It’s the community gallery that’s the envy of many a big city artists’ collective: M16 in Griffith is a highly effective hybrid of a community arts organisation, commercial gallery and supportive arts network for its many practitioners.
Run as a non-profit and currently sited in the former Griffith primary school, M16 offers a network of 28 studio spaces and three spacious galleries with a constantly rotating series of exhibitions changing every three weeks. That makes for a buzzing environment in which creative endeavour and mutual support play equally important roles.
Angela Bakker and Sarah Murphy share a studio: both value the space and support.
“As artists, we never stop thinking about design problems, even if it’s 3 am. You can come in here, work on a design and bounce ideas off someone else with a scrambled artist brain who understands the language of design.”
Sarah agrees that the studio space and collaborative possibilities are invaluable for the creative process. “The thinking time is as important as anything for me. My work is developed through processes: when I master it, that develops the work. Here at M16, everything is laid out and ready when I come back to it.
“Without a dedicated space, you lose momentum in the process.”
Along the corridor, textiles artists Bronwynne Jones is happily ensconced in an Aladdin’s cave of vintage fabrics from which she creates bespoke commissions and designs a clothing range called Thunder Thighs, designed for curvy women. Her materials come from donations and op shops, “fabrics you just can’t buy any more”.
A project might include a memory piece that brings together ties owned by someone’s father or brother or husband, combined to create a new piece that embodies time, place and relationship – and sometimes even the whiff of aftershave long past.
“I’m an older artist and I think of myself as more of a maker because I’m not traditionally trained,” Bronwynne says. “The great advantage of M16 is that I can indulge whatever I want to do in my space. I’ve been supported and accepted here, I’ve worked with jewellers and with Hannah (Hoyne) next door making sculptured clothing for a hair expo in Sydney.
“We regularly contribute to other people’s works and ideas. It’s a brilliant place to work.”
Acquiring a studio at M16 was a high point for painter Sacha Pola, who has just won the Muswellbrook Art Prize for a work called Having Reached Utopia, it was then time. It’s the largest regional art prize in Australia, and with the cheque in hand, Pola was able to negotiate and set up the studio space he needed for his larger-scale pieces.
“You need to be stubborn and self-assured to succeed as an artist, but it’s often a combination of that and being really unsure of yourself,” he says. “There’s a strong arts community here in Canberra, which is important because this is a career that requires a lot of effort with no certain payoff.”
M16 director Jas Hugonnet explains that the community rental rate given by the ACT government is a key part of sustaining the model. “If we tried to pay commercial rates people couldn’t afford it, so the government is very directly supporting the arts via the community rental.”
Community sponsorship is vital from the likes of the Bentspoke Brewery, Quarry Hills wines, TED fine art logistics and architect Philip Leeson, who has sponsored this year’s drawing prize. The space is also home to five community art organisations including the Natureart Lab, the Hands On studio, the Canberra Art Workshop, Studio Map and the Artists Society of Canberra.
“This is a unique model – when I go interstate, likeminded organisations are jealous of the set-up and support we get from the ACT government,” Jas says. “There are other artists collectives around in Sydney and other states but not on our scale. M16 is quite unique with the three galleries, the number of studios we have here and the community arts organisations.”
M16 Artspace is at 21 Blaxland Crescent Griffith.