The rise of maker spaces in Perth

With the rise and fall of the mining boom, and now a city in the throes of construction, Perth is also undergoing a creative boom with independent makers and artists banding together to form new communal studios and artist run spaces including MANY 6160 and Success in Fremantle, Another ARI and Daphne. Anna Dunnill reports.

Image: Courtesy MANY 6160. Photo: Dave Sharp.

When beginning an arts practice, investing in a workspace is a crucial consideration. It’s also incredibly personal. Some artists are happy to work from home, others (like myself) struggle to be productive with the lure of bed and the guilt of dirty dishes so close at hand. An open-plan studio can be enormously supportive: a melting-pot of encouragement and creative ideas; a ready-made network.

Adding to this is that right now Perth seems to be in a state of flux. With cranes on every skyline, huge swathes of the city are appearing and disappearing, cyclically knocked down and dug out and constructed and abandoned and reactivated. Elizabeth Quay, Yagan Square, the Northbridge Link, the city is full of rosy future ‘place activation’ and current construction sites. The money for most of this comes from mining. Unfortunately mining doesn’t seem to buy art. In 2012 four long-running commercial galleries closed down leaving around 150 artists without gallery representation. The infrastructure is lacking. Public sculpture and murals slapped on every blank wall notwithstanding, the rhetoric of ‘vibrancy’ and ‘innovation’ can start to ring a little hollow after a while and the hashtag #perthisok tacked on to every Instagram of a decent latte, sounds as though we’re desperately trying to convince ourselves.

In the absence of commercial representation, independent arts practitioners must find their support elsewhere. Many are going it alone, but others find community in their workspaces. In addition to several longstanding studios like Gotham (Northbridge), CIA (West Perth), and more recently Paper Mountain (Northbridge), which continue to enrich the arts community in different ways, several newly-established initiatives have sprung up to provide glimmering beacons of hope in the wilderness.

MANY 6160

Image: Courtesy MANY 6160. Photo: Dave Sharp.

MANY 6160

Image: Courtesy MANY 6160. Photo: Dave Sharp.

MANY 6160, Fremantle

MANY 6160 is an extraordinary project. Taking over the entirety of the former Myer department store in Kings Square, Fremantle, it spans over 20,000m2 from basement to rooftop. Since the building re-opened in October 2014, it hosts retail, artists’ studios, production spaces and, since February 2016, an artist-run gallery (named the tongue-in-cheek, Success).

The ground floor of MANY, the only floor with windows, contains a cafe and retail space. Architecturally the intervention is minimal; it’s a nod to the original department store layout, except that it’s sectioned into spaces for individual sellers. A huge red velvet curtain hides the column of escalators. Above the shop floor, there are two levels of studios and workspaces, some enclosed in former stockrooms or boardrooms, others open-plan, spreading across the vast interior. Occupants include artists, carpenters, designers, photographers, dressmakers and metalworkers. Commercial businesses rub shoulders with artists engaged in practical research. A number of the studio residents sell their wares whether art, furniture or clothing in the shop just below their workspaces. The studios are busy and sociable, a thriving hub of practitioners.

Exhibition opening of No Confidence at Success.

Image: Exhibition opening of No Confidence at Success. Photo: Guy Louden. Courtesy Success.

Success, an ARI of gigantic proportions using the entire bottom floor, opened only two months ago. Run by the team from Moana Project Space, it’s dedicated to presenting exhibitions, music and performance on a grand scale, and promises to be something truly groundbreaking as an art space.

MANY has had its battles. From the outside, the building is a concrete hulk with a single tiny entrance, meaning that it can be hard to entice shoppers into the retail space. Due to the absence of windows, the studios have no natural light, and the rooftop bar & original music venue, Dave’s Cans, existed all too briefly before it was shut down by noise complaints. But this is trumped by the ambition and drive of the MANY team and the huge number of studio artists working hard to form a functional, supportive community, both within the building and spilling out into Fremantle and the wider city.

Another Project Space at Artsource Ashfield

Image: Another Project Space at Artsource Ashfield. Launch 15 November 2015. Photo: Duncan Wright.

Another ARI, Ashfield

Artsource, WA’s artist service body runs several studio buildings in Fremantle, North Perth and now Ashfield. A couple of suburbs out of the city, the Ashfield building contains two floors of closed-door-type studios for artists of all kinds, plus ‘Another’, a project space situated in the foyer of the former office block. Run by a rotating board of artists rather than by Artsource itself, Another is primarily a residency space. Open studios and lively end-of-residency talks show that engaging with ongoing praxis is just as valuable as ‘completed’ exhibitions.

Daphne, Northbridge

Daphne began as a domestic ARI in a North Perth home. Now it’s a Northbridge coffee shop and art space, with two artist studios for rent upstairs. Open for a year now, Daphne is a truly happy place, an unpretentious server of cinnamon toast and delicious coffee, with bay windows filled with comfy cushions and a cactus garden out the front. The cafe walls facilitate rotating exhibitions by a growing selection of local artists.

A favourite with many local creatives, Daphne is a welcoming hub whose location and arts-engagement lends itself to chance meetings, casual conversations and idea-sharing. For those in the arts it’s a space to run into friends, work on a grant application, toss around project ideas over a coffee and buy an affordable drawing or two. While far less formal than a studio or residency program, it provides an organic support structure, the kind that really boils down to a good community; a very necessary thing, and one to be nurtured.

Anna Dunnill is an artist and writer from Perth. In addition to her solo practice she is one half of collaborative duo Snapcat.