ARTHUR HEAD PRECINCT Briefing Paper for Elected Members (City of Fremantle)

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Prepared by Bathers Beach – Arthur Head Group

Fremantle-Australia

Background

Following Council’s adoption of the Cultural Development Strategy in June of this year, the Director of Community Development approached Artsource requesting a proposal for the ‘activation’ of Arthur Head as a creative arts hub, in line with Action 2.3 of the strategy, Develop the Arthur Head properties into a dedicated ‘Artists in Residence’ space. At the same time Jenny Dawson and Greg James, artist tenants of J Shed, were attempting to resolve ongoing lease arrangements with the City of Fremantle. This was proving difficult and in August 2011 the two became aware that the ‘activation’ process was underway and that the deliberations had a potential impact on their tenure. Since then, tenants of the Arthur Head site have been active in pursuing information about the process and diligent in understanding the potential opportunities and challenges that arise from it.

We understand that Elected Members will meet with the Director of Community Development to discuss this matter on November 7. We forwarded our ideas for the development of a Creative Arts Hub to the Director on November 1 and we have attached them for your information.

As you will see from this document, we believe that there is great potential to develop a world-class facility at Arthur Head with a unique combination of creative activity and heritage interpretation. We are enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with the City on this development. However, it is important that Councillors have a full understanding of what has taken place in this process to date, why we have become agitated about the process and how we hope to achieve a more positive outcome in the future. We have found in our conversations with both City staff and elected members over recent weeks that there is significant misinformation about the existing activities at the site. We trust that the information we are providing here will assist Councillors in their consideration of the Arthur Head project and ultimately, will contribute to a better outcome for all.


Common Misconceptions

Artist studios at J Shed are subsidised

  • J Shed tenants pay full commercial rent and do not receive any funding from local, state or federal government for ongoing running costs.
  • The studios were originally provided as an empty shell. All infrastructure has been installed by the artists and, in keeping with the lease, remains the property of the artists. This includes basic facilities such as power, water and sewerage as well as lighting rigs, partitioning, shelving and the mezzanine floor in Greg James’ studio (which is now used as an exhibition space for various artists).

Artist studios at J Shed are inactive

  • Jenny Dawson Ceramics and Greg James Sculpture maintain an open-door policy and members of the public visit the studios constantly to look around and chat.
  • Both artists have maintained continuous viable creative businesses at the site for the past 20 years, successfully tendering for commissions, producing work for exhibition and retail. Between them, Jenny and Greg have produced over 80 public artworks in the past 20 years which are featured across WA, interstate and overseas.
  • Both studios employ other artists and workers to assist with major commissions.
  • Both studios provide support to emerging and established artists in the form of artists in residence, mentoring, international guests.
  • Both studios make their facilities available to support informal arts practice such as music nights and practice sessions for musicians.
  • Both studios have strong relationships with members of the local Noongar community and Noongar people have welcomed the connection to the studios and the site.

Artist studios, including J Shed, should be subject to turnover

  • There is an assumption running through the recent documentation from the City that it is good to have regular turnover in all artist studios. Some people have expressed the view that 'someone else needs a go’ with the J Shed studios.
  • As outlined above, Jenny Dawson and Greg James have successfully operated creative businesses at J Shed for 20 years. They are NOT subsidised artist studios. The City would not produce a document that talked about the need for turnover in any other successful business operation on the basis that it had been there too long and ‘someone else needed a go’ (e.g. Culley’s Tearooms). Why do this to artists?
  • The successful artists at J Shed maintain a tradition that was established in the area with Joan Campbell’s Pottery Studio at the old kerosene store at Bather’s Beach. Joan’s presence and her support of young ceramists was highly prized and contributed to Fremantle’s reputation in the 70s and 80s as a City of Artists.

Cultural Development Strategy

The rationale provided for Action 2.3 of the strategy states,

This project would provide an area for an ‘Artists in Residence’ programme that allow (sic) for artist exchanges and ensure(sic) all arts forms and indigenous artists are included in this project. The City could partner with a(sic) Arts organisation to oversee the Artist in Residence programme increasing the number of working artists sharing skills and producing work in Fremantle. This builds upon the current successful ‘Artist in Residence’ programme run by the Fremantle Arts Centre where up to 60 working artists a year participate in various ways to(sic) the arts community in Fremantle. [1]

This rationale suggests that an ‘Artist in Residence’ program managed by an arts organisation such as Artsource, and along the lines of the successful program offered through the Fremantle Arts Centre, would achieve the desired ‘activation’ of Arthur Head.

Councillors need to be aware that the studios made available through the Fremantle Arts Centre are generally offered on a short-term basis and the many studios managed through Artsource are generally offered on a mid-term basis of five years. These spaces are all subsidised through the public and private support that both organisations attract. They are intended to assist artists to achieve a level of professionalism that allows them to move on to more permanent practice, or they are provided to artists to fulfil a specific project. Artists taking up these opportunities are usually focused on individual studio practice and, as you will see by visiting Old Customs House or FAC, are usually busy behind closed doors developing their work. This is an important and valuable function. Both environments do offer artists an excellent opportunity to develop collaborations with colleagues and both organisations undertake occasional events or initiatives that showcase the artists’ activity to the public. For example, Artsource holds an annual Open Studio day and FAC often features artists in residence in its exhibition program. Again, these are laudable activities. However, they will not activate Arthur Head for visitors.

As we have outlined in our paper to the Director, a mix of activity is required to achieve an activated site, together with appropriate links to other areas of the City, upgrade of pathways, planting, signage and marketing of the precinct. Further, if the spaces at Arthur Head are to be turned over to an Artist in Residence program, this program will need to be funded. Presumably the City is looking to Artsource to secure the funding to support any studios it would manage as subsidised spaces? We would suggest that this is an unfortunate approach that furthers the misconception that ‘all artists are funded’. While subsidised spaces are a boon to the development of artistic practice, it is vital that artists who are able to maintain viable commercial businesses from their arts practice should be retained and encouraged in Fremantle. Not only do they contribute to the commercial diversity and vibrance of Fremantle business, they are important role models for young artists.

Jenny Dawson, Greg James and Glen Cowans, underwater photographer at the Round House Gallery, have achieved recognition locally, nationally and internationally for their work. Jenny and Greg, as founding tenants of J Shed have successfully fulfilled the City’s original intention to provide space for viable creative industries. The J Shed initiative was part of the management of Arthur Head A Class Reserve and the need to find a use for the historic building that was compatible with the reserve. At the time both Jenny and Greg noted that the Council’s ‘initiation of the project has been a tangible demonstration of the Council’s respect for artists’. [2]

The use of the space by artists also built on the work that had been undertaken during the 1980s to ensure that rent increases resulting from the America’s Cup did not drive artists out of Fremantle. The City was pro-active by working with the State Government to establish the Fremantle Arts Foundation (now Artsource) and its subsidised studio spaces at Old Customs House. J Shed was seen as a welcome counterpart to that, encouraging established artists who could maintain viable creative businesses in the area. It was also important that J Shed offered spaces that were suitable for semi-industrial processes, such as sculpture or ceramics, which are often challenging to locate in built up areas.

We are concerned that the thinking in the Cultural Development Strategy in relation to activating Arthur Head is fundamentally flawed and that if it is used as a guide for future action, the City may de-activate the site.

Process

Cultural Development Strategy

We understand that the Cultural Development Strategy was adopted following the deliberations of a Cultural Development Working Party and a community engagement process, which included directly approaching individual artists. It is most unfortunate that the City’s process did not include any direct contact with the artists operating successful businesses at Arthur Head to discuss ideas or to gather accurate information for the Working Party’s consideration.

Interestingly, the responses to this action that are recorded in the Community Engagement Outcomes Report reveal a range of very different concerns and opinions, some of which reinforce the misconceptions we have addressed above and many of which recognise that artists in residence do not automatically ‘activate’ a site.

From these diverse views, the report concludes:

There is limited support to develop the Arthur Head properties into a dedicated arts area to showcase working artists, for reasons ranging from the unsuitability of the site to concerns about how an arts tourism precinct at Arthur Head would be successfully managed. The idea of using the properties as accommodation (both artist and tourist) was proposed by several respondents… [3]

Nevertheless, this action is one of the few that are the focus of the Strategy.

Artsource proposal

To enact Action 2.3 in the Cultural Development Strategy the Director of Community Development invited Artsource to prepare a proposal for a Creative Arts Hub at Arthur Head, which they would subsequently manage on behalf of the City. Artsource worked on this proposal but did not consult with J Shed artists or Glen Cowans about the plans. It was only through the persistent investigation by the artists that the City’s process involving Artsource came to light and it was only after we began to question the process that Artsource invited us to submit dot points of suggestions that they may incorporate into their final proposal. It is not clear whether the decision to not speak with the tenants and artists was a decision made by Artsource or the City. Jenny Dawson, Greg James and Glen Cowans have been long-standing members of Artsource. They have also been committed contributors to the cultural life of Fremantle. The lack of communication and consultation for a proposal that has a direct impact on their livelihoods has eroded trust and confidence in Artsource and the City of Fremantle. The lack of discussion and consultation with other tenants at Arthur Head is similarly disturbing and has caused considerable disquiet.

Lease agreements

Throughout 2011 Jenny Dawson and Greg James were both seeking confirmation of their lease arrangements with the City beyond February 2012. (These two units have remained in sync since the inception of the J Shed studios). When applying for a renewed term in June 2011 both studios were advised by the City’s Property Manager that a review was underway and no leases were to be renewed until this review was completed. The delays in this process were causing considerable stress to both artists whose businesses had successfully tendered for major public and corporate commissions that extend to 2014, with other projects in the pipeline for years beyond that.

Following written representations to the Mayor, he met with the Director of Community Development and the artists were advised that a lease would be provided for the next two years to secure their existing commitments. Eleven days later, on a Friday afternoon, the City’s Property Manager visited the studios and advised the artists verbally that they would be receiving the lease but that there was a ‘sting in the tail’, which was a proviso that tenure could be terminated at any time if Artsource wished to take over the studios. No paperwork was provided. After a fretful weekend the artists spoke with both the Mayor and the Director of Community Development who assured them that this was not the City’s intention. On October 4 the artists received a lease document offering an extension of the existing lease until February 2014.

Although the artists appreciate the intervention that secured the lease until 2014, for security of their businesses they require longer leases. As a guide, The Commercial Tenancy (Retail Shops) Agreements Act (“CTA”) 1985 WA provides for a minimum tenancy of up to 5 years with an option for a further 5. The rationale for this is that any less does not allow for healthy planning for a business. These terms are in keeping with the original lease arrangements for the two studios and is what the artists are seeking – five years with a five-year option to renew.

Management arrangements

The latest proposal suggests that in the future J Shed and other tenants in the area will be managed by an arts organisation at arm’s length from Council (ie. Artsource). We think this is entirely inappropriate. Artsource is a non-profit company limited by guarantee with a clear brief to provide support to visual artists. To do this, the organisation receives funding from the state government and attracts private and corporate monies to further their work. They also earn income through consultancy activities. We do not have a problem with any of this. However, it does mean that Artsource must respond to the shifting agenda of State Government. It also means that its experience is in managing subsidised studio spaces. We cannot think of any aspect of Artsource that involves managing a commercial operation (other than its own commercial initiatives).

We believe that tenants operating businesses in Arthur Head should retain a direct relationship with the City of Fremantle.

Conclusion

We trust that the above amply demonstrates why we have been agitated by the process the City has undertaken in recent months. Repeatedly we have been offered assurances by City staff and elected members (and Artsource) that we ‘should not worry’. However, our experience is that unless we are vigilant in monitoring this process, there is every possibility that it will have an adverse affect on our future. Further, we are not at all confident that the current process will achieve the stated aims of the City, that is, to activate the Arthur Head area. Apart from the insult to current tenants that is implicit in this aim, we are entirely supportive of the City’s intention to improve and extend the activities in the area. We hope that the ideas we have put forward to the Director of Community Development will receive thorough consideration.

Recommendations:

1. That existing leases with J Shed business operators and artists Jenny Dawson and Greg James, be replaced with a five year lease with an option to renew for a further five years.

2. That the City of Fremantle retains a direct relationship with those artists operating businesses from Arthur Head premises.

3. That the Cultural Development Strategy be reviewed with appropriate research and costings undertaken for all matters it covers.

4. That the City reviews its protocols for community engagement to ensure that those directly affected by any of the City’s new initiatives are informed throughout and have an opportunity to contribute to the process.

References

  1. ^ City of Fremantle-Cultural Development Working Group The group were Cr Tim Grey-Smith, Cr Josh Wilson, Chris Bendall, David Hyams, Jon Cope, Andra Kins, Jacqueline Holmer, Bob Reece and Mayor Brad Pettitt (ex-officio), plus Director of Community Development, Marisa Spaziani.
  2. ^ Watershed for J Shed, Ros Poter and Agnieshka, Freamantlr Arts Review, September 1992
  3. ^ Draft Cultural Development - Community Engagement Outcomes Report, May 2011, City of Fremantle

See also