Kumuwuki: On hubs.

by Jane

In the least intimate venue, Hania Radvan attempted to host an intimate conversation on our place is your place, discussing hubs and places in communities.

“It is easier to get a place built then maintained,” said Radvan. “Why are we caught up so much with centres, with hub, with shared spaces?”

“Hubs: it’s a simple concept, but communities are complex, and how do we meld the two?”

Ashleigh Bunter comes from Toowoomba in Queensland, where she is an curator and arts worker, currently working with the Toowoomba Regional Arts Gallery and is director of A. Bunter Projects. With 130,000 people, it is the largest inland non-capital centre town in Australia. She said it is a city where “young, emerging artists are really getting active and creating space for themselves.”

She recently returned to Toowoomba from living in Sydney, and she said she “came back with fresh eyes and looked around at the people working there and found it really exciting.”

Bunter spoke of several places in Toowoomba, including Raygun and The Grid, “a wonderful space that houses seventeen different creatives.” Bunter spoke about several things which exist in the building skateboards; Play on Play; Mars Gallery; dance school; circus classes; dancing in the dark.

“It’s really hard to keep up with everything that’s happening. It’s created such a creative warm space for people to see whats happening,” she said.

“It’s become a real place that the community feels like they own,” and is filled with emerging artists doing “really brave” projects.

“I don’t think we’re just part of one hub, but we occupy many and move in and out of them, including the virtual hub.”

“All of this is happening as a reaction because we feel like we can do anything,” says Bunter. The traditional gallery can take longer to get work on display, but these ARIs have more freedom to their operations. “Within the hubs we’ve created for ourselves we can just dream up something and do it.”

Esther Anatolitis is the director of Regional Arts Victoria, and recently wrote for ArtsHub the first in a series of pieces “Uncurated spaces for uncurated communities”

There she wrote:

Ironically, the more curated spaces we have, the stronger the cries for flexible, affordable spaces where creative communities can lead the creative agenda, and where the voices of artists and makers can lead artistic trends. Sophisticated spaces price and structure themselves out of artist and community reach, while at the same time, they no longer afford for themselves the possibility of future artistic innovations and creative uses, because their business model and their physical form is insufficiently flexible for responsive reappropriation.

With RAV introduced by Radvan as a ‘conceptual hub’, Anatolitis responded “I hope we’re a conceptual hub. I think that’s really really vital.”

“The question of place is going to be increasingly important for the work Regional Arts Victoria does.”

RAV will soon be starting a project called Home is Where the Hall Is, and Anatolitis says it is vital “communities can make and remake those particular spaces and place around them.”

She noted she has been thinking about the difference between ‘hub’ and ‘place’: a hub being a functional term about the physical venue and the multiple uses it can have; place “extends that arts notion well beyond that contained place, and it’s about planning, it’s about traffic flow it’s about health and well being.” Within these definitions, “hubs slow [the place] down so we’ve got somewhere to meet.”

Kylie Shead is the Creative Producer for Local Stages at the Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre in Bathurst, NSW: a traditional proscenium arch theatre and a city hall, in which Shead says she is constantly “upsetting my technical crew because I’m always changing it.”

The centre was built for the returned services, and they have to be very conscious of respecting that, or, as Shead says, “Making sure none of our ‘weird artsy stuff’ gets in the way.”

The BMEC runs a whole range of programs, and Shead hopes it can be a welcome place where they can come and see it as more than a government building. The programs are “designed to engage with as much of the community as we possibly can”, and this includes programs in Aboriginal performing arts, visual arts, and programs for young people.

Lisa (who’s surname name I didn’t manage to get, my deep apologise – will up date as soon as I am able) was a driving force in the creation of the Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre, in Katherine, NT, which opened mid this year after a twelve year fight. “It wasn’t a very easy walk that we’ve been walking now for the past 12 years,” she said. “There has been a lot of criticism, but as i speak from the community perspective, from the grassroots perspective.”

In that time, “former leaders now have passed and they were a very strong advocate” but they now have “a building where we can be proud when we’re sharing our culture.”

With 22 language groups in Katherine, Lisa says the GYRACC “is a hub for the communities which surround it.”

There are three Native Title Holdersof the land on which the centre is built, and these groups came together and started campaigning on behalf of the local community: “A group of us came together and stood with a shovel on the soil on the site where we were wanting to put the centre.”

Through the process, Lisa told us she had been subject to much criticism. But, she said, “regardless of all that took place, I took myself out of the box from where I’d been, and I took another move: another direction. You can imagine it wasn’t easy. I was up against my own people, the government, and my director board.”

In July, though, they opened the centre, named Godinymayin Yijard for respect for the Elders who passed away during the battle for the space.

despite the struggles, though, Lisa says when the time came to open the centre “it actually brought the community together.”

The population of Katherine has been growing over the twelve years, and Lisa says “There is still a lot of challenges in Katherine.”

“This year, because it was an election year, we’ve got a new government. It was so hard for us. But we’re strong.”

Cath Bowdler came on board at GYRACC late last year as the director, moving from NSW: “The Territory calls to you always if you’ve lived there,” she said.

The centre was more than about the art: “It’s a reconciliation project. It’s a two ways project. […] It was a place that really needed a hub. […] This is a place where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can come together.”

Part of her role at the centre is “to work out how the community can feel at home there.”

“We’re starting everything from scratch.”

Opening up the discussion to the floor, and more freely among the panel members, Radvan noted that places which should be hubs can fail to respond to community. The more traditional gallery spaces, for example, may only be open during business hours.

Bunter  says of these galleries: “I can see many ways in which we can do things better and make it a more inclusive space that people feel like they own a part of.”

“It’s certainly changing, and it will.”

Onto the NBN, Shead says there has been”a lot of discussion […] about how that type of technology was going to effect us and what we do” in a community where there are “kids still five hours away from the theatre.”

Talking about the curation of spaces, Anatolitis again spoke about the difference between hub and place: “any program which is dropped in from the outside isn’t going to bring people in in the same way.” While curation has a very important part to play in the arts, with people who’s profession is to survey widely and create frameworks through which we can view and appreciate art, there also needs to be care, she said, that community groups have access to space within their communities.

For example, in Goolwa the Centenary Hall was recently renovated, and is seeing an increase in professional touring work. The trade off for this, however, is decreased access for community groups, both in terms of access time and costs. Said Anatolitis, it’s about “getting the trade off right.”

At the BMEC, Shead said “we have some interesting situations where we curate touring programs and we also work with local artists. We do pick and choose who we work with and that does upset some people,” which she says can create tension.

In Katherine, said Bowdler, “the people have been waiting twelve years for this, and there are a lot of people who have had a lot of expectations.” At the opening, only stage one of the building was complete.

Within the building, there is both community access space and national touring shows. Bowdler spoke about community work being presented in the same way as the national tours, and what this can mean to the participants.

When thinking about hubs, said Bunter, “I think it’s the balance between public and private. It’s a public space that feels intimate and private, but people can contribute in any way they want.”

Anatolitis said hubs can be places where people can find mentors, work in co-location, and with the advantages of economies of scale. They need to have flexibility both in physical structure, and in cost structures.

On this, said Radvan “sometimes even individual practice can grow in a collaborative environment.”

And Anatolitis added: “Successful place is where people from multiple ages and cultures can come together and work.”