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The dawn of Gippsland's Renaissance.

Substantial redevelopment of our art and cultural centres is underway simultaneously right across our region.

Oct 14, 2017

Words: Tim Leeson & John Calabro

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Brace yourself Gippsland. In case you haven’t noticed, substantial redevelopment of our art and cultural centres is underway simultaneously right across our region. While this surge of investment is spanning a major stretch of Gippsland’s leg of the Princes Highway, the windfalls for community-focused arts projects are also landing in the remote reaches of small towns far removed from the major arterial.

A dormant energy is starting to awaken a collective pulse of creative output. We’re willing to wager that art, design, and architecture has never received as much attention in our eastern pocket before. Raising an exciting question:
What can come of this injection of cultural credibility?

The development of the arts and creativity, are all now seen as tools for opportunity; attracting tourism, reskilling, upskilling and employing a local workforce, collaborating with world-leading creatives in all fields, stoking civic pride, and stimulating local mindsets to be better adapted for the future are just some of the benefits. Not to mention injecting much sought-after funds into the regional coffers. Early signs are promising.

Gippslandia #4 - Developing Creative SpacesLatrobe Regional Gallery, Morwell.
Photo // Tanja Milbourne

One of the first projects completed in this new wave of cultural reinforcement has been the redevelopment of the Latrobe Regional Gallery in Morwell. A world apart from the cobbled streets of Paris, it may’ve once been the last place you’d expect to see works by influential surrealist Rene Magritte or globally renowned
mixed-media artist William Kentridge. Smaller in comparison to other local investments , Latrobe City Council’s $1.1 million worth of upgrades represents an incredible potential for return, as put by Mayor, Kellie O’Callaghan: “Art and culture is an important contributor to the liveability of a region. Our redeveloped Gallery now gives us the ability to host world-class exhibitions, such as Magritte. This will also have a positive impact on the community, and for the economic development of our region.” And she’s right. We need these facilities to be strong for Gippsland to be taken seriously. We need them to meet international standards. “Its reputation will grow and with that Latrobe City can wear the mantle of a regional gallery with a world-class standing.”

As great as the art gracing the walls at LRG is (and, it really is,) for those who don’t-know-alot-
about-art, but know-what-they-like, Mayor O’Callaghan goes on to explain that the benefits extend far beyond that which hangs upon walls, “Art is a valuable tool in allowing communities to explore their purpose and to reposition themselves – to think creatively about the journey from industrial town to cultural incubator. It can also act as a catalyst, unearthing otherwise unknown strengths and talents in our community, adding depth and texture to our experience.” Depth in a region traditionally dominated by one industry is a useful thing.

With funds available to realise the creation of these new cultural spaces, all eyes are turning to Gippsland to see what we can deliver. Thankfully, our local decision makers are buying in, while also entrusting the help of some notable talents.

John Doyle of NAAU Studio, the architects who led the LRG redevelopment in Morwell explains, “There’s been a lot of discussion on arts led regeneration of regional centres recently. This has definitely occurred in places such as Ballarat and Bendigo, but we think there’s a place for projects such as the LRG refurbishment providing a platform for the development of new expertise in construction, fabrication and manufacturing locally.”

Gippslandia #4 - Developing Creative Spaces

NAAU approached the commission as a collaborative undertaking that drew on a talented pool of people, most of whom were based in the Latrobe Valley. John continues, “One of the most interesting outcomes of the LRG project was the intersection of creative and traditional industries. By placing creativity and design at the forefront of the procurement model for public buildings, there’s the opportunity to use the creative sector in the Latrobe Valley to develop and re-tool local industry towards the creation of innovative new manufacturing and construction processes.”

Thankfully, this was a case of both ‘talking the talk’ and ‘walking the walk’, “The custom timber ceiling was fabricated locally and features more than 950 unique timber baffles that can only fit together one way. There’s nothing in the world like it, however the goal of the project was to create a world class exhibition space, that’s open and public in its outlook.”

“We're most happy with the new exterior, restoring the facade back to its original appearance and introducing a series of new window boxes, and corner entry which open the space of the gallery out to the street.”

The final outcome is rock solid. The traditional building intersects with the contemporary, with a nice balance of restraint and flamboyance. The anticipation about the amount of good coming to Morwell’s CBD is growing, and it a feeling that’s been quite the wait in coming. The same can also be said for Moe.

Gippslandia #4 - Developing Creative SpacesFrank Bartlett Library & Service Centre, Moe.
Photo // John Gollings

While not exactly associated with art, the Frank Bartlett Library and Service Centre adjacent to the Moe Train Station, and bang centre in the town’s CBD, was completed in June 2016 and represents a massive injection for the humanities for Moe — presented in an architecturally award-winning building in town not known for it’s design. At approximately $14 million, the brand new facilities don’t just look the part, they embody considered design, shielding noise from the railway, the architecture opens up to the town centre to create a new sunlit public space raising the downtown street aesthetic.

“The public response to the library in Moe has been really positive.” explains Project Architect Louise Goodman, from highly regarded Melbourne-based architecture firm, FJMT. “For the Library, it’s great to hear stories from people using the new spaces to work in, and simply enjoy their town from a new angle. The space is theirs.”

Gippslandia #4 - Developing Creative SpacesFrank Bartlett Library & Service Centre, Moe.
Photos // John Gollings

It’s important to note, that for Gippsland’s built environments, having architects like FJMT shape our spaces is a whopping big deal. Recently awarded First Prize at the International Design Awards for Architecture-Exhibits, Pavilions and Exhibition — among many other highly regarded national and international trophies — their work is excellent. An observant walk around Moe’s new library quickly shows it. Quality spaces like this not only benefit the community, but prove to visitors that our region is an area that’s not only keeping up with the times, but diving into the future.

Gippslandia #4 - Developing Creative SpacesPort of Sale Cultural Hub, Sale.
Image // FJMT

Further good news is that FJMT are also lead architects for the $14.5m redevelopment of the Port of Sale, due for completion later this year. The cultural hub will feature a new art gallery, library, visitor centre, Council chamber and café, along with surrounding parklands. With constructive community consultation, regional recreational space is to be expanded in a precinct that features an upgraded skate park, access to Sale’s port, as well as proximity to The Wedge performing arts entertainment centre. The new concept plans reflect the community’s vision and will contribute to the vibrancy of Wellington as a tourist destination, providing a public building that residents can be proud of.

FJMT have teamed up with another internationally-regarded architecture firm Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) for the project. Before instigating the cries of, ‘Where are the locals?’ and, ‘We don’t need the city folk to show us how to do it!’, we’re pleased to report that both Perry Lethlean of TCL and Ms Goodman from FJMT do have true Gippslandian roots: “Working on Sale Cultural Hub and Moe Rail Revitalisation projects throughout the design, documentation and construction phases with project architects, FJMT, has meant regular travel to the region over the past six years. My parents and grandparents grew up and lived in the East Gippsland region, so it’s familiar territory,” explains Ms Goodman.

“It’s very rewarding to be a part of the delivery of community and civic projects — public places that resonate with the community — and offer more for the local people than a traditional library or community meeting place...The Sale Cultural Hub will deliver a wide range of public facilities; where familiar institutions will inhabit a totally new and reinvented space. These projects are at their most exciting point when the community starts to move in and make it theirs, which will happen soon in Sale.”

Gippsland Art Gallery’s Acting Director, Simon Gregg, believes “The new Gippsland Art Gallery is an exciting development for the region as it will both provide a substantial showcase for art from Gippsland and bring a greater range of visual art experiences into Gippsland.”

“The hero of the new spaces will be the gallery’s collection of almost 1,700 objects that, cumulatively, tell the story of the region. There will be an innovative mix of exhibitions and events drawn from within and outside Gippsland and a space dedicated to the work of internationally-renowned Sale-based textile artist Annemieke Mein.”

Gippslandia #4 - Developing Creative SpacesPort of Sale Cultural Hub, Sale.
Image // FJMT

A healthy institutional arts scene, supported by well-considered civic architecture and beautiful public space in some of Gippsland’s major towns is an exciting prospect. The benefits of this broad-reaching investment will spread far beyond council boundaries, as further explained by Mr Gregg: “Gippsland’s home to an incredible array of cultural producers, with individuals and communities of artists scattered widely across a vast geographical space. The gallery will bring these cultural wellsprings together in a vibrant cross-section of regional artistic talent, providing a truly twenty-first century centre to promote Gippsland culture and a place of inspiration and enjoyment for all who come to visit.”

Gippslandia #4 - Developing Creative SpacesWest Gippsland Arts Centre, Warragul.
Image // Baw Baw Shire

Heading back west to Warragul, an injection of works valued at $13.4million to expand the West Gippsland Arts Centre (WGAC) to a venue capacity of over 750 seats is due for completion in July 2018. The redevelopment is designed by firm Williams Ross Architects and utilises many parts of the existing building, yet improves the scale of the productions that can be hosted by the venue.

Baw Baw Shire Mayor, Councillor Joe Gauci, says, “A theatre, just like a sporting ground, is a place where people from all parts of the community can gather and share an experience. And just like sport, for some it is playing and for some it is watching others play… And who doesn’t want to watch the very best players going around? Having access to high quality shows ensures our community has the same opportunities our city cousins take for granted.”

While this may mean a reduction of pre-organised mini-bus trips to Melbourne’s theatre scene by a passionate group of local theatre goers, may we see an increase of bus trips from Melbourne to here?

“We measure success by the quality and scale of community engagement,” continues Mayor Gauci, “In a world where digital technology threatens to isolate people, we’re putting the emphasis on person-to-person contact. People need people, to share a laugh, have a cry, be surprised together, invent something new, and discover something you hardly imagined. All these things are possible when we open the doors to the heart and creativity and imagination of others. Of course, ticket sales and visitor counts will give us some numbers, but it will be the quality of the engagement and participation that really tells us if we are succeeding.”

The most significant change is probably going to be the new civic and community space that will be opened up in front of the venue. The plaza will be a great meeting place and an important link to the beautiful parklands of Civic Park.

The community and local schools will really benefit from the increased seating capacity because it was their shows more than any others, which struggled to fit in everyone who wanted to attend.

The overarching benefits of broader investment in the creative scene right across the region is universally going to bring great benefit. “We’re frequently being told how important ‘creativity’ is in the workplace and the world at large,” say Mayor Gauci. “The WGAC serves to both attract ‘practising creatives’ to live here (and thus to bring their skills and talents to our region), as well as offering a place that can provide training and development of creative skills.”

Mayor Gauci’s comments are echoed by Latrobe City Councillor and Creative Producer Dan Clancy, who’s passionate campaign to, ‘Get it built’ stimulated needed debate, support and momentum for the forthcoming Performing Arts Centre to be built in Traralgon, as Dan explains: “The Latrobe Creative Precinct is a $30 million project that has been funded with three equal amounts by Local, State and Federal governments. The new complex will be home to a 750-780 seat modern theatre, studio space, outdoor event area and all the things you would expect from a state of the art theatre; bars, cafes, box office and new car parking. The current building on Grey Street, will be refurbished into a venue fit for theatre training, dance, performance making and technical subjects where students can study a range of disciplines in the fields of arts, cultural and creative industries.”

The benefits of such a cultural injection are sure to have a positive effect on livabliity in the valley: “Look through civilisation, arts has been the one constant. Currency changes, governments, regimes and empires fall; the arts is constant because of the calm it brings. It is the immeasurable product in our lives that we all have and need but we can’t explain why. Do you like movies? TV Shows? Comic books? They are all produced by artists.”

“Regional communities have an enormous amount to offer the creative field" Dan continues. “Art and creative practices in Gippsland aren’t just the hanging of a painting on a wall, it’s food and wine festivals, live music, dancing, theatre shows, flower bouquets, a photographer’s Instagram account, statue in the park, the chalk drawings on the footpath, the parade through the streets; Art is everywhere and alongside this art is a thriving economy.”

It’s empowering stuff, but this sentiment proves that councils across Gippsland are recognising that the wager on the arts will drive development of a new and vibrant community. Major investment in the arts has assisted in driving thriving cities since the days of the Medici in Renaissance Florence, where people still flock hundreds of years later to see the legacy created by their investment. In a modern context, continued private and public-sector investment in architecture and design has led to Melbourne’s status as world’s most liveable city, nurturing a wave of startup businesses and new economies with it.

Throughout this issue we recall examples of revitalised industrial hubs in Europe and North America, the phenomenal success of Hobart’s Museum of Modern and New Art (MONA), to the financial stimulation vibrant regional art galleries in Bendigo and Ballart have provided to their locales. As the role of ‘livability’ reveals itself, art and cultural resources are increasingly being seen as one of the most important indicators for sustaining a strong city in our new, experience-focused economy. Raise your glass Gippsland, we may be late to the party, but our carafe is filling and our turn has come.

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