a long history with the area's arts community, he said.
"We are very passionate about grassroots and emerging artists in Collingwood and in the city," he said. "We've been supporters of Gertrude Contemporary for many years, as well as others who are potential tenants – the Centre for Contemporary Photography, the Polyglot puppet theatre company and contemporary dance company Lucy Guerin Inc."
Emma Crimming, the director of Gertrude Contemporary, described the project as "extremely exciting".
"We hope it will provide a long-term home for organisations such as Gertrude Contemporary and CCP who have a rich history in the area," she said. "The development of a multi-disciplinary arts precinct in this location presents crucial opportunities for artists to keep producing and presenting in the inner city, which will build on Melbourne's reputation as one of the world's greatest creative destinations."
Ms Victoria enthusiastically went one step further: "This is about the most exciting thing to happen to contemporary arts practice in Victoria's history," she said.
"That's a big call, but I think it has so much potential. When I became Arts Minister, I said this was my number one priority to leave as a legacy of the Napthine government – to make sure that contemporary arts organisations and especially the small-to-medium sector is looked after well into the future."
Photographer: Andrew De La Rue