Jury still out on Wollongong art space plan

Wollongong City Council's draft Cultural Plan proposes to open up the region's disused spaces to the creative community, but not everyone is sold on the idea.

The Cultural Plan, currently on public exhibition, recommends the council create a register of under-utilised property in retail, commercial and industrial zones, for a program to house creative businesses.

"BlueScope is looking at how it can use its surplus buildings. There are vacant spaces, so it's about how we can use them," Cr Martin told the Mercury upon the release of the Cultural Plan, citing the Carriageworks art space in the old Eveleigh railway yards in Sydney as an example.

"We are an industrial city, that's our heart, but some of that architecture can be changed to fit the new creative people emerging here."

A number of local creative businesses use or have used former industrial buildings as a base.

Trina Collins runs the Anchors Aweigh Art Studio in a former warehouse on Auburn Street, Wollongong. She said she had doubts about the new proposal.

"There should be rules that people could only use it for a certain time, otherwise they will step on the toes of other artists who are paying full rent and doing everything themselves," Ms Collins said.

"It should aim to support things we don't already have here. We have a lot of galleries and small craft shops already struggling to pay rent, there shouldn't be benefits for new ones to come and undercut existing ones who are just making ends meet."

Dave Porter's surfboard shaping and gardening business, Treehouse Landscapes and Handshapes, is in the old Molloy Street timbermill in Bulli. The mill houses artists, architects and designers, and Mr Porter said a program to facilitate more creative hubs in disused spaces would be a boost to the Wollongong arts community.

Trina Collins, of Anchors Aweigh Art Studio. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Trina Collins, of Anchors Aweigh Art Studio. Picture: ROBERT PEET

"The problem I had setting up was finding an affordable space, so a program to help find and rent spaces would be fantastic," he said.

"It would be a great opportunity for young businesses. It would be much better for a vacant space to be used, rather than them standing empty and dead," Mr Porter said.

The Council's draft Cultural Plan is on public exhibition until March 17.

After the closure of the Oxford Tavern in 2010, Fairy Meadow’s Cabbage Tree Hotel became the new epicentre of Wollongong’s ailing pub-rock music scene.

The venue’s band room, The Patch, hosted many Australian and international acts before live music was cancelled in early 2013 after noise complaints from a nearby resident.

Jeb Taylor, former music booker at The Patch, has praised the Wollongong Cultural Plan’s proposals around planning rules for live music, which include alerting potential home buyers or renters about nearby noise by inserting warnings into Section 149 certificates.

‘‘If the venue is there, and you move next door, you have to tolerate it. Nobody moves next to an airport and complains about the noise,” he said. “If a venue makes noise within allowed hours, I don’t see what the difference is to living next to a mechanic or building site.”

Noise concerns warrant a  section in the Live Music Action Plan, with six recommendations including community meetings and mediation to address complaints, and providing venues with clear information about noise responsibilities.

Mr Taylor said much of the conflict around The Patch arose due to difficulty in accessing information about what a venue is or is not allowed to do.

“It was hard to find what the rules were, what was too noisy and what wasn’t,” he said.

“Having a clear process of dealing with noise complaints, and having information readily available, would be good.”

While the Cultural Plan outlines numerous ways to materially support music, such as promoting bands through council channels and bringing music festivals to the region, Mr Taylor said work would be in vain if bands had nowhere to play.

“If the logistics around noise compliance aren’t there, there’s no point. There has to be infrastructure to support music,” he said.


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