Could this be Penrith’s creative hub for the future?

Breuer Building - Penrith 1Local artists and theatre makers are holding their collective breath that an appropriate buyer might purchase a building currently on the market in Penrith. For some years they have been seeking a suitable space as an arts and cultural hub, where people can work together to create events and products, to teach and learn from each other and to provide a flourishing centre of inspiration for the entire community. The building is the only one in Australia designed by modernist architect Marcel Breuer, whose most famous work is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. It was one of several around the world originally designed for the Torin Corporation, manufacturers of air moving equipment. The building was designed in collaboration with architect Harry Seidler and landscape architect Bruce Rickard. It was completed in 1976 and state heritage listed in 2009.

The BreueBreuer Building - Penrith 2r building is located in Coombes Drive just off Coreen Avenue.  Photos of the building by Max Dupain were published in Architecture Australia, Vol. 66, No. 3 in July 1977. On Facebook Billy Gruner has posted some of the photos, see left and below. He asks “Should this be the new centre for Art, Culture and Design in the West? The fabulous Marcel Breuer building is for sale in Penrith. This building needs to be lobbied as the location of a Centre of Contemporary Arts and Culture in the West. Penrith Breuer Building - Penrith 3set on the river at the foot of the Blue Mountains already houses the Western Sydney University, TAFE, a major hospital and medical centres. Many would like to see this national treasure  turned into a community asset. Please pass this on to friends and associates.” On Theatre Links in the West, Ian Zammit says, “This could be a game changer for our city and our cultural life.”

Penrith was the first local government in western Sydney to provide a home for the region’s first professional theatre company, Q Theatre, in 1977. It opened a regional art gallery in 1981 in association with the Lewers Bequest, and launched The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in 1990. The Joan, as it became known, also incorporated the Penrith Conservatorium of Music.

While these spaces are greatly appreciated and well used, they are too costly and inappropriate for the messy activities and experimentation that can produce the completed works for presentation in these other facilities. The Breuer building looks like a perfect solution. What do you think?


Are artist run initiatives (ARIs) the answer for creative spaces?

Natalie Wadwell - ARI forumHere’s a welcome opportunity to discuss an issue of major concern across western Sydney – creative space.  Young and committed creative Natalie Wadwell, is organising an all day forum on May 27, We Run This: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector, as part of Vivid Sydney. It will be a co-presentation by 107 Projects in Redfern and the National Association for the Visual Arts. Above, Macarthur Advertiser’s photo of Natalie.

Natalie has been pursuing the issue of space run independently by creative artists, for several years in the Campbelltown area. She is not opposed to government funding, but is well aware that there is not enough of it and all too often, it comes with strings attached that limits its relevance to local needs. Participants in Theatre Links in the West, based in Penrith, have been working on the same issue across several locations. Among many subjects of lively discussion at their meeting on April 5 they recorded, “The Penrith Council priority for a hub for arts and cultural development at the grass roots level in the heart of Penrith was a very popular topic, with discussions revolving around its location, its purpose, how it would be managed and the need for its management team and activities to be funded significantly for it to work.”

For a decade, Parramatta Artists Studios have been providing a tremendous resource and service for a whole range of artists across different art forms, though the number they can support at any one time is limited. Of course, the studios are not run by artists, but professionally managed by Parramatta Council. There are hopes that among the opportunities that may be available through the “transformation” by UrbanGrowth of the North Parramatta heritage precinct would be the establishment of an artist run initiative.

We Run This_John O'CallaghanThis suggests the forum We Run This: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector is very timely. There will be representatives of ARIs from Sydney, Wollongong, Launceston, Alice Springs and Canberra. They will offer experience and ideas in answer to questions and presentations from a dynamic group of speakers including John O’Callaghan (JOC Consulting), left, and Monica Barone (CEO, City of Sydney). John O’Callaghan is an urban planner specialising in social activation, community engagement and new media.

Other participants include Euphemia Bostock, left, below, founding member and chairperson of We Run This_Euphemia BostockBoomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative. She is a Munanjali-Bundjalung woman and elder, who has worked across many mediums including textile, printmaking, design and sculpture from the early 1960s. Her work has been exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally. Boomalli has operated since 1987.

The conference will be moderated by Maria Miranda, a research fellow from the University of Melbourne writing on The Cultural Economy of Artist-Run Initiatives in Australia. Natalie and the joint organisers argue that Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) play a vital role in balancing Australia’s arts ecology. Established for independence and flexibility for artists, ARIs operate at the intersection of community, urban planning, business and culture. “Is the ARI concept the future of the prosperous community?” they ask.

Western Sydney has already had its own experience of an Artist-Run Initiative, as recorded in my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney. Street Level operated for two years from a Penrith shopfront from 1988 to 1990, when it moved to a vandalised pinball parlour in Blacktown and continued for another five years. Street Level was instigated by visual arts graduates of University of Western Sydney and in its seven years of operation provided a huge range of experience and training for artists, curators and communities. In fact, it was one of three examples of developments that seemed to me to represent the region’s turning point in 1990 from being a victim of isolation and media demonisation to finding a strong voice confident of its unique characteristics.

We Run this: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector is designed for councillors, regulators, developers, urban planners, artists and practitioners, policy advocates, researchers, arts investors and all those interested in facilitating the sustainability of existing spaces, as well as encouraging the emergence of ARIs in more communities across Australia. Tickets from $33. Bookings and information.