Gippsland #4 - Redefine Space - Re-engaging Gippsland

Redefine space.

What if we saw the disused Morwell Power Station and Briquette Factory as a potential resource? Could our empty petrol stations become home to food truck parks? Imagine if world-leading sculptures saw Gippsland as their playground? The Social Crew’s Belinda Collins believes that where others see crumbling buildings, we should spot opportunities to re-engage neglected space. Belinda has kindly shared many her of ideas below on how Gippsland can reinvent our unused areas.

Since my early teens, my mind’s been bursting with ideas and creativity. I’ve moved through periods of exploration and experimentation, as all kids do when searching for identity and destiny. In the mid-90s and the early stages of my career, I was unsure whether to pursue a ‘secure’ path, like business or even a career in the more corporate fields of law or finance. All the while, trying to understand why I didn’t follow my art teacher’s advice and follow a creative field.

I moved from Morwell to Melbourne and back again, throwing Bendigo into the mix too. With each move came a new world, with its own identity of spaces, places and faces. The excitement of exploring new destinations fuelled my fascination with travel and I found myself imagining a different world, wanting to immerse myself into diverse scenes and create alternative lives.

While working as a paralegal, full-time in Melbourne, I began to study marketing in the evenings and commenced volunteering in developing event programs for regional football clubs. Then, shortly after the new millennium began, I left the corporate experience, sold my car and moved to London with a passion for events. I had a lucky break, landing a project role at an internationally renowned financial institution. It was a baptism of fire, but after years of determination and many dinners at my desk, I had built a portfolio of events. I’d led projects including gala dinners at London’s Natural History Museum, fashion shows in Milan, art exhibition openings in Berlin and Stockholm, rooftop parties in riads in Morocco, cocktail receptions in the foothills of Cape Town, strategic sponsorship for major events (including the Scottish PGA Tour and Olympic Games), and had toured conferences across Europe and the USA.

In 2012, I returned to Australia and have since established two businesses: Besser Space, a contemporary art space for photographers and artists, and The Social Crew, an event production and marketing business housed within a co-working space. I’ve continued to produce, market and style events, including White Night, Dark Mofo, Portsea Polo, Melbourne Festival, the Victorian Music Awards and plenty more. I’ve learnt that when transforming a space for an event, sometimes the idea is more important than the event itself.

I honestly didn’t think that I’d have ever been in a position to design and produce events of the calibre I’ve now worked with, let alone, now having the opportunity to write about my experience and discuss how we can revitalise our home region. I hope to inspire you to look differently at the spaces and places in front of us, to see opportunity, and hopefully, encourage the continued rebirth of our area – one that’s thirsty for change.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while” – Steve Jobs

1. Pop-up Events

In the early 2000s, the term “pop-up” was a new buzzword in the events industry. Retail marketing ignited experimental activations as brands delivered fresh concepts to build awareness for new audiences. Large-scale retail installations were popping up everywhere. Shipping containers dropped in a vacant car lot were transformed into makeshift bars and urban beaches were plonked in the midst of a city. These ephemeral sites became social meccas.

Pop-ups need to be more elusive than the local farmers market. The exclusivity and excitement of a creative pop-up concept create an atmosphere that can draw an audience. Almost every industry is capable of distilling their brand to a unique experience that, in turn, can form a new social space or experience not readily available traditionally. Pop-ups can impressively utilise vacant, forgotten or unique spaces. Teaming this with the birth of social media and the ability to engage a wider audience online, you can generate an excited audience instantly. Plus, the potential for word-of-mouth marketing is astronomical.

While event professionals operate in this space often, pop-ups require specific skills, otherwise, they can become formulaic. Smaller pop-ups are great at engaging your immediate community and are possible in a variety of spaces. Check licensing options with your local council, budget wisely, read the venue contract and don’t forget permits and insurance.

Pop-ups we’d like to see happen
Potential Pop-ups in Gippsland:
– Film festivals in your local hall or empty barns;
– Pop-up restaurant on the steam rail;
– Food truck pop-ups in redundant petrol stations;
– Artist talks and acoustic sets in the region’s art galleries;
– Pop-up craft-making events encourage people to do more crafting and making;
– Pop-up edible garden with planting and cooking lessons.

Examples of this happening already:
– Fish Creek Hall currently runs a great Indie Film Festival;
Food Truck Park, Lardner Park.

2. Innovation and Design

Public art and design are created with the intention of being staged outside, accessible to all, they often encourage community involvement and collaboration. The London Design Festival recently announced that the Landmark Project will be an inflatable installation by textile designer and fellow Australian, Camille Walala. Described as a “building block castle, the installation will be typical of Walala’s bold, colourful style, and will be made up of giant soft shapes each patterned with a digital print”. The piece will activate a site in Broadgate while promoting the festival.

Could we also promote design and art, mixing old with new, and create a similar festival within our event calendars in Gippsland? We have space and stunning and quirky regional towns that could provide an intriguing juxtaposition to large-scale contemporary art pieces. It’s not like we don’t have talent here in Gippsland already; Lakes Entrance has timber carved pieces in their streets, Jindivick has the works of Laurie Collins, there’s the ‘Dolphin Fish’ in South Gippsland and arc gallery in Yinnar to name only a few. The future may be found in our old towns.

Innovation and Design
Potential sculpture festival sites in Gippsland:
Old Gippstown;
Coal Creek;
Walhalla.

Examples public art events:
Drawn Together – East Gippsland Art Gallery.

Up-coming ‘game-changing’ events in Gippsland:
– Oct ’17 – East Gippsland Adventure Festival;
– Nov ’17 – Latrobe Regional Gallery;
– Nov ’17 – Great Victorian Bike Ride;
– Mar ’18 – Paynesville Classic Boat Rally.

3. Focus on Our Assets

The second issue of Gippslandia provided a small insight into the number growers, wineries and dairies across Gippsland. Many excellent local festivals have been initiated, but why haven’t we created a more
encompassing food and wine event that encourages visitation to all of our districts. The festival ticket could include cellar doors tasting, observation of the cheese-making process, picking fruit or vegetables followed by a cooking lesson or farm to table meals with some of our region’s best chefs. A larger scale event, held on weekends across a month, would drive tourism and showcase all of our incredible produce, all whilst visitors journey through our picturesque scenery.

Focus on Our Assets — Let’s Shout About These!
Possible food festival locations in Gippsland:
Narkoojee Winery;
Loch Distillery;
Tinamba Hotel;
Cannibal Creek;
Prom Country Cheese;
Basia Millie;
Toms Cap;
Lucinda Estate and much, much more!

4. Unconventional Uses for Untraditional Spaces

Forget function centres and our local clubs and delve a little deeper into unconventional uses for spaces, you may not have previously considered for business. Using or transforming interesting spaces immediately engages an attendee at any event. Think of the ‘quirky’ wedding that you attended that was outside of a stereotypical church – maybe they converted a hay shed or used a disused building. Gippsland is rife with spaces that are ripe for transformation.

Gippsland has incredible opportunities in hosting conferences. We have good traditional venues now and a range of accompanying accommodation. During my career, I’ve housed conferences, workshops and forums in historic palaces, church crypts, redundant rooftop pools and industrial art galleries. Interesting spaces encourage creative thinking and can be conversation pieces in themselves. Informative and vibrant conferences can be a vehicle for growth in our region, but if we really want to attract the world’s attention, let’s hold them in a venue that sets tongues wagging.

Old warehouses and manufacturing workshops could be used as creative hubs for co-working spaces. Studies have shown that the number of co-working spaces has roughly doubled each year in recent times. By ‘co-working’, I’m referring to open-plan studios hosting a community of creatives, such as artists, graphic designers, film producers, illustrators, start-up companies and entrepreneur. There could be space on the site to exhibit their different work or undertake community workshops, both of which can create additional income streams, drive change and build the local artistic community, all while creating another venue space for the region.

For example, within the compound that I work, we have illustrators, lighting designers, a florist, web designers, an event production company, a publicity agency, a stylist and our event space, Besser Space. All the space’s members are from completely different industries, yet a client could kick-off a business from the services we each provide. My business is proof of that; the Internet is provided by the web design guys, illustrators showcase their work and prepare our event artwork, the publicist promotes all of our businesses and the florist activates our events.

With the recent shift of industrial businesses out of some of our towns, there are now empty factories in many corners of Gippsland that could be utilised. A co-working hub encourages our community to share ideas, provides a space for small business to thrive in and addresses the isolation that many freelancers can experience while rocking at their business in their pyjamas. Additionally, these spaces provide flexibility, low-start up costs, central location, networking opportunities and promote work-life balance.

A quick search of commercial real estate in Gippsland reveals a plethora of opportunities.
Potential unconventional spaces in Gippsland:
– Industrial workshop spaces;
– Yarragon Dairy;
– Warragul Milk Factory.

What’s already happening:
Cowwarr Art Space;
– Artists in residences.

5. Redundant Buildings as Visitation Drivers

Getting my hands on derelict and abandoned buildings, fusing them with thoughtful contemporary design and transforming them into an event space that has not previously been experienced is a dream come true for me.

Re-purposed buildings or structures is an ideal way of generating awareness of regional destinations, as well as driving visitation and increasing spend. Research, co-funded by Tourism Research Australia and Tourism Victoria, provides a better understanding of regional events across Australia as a tourism product, and their place in driving regional tourism.

Let’s take a look at the Silo Art Trail, which features painted grain silos that span almost 200 km through Victoria’s Wimmera/Mallee region. It’s quickly expanding to be Australia’s biggest outdoor gallery. The project’s creator, Shaun Hossack, has utilised his artist consultancy business, Juddy Roller, to bring together internationally-recognised street artists, such as Rone, Guido van Helten, Matt Adnate and Kaff-eine, to transform wheat silos into gigantic works of art. It’s a unique project that’s attracted funding from both the State and Federal Governments, with extended support from Graincorp to assist in with projects continuation. The Silo Art Trail has already revitalised small rural towns, brought thousands of new visitors to the region and garnered exposure internationally. Not bad for a passionate guy from Benalla.

A concept originating in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is ‘White Night’, which is an all-night art, music and culture focused festival. It includes digital projections encouraging visitors to experience cities in a different… light (excuse the pun). The event has since expanded to Paris, Chicago, Lima and Toronto. Earlier this year, following the success of the Melbourne-based event, the White Night expanded to Ballarat. This marked the first time that a White Night event has taken place in a regional city anywhere in the world and it attracted over 40,000 visitors.

Another overseas example is the Battersea Power Station, London. The decommissioned coal-fired power station is located on the bank of the River Thames. With Battersea A, built in the 1930s and Battersea B built in the 1950s. Both ceased generating in 1983, but have become landmarks of London.
Since 2013, almost 30 years after it was decommissioned, the site was redeveloped as an event space and has since held some of the world’s biggest events and parties. Nike once mapped 4D projections at the power station, it’s hosted many extravagant company Christmas parties and now the site is being redeveloped and marketed as London’s newest neighbourhood, complete with office, residential, retail and event spaces. There’s even been a chimney restoration program to provide better views across London.

Continuing on this theme, much could be written on the similarities of the turbine hall at Hazelwood Power Station and the Tate Modern Gallery in London. Creating new uses for the interior and exterior of these buildings that not only makes space for temporary exhibitions, but can also provide a new medium for events.

Can we bring these beneficial ideas home? It’s a grand idea, yes, but with the Heritage Council of Victoria issuing an Interim Protection Order for the Morwell Power Station and Briquette Factory, ceasing its imminent demolition and subsequently allowing the process of assessment for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register, it’s becoming a viable option to test.

Currently, there are concerns that the building may be unsafe. Hypothetically, there’ll be substantial costs in demolishing the building and clearing the site in preparation for it to be sold as an industrial brownfield site. Instead, could those funds be injected into the restoration and repurposing of the Power Station to make it safe and save our heritage? Once a site such as this hulking, 1950s Australian industrial gem is destroyed, we can’t get it back. A public presentation Hearing will be held in Morwell County Court to hear all submissions in October – please get involved, if you wish to see a potentially incredible future event resource saved.

One final thought is that I’d love to see an event that focuses on the history and culture of the Gunaikurnai, Bun Wurrung, Woi Wurrung and Bidwell people and lands. It could feature pieces that connect art and digital projection, transforming key buildings and landmarks into captivating works of art, both during the day and night.

Abandoned, but not Forgotten
Potential for large-scale building transformation in Gippsland:
– Morwell Briquette Factory Heritage Stage II;
– Hazelwood Power Station;
– Loy Yang Power Station.

Pictured above is Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 installation, The Weather Project, that inhabited the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern Art Museum and Gallery. The world-famous Tate Modern has been housed in the former Bankside Power Station since 2000…an incredible creative venue in a former power station…you see where we’re going with this?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.