14 September 2022

'About to get a whole lot more creative' - artists to transform Civic's vacant spaces

| Ian Bushnell
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Tara Cheyne and Malcolm Snow in front of an art installation

Tara Cheyne and Malcolm Snow with artist Lucy Irvine’s weaving project at the new Second Space studio in Civic Square. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

The CBD is no longer just for shops and offices. The artists are moving in.

That’s the goal of a pilot project launched on Tuesday, which will see an unused office space turned into a working studio open to the public.

It’s part of Arts Minister Tara Cheyne’s ambitious long-term strategy to bring the arts to the people and build a creative capital.

The Second Space trial will transform the former Elections ACT office on Civic Square into an island of innovation where world-class artworks will be produced in full view of the public.

Strategically located near the Canberra Museum and Gallery, the studio will also help spotlight one of the ACT’s cultural jewels and energise the often quiet Square by inviting visitors to observe works in progress.

A partnership of the City Renewal Authority, Australian National University School of Art and Design, Craft ACT and the Cultural Facilities Corporation, Second Space aims to breathe new life into an otherwise unused space and increase foot traffic and the amount of time people stay in the area.

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The idea is that spaces like the one in Civic Square will proliferate across the city and generate social and economic benefits such as safer precincts, increased value to property owners and greater investment.

It will offer an opportunity for property owners to repurpose otherwise empty premises, and for artists to find the workspaces many find hard to come by.

The curious will be able to visit ANU artist Lucy Irvine and Rebecca Mayo working on their projects; a mass chain made with industrial material that will end up draped over sandstone by Lake Burley Griffin and cloth art coloured with dyes made from locally sourced plants.

Mayo designed her own dyeing machine and the public will be able to watch her in action or even work it themselves. She said the new space in Civic Square was perfect for her rather than having her process hidden away in the studio.

“I designed and built it so that people could see the process because there’s something kind of beautiful and magical about that moment when the fabric takes up the colour of the plants,” she said.

Artist Rebecca Mayo at work

Artist Rebecca Mayo and her dyeing machine.

The fabric produced could have lots of different applications, such as being displayed or made into garments.

“I see it as a machine that can get wheeled out to work together with plants and people in lots of different situations,” she said.

Irvine’s work uses a foam material used in building, investigating the use of unusual materials in age-old techniques such as weaving, bringing craft together with design.

It will be part of the Design Canberra Festival from 2 to 20 November, during which the Civic Square space will house workshops and activities.

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Ms Cheyne said Civic Square would be home to artists’ workshops and installations over the next few months as part of a broader vision for the precinct.

“We know that there is an enormous amount to be gained from the simple idea of turning the lights on, creating movement, space, things happening in an otherwise vacant space that attracts people through to have a look,” she said.

Ms Cheyne said negotiations were underway for other government tenancies, particularly in City West – and artists were pitching their ideas.

“It is about to get a whole lot more creative,” she said.

Ms Cheyne no longer wanted to talk about Canberra’s hidden gems but have them out in the open.

“This is about exposing as much as we can, what we have to offer here in Canberra to as wide an audience base as possible, locals and visitors alike,” she said.

People standing in front of a building in Civic Square

Second Space partners (left to right) CRA CEO Malcolm Snow, head of ANU School Art and Design Associate Professor Rebekah Davis, Arts Minister Tara Cheyne, Craft ACT CEO Jodie Cunningham and Cultural Facilities Corporation CEO Gordon Ramsay.

Calling it a match-making exercise, she said government could offer incentives such as free rent and the CRA could pay for power and water.

CRA CEO Malcolm Snow said Second Space fitted the goal of creating an interesting city centre for people.

“This is the beginning of what I would want to see, which is conspicuous culture through the entire city centre,” he said.

“So this small, modest beginning offers a real opportunity to continue to try different ideas to matchmake; in this case with property owners who really are very interested in the concept of utilising this particular program.

“But I think it extends also into other initiatives that we can continue to roll out in our different programs, which is to make it a city centre that people really do have a very strong connection with.”

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