The proposal by the City of Fremantle to make an Arts Hub out of Arthur Head is flawed because it lacks vision and is based on lack of local knowledge of the area, and lack of inside knowledge of the arts industry.
Decisions about Arthur Head need to be outcome based and need to absolutely respect the heritage and indigenous importance, and tourism value of the area. That is not being debated at all.
What is the outcome Fremantle council wants to achieve for Arthur Head? Is it to create more vibrancy into the west end, to attract more visitors, to receive more rent, or all of the above? Only when we know what outcome we want to achieve can we work back from there to implement the changes that would achieve that. Change for change sake is not a plan.
To make Arthur Head and the west end in general more vibrant it would need action different from simply making subsidised artist studios out of cottages and the J Shed, and throwing each and every existing occupant out, so we can start from scratch.
Has council considered at all that evicting the Fremantle Heritage Guides from their office would result in the closure of the Round House, as most guides would stop their volunteer work? They need an office, kitchen and change room near the Round House for lunch breaks, storage of explosives to fire the cannon, and access to bad weather gear, a fridge and toilet, etc.
Subsidised artist studios don’t attract tourists. Closed doors never do and most artists like to work in solitude, not having people looking over their shoulders. Subsidised artists studios for mostly part time artists are only used infrequently, if one can take the example of the Old Customs House, where studios are not used for days at a time because the artists have jobs to go to.
Artists in residencies are often vacant for many weeks, sometimes months, between residencies as well. Interstate and overseas artists also like to travel Western Australia, which leaves the studios unused for long periods. Check it out at Artsource and the Moores Building!
It is important to stress again that the Pilot’s Cottages are heritage listed, which makes them unsuitable for artists studios, because of possible damage to walls and floors. They were built as residential buildings and should retain some of that character. Bed&Breakfast might be an option to look into.
The West End of the city does need more than just artists taking over buildings, and real and better alternatives should be looked at more seriously.
One of the cottages could become an annex of The Meeting Place, with meeting rooms for community groups. This would suit cottage 11 where the Fremantle Society is in at present. It would mean a constant coming and going of people during the days and evenings, which enhances security and vibrancy.
The most southern studio at J Shed is rarely used and could be converted into a café/wine bar on the beach to attract locals and visitors to Arthur Head. Greg James’ studio has regular exhibitions, while Jenny Dawson collaborates with indigenous artists on many projects. This should be supported and the artists retained!
Grants should be thought to extend the boardwalk from Kidogo Art House to J Shed. This would make it a real tourist attraction, and connects the historic ends of Bathers Beach to the Maritime Museum and Victoria Quay.
A weekend, or monthly art market in front of J Shed at Bathers Beach should be investigated. It could even partly be held in the Whalers Tunnel to entice people to wander through High Street. There is plenty of parking at Maritime TAFE on weekend days. My proposal last year to run one as a community event did not get off the ground because CoF did not want to cover the public liability insurance costs, although I would not have made a single cent out of the market.
Tourists love the residential feeling at 10 Captain’s Lane. They interact with the cats, the kids and the family. This family gives security to the area, and area frequented by homeless people and boozed up backpackers. Don’t evict that family. Embrace them!
Unoccupied artists studios at night would make Arthur Head a target for vandalism, anti social behaviour, break-ins, and squatting.
It would need a considerable amount of money to upgrade and renovate the buildings into artist studios, without any evidence that doing so will enhance the vibrancy of Arthur Head and attract more people to the West End of Fremantle. I ask council again, what outcome do you want to achieve with your proposed changes!
Great things could be achieved at Arthur Head, but the proposed art precinct is not one of them, because it is not creative and forward looking enough. It lacks diversity and the big picture approach that is needed.