Rarely a dull moment – Arts, Culture, Creativity & Council

Welcome back to our regular feature, Rarely a dull moment with Gayle O’Leary, where we report on the highlights of Council’s regular, now fortnightly, meetings. We would have titled the feature Never a dull moment, but didn’t want to over-promise!

Well, there was a nice short agenda for the fortnightly Ordinary Council Meeting last night, 10 April 2024, but with a big item – the Arts, Culture and Creativity Strategy!

Pardon me as I race straight past the planning and policy items to dig into this one.

Council has adopted its next Arts, Culture and Creativity Strategy – or ACCS.

The ACCS 2024-2034 and its accompanying action plan commits the City of Fremantle to “empowering arts, culture, and creativity in Fremantle”.

How does the City define arts, culture and creativity nowadays?

It “includes going to the movies, a festival, musical performances, or gigs, visiting art exhibitions, museums, a memorial or using the library. There is also all of our home-based activities like watching TV, playing computer games, reading books, and listening to music.”

From the Fibonacci Centre Open Studio day. Credit Gayle O’Leary

But it can also include tending to community gardens and recalling history. (And arguably skateboarding. And perhaps writing informative and gripping e-zines about our port city?!)

Ten stars if you’ve already managed to tick off all of those this year!

Living in Fremantle makes it easy, of course. And no wonder, Fremantle’s creatives are estimated to have contributed 2130 jobs and $181.1 million into the WA economy during 2021 alone!

Fun fact: did you know Artsource in the Old Customs House has managed artist studios for 37 years?

The ACCS contains four key priorities:
• First Nations: Fremantle is a place that recognises, respects and celebrates First Nations arts and culture.
• Experience: Fremantle is a place of meaningful artistic, culture and creative expression and participation for everyone.
• Incubation: Fremantle is a place that values artists and creatives to help grow and sustain creative practices and careers.
• Partnership: Fremantle is a place where people partner up to create work and sustain their practice, as well as to advocate for thriving arts, culture and creative sector.

Around 400 community members contributed to the formation of the ACCS with their ideas.

Community engagement spanned over 2022-2023 and involved two workshops for various stakeholders, including Whadjuk Traditional Owners, performing artists, fashion designers, musicians, visual artists, literature boffins, and even architects.

The City also interviewed selected local stakeholders and conducted surveys in festivals and the Fremantle Arts Centre, as well as an online survey accompanied by complementary media.

Participants were also invited to attend drop-in sessions and directly contact the City Senior Arts Officer.

Feedback from the Draft Strategic Community Plan, which as we mentioned in the last RADM finishes advertising this month, was also used to inform the ACCS. A highlight of which included the Special Attention Arts, Culture and Creative Industry event on 6 July 2023, which accommodated 60 community representatives.

The ACCS will be reviewed every 4 years to ensure currency and will be publicly reported on every year.

Last night at the OCM, Mayor Fitzhardinge noted the energy and enthusiasm of the community and thanked staff for all of their hard work and the care taken to “do it properly” for the Arts, Culture and Creativity Strategy. She also acknowledged the role of Council to be a facilitator of the arts to help enable others to undertake their creative passions.

As an aside, and before moving on, an eagle-eyed reviewer at the meeting last night spotted an inadvertent ‘Fight Club’ reference on page 8 of the ACCS, which the Mayor agreed we shouldn’t be allowed to talk about, so back to ‘Flight Club’ it is. Light humour never goes astray.

Councillors raised concerns that an alternative recommendation proposed by Councillor Lawver, requesting the CEO to undertake an audit of all unoccupied council-owned properties to identify potential opportunities to match artists/creatives with any suitable council-owned properties as part of the strategy, would not be feasible and indeed premature before a review of the City’s property portfolio.

It was noted however there are few and far between remaining commercial properties let alone vacant ones under management by the City. The growing unaffordability of floorspace over the decades was also observed.

The feedback on the ACCS provided by local artists to the City raised concerns of the utmost interest and urgency, if you ask me. So much so it helped inspire the latest Politics in the Pub talk at the Local Hotel in March and Cr Lawver’s motion.

The prevailing question: how can we ensure our creative, dynamic, artist City continues to be so? Local artists are being priced out of the industrial, commercial and residential spaces that used to be affordable. We run the risk that of losing the very talented people who help make Fremantle the vibrant city we all flock to. The home of Tim Winton, Sharyn Egan, Shaun Tan, and Bon Scott, to name a few!

We need more coops such as SHAC (Sustainable Housing for Artists and Creatives) in White Gum Valley, providing affordable accommodation and exhibition spaces for artists.

Only a handful of spots within the West End are available, beautiful and vitally important, but usually priced out of reach of many creatives.

Now we do have places such as the Fibonacci Centre on Blinco Street, J Shed at Bathers Beach, and the Hybrid Warehouse on Quarry Street, just to name a few, but these are all prime redevelopment sites that are no doubt being looked over with hungry eyes. Just look at the recently approved Monument East site, which will only retain a small proportion of the original floorspace available for artist or community use and that outcome alone was a victory hard won.

As to Councillor Lawver’s alternative motion and wondering about what opportunities might exist around Freo to match creatives with available spaces, some that spring to mind include tenancies within the ground floor of the Walyalip Civic Centre itself, Fremantle Arts Centre and Moores Building. Or Victoria Hall.

But here’s hoping the Strategy will come up with more ideas. I do imagine that the cancelled West End Traders Festival, which the City deemed too costly and cumbersome to manage in tandem with the recent Fremantle International Street Arts Festival, will continue to be a matter of strong debate and a regular topic for question time at each Council meeting. Well, I have my own opinion on the matter, but I’m not telling you what it is!

One last thing: Artwalk is back! After a pandemic-induced hiatus, Rosslyn de Souza and co are inviting art enthusiasts to explore the homes of local artists in Fremantle, White Gum Valley, and South Fremantle.

P.S. My sincere apologies to the legion of local artists, groups, and various upcoming events that I haven’t mentioned in this article but, in true Freo fashion, there are simply too many of them to list! To find out what’s going on, perhaps ask an artist.

Ta ta!

Your friendly neighbourhood art enthusiast from the Fremantle Industrial Arts Quarter

Report by Gayle O’Leary


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