Docklands is becoming cool

Docklands is becoming cool

So last week I met with an old real estate friend to look at how to rejuvenate empty space, specifically strengths and weakness in both corporate and cultural settings.

He took me around the city to look at all the spaces that were available and we mainly looked around the Collins St end of Docklands. I was struck by how much space there was empty, that is just sitting there.

It frustrates me to think of all this wasted space that brings no value to the community and its culture. The people who own these properties paid a lot of money for them once. I suspect the value of these spaces has dropped vastly because they have remained empty since being built more than 15 years ago.

As most of you probably know, Blender Studios recently relocated from its gritty urban origins in the laneways of Melbourne’s CBD into The District Docklands shopping centre …. This development had been plagued by similar issues of empty spaces and lack of culture.

Surrounded by once-empty shops and construction, Blender has been co-opted for its potential to rejuvenate the space and contribute to gentrification. Blender has become an oasis – a shining beacon for independent and experimental art endeavours.

About a year after we moved in, Renew Australia filled much of the remaining empty spaces around us, which has helped make the area rich in artists.

The walk around the city with my real estate friend made me realise what is going on at The District Docklands in regard to the artists, art and galleries. The corporate collaboration is unique and it’s working.

The planners at the shopping centre have created an interesting mixture of corporates, workers, shoppers and artists sharing the public space. The needs of centre management are carefully choreographed within this unlikely combination, with the retail businesses and shoppers at the centre of their focus.

The artists, curators and galleries have been placed in one full wing of the shopping centre, set up as an arts precinct.

This situation has created a delicate balance for Blender – between supporting the vison of the studios, their philosophies and needs of the artists – while meeting the needs of the corporate bureaucracy.

This is not the first time that urban planners have utilised art spaces to assist in the rejuvenation of Docklands.

In 2010 the Creative City initiative and MAB came together to create a number of art galleries and a few studios known as the Docklands Spaces Program.

Corporate design and large-scale development for profits meant that the urban design of Docklands was not at the forefront of consideration and the precinct suffered as a result. So, they created the first Docklands art precinct.

The main problem with the project was that it was over-managed, with conflicting interests and numerous corporate demands which made it hard to maintain direction. Kate Shaw, a curator and researcher in the first Docklands art precinct, concluded that the “temporary spaces movements do not have the capacity to solve the problems at places like Docklands”.

According to her, there is no way that history will not repeat itself.

Well, after walking around with my real estate friend, I then took him back to Blender to show him what we have been up to and the unusual collaboration that we have managed to achieve with AsheMorgan.

I think what has transpired at The District has become really important and a fantastic case study of the currency of culture.

I just worry that everything in life is based on relationships and it could take only one rogue worker or one crazy artist to rupture the relationships that are required in order for projects like this to exist.

This has become one of the most successful corporate and artistic collaborations in Melbourne and, possibly, Australia. And it has taken so much commitment and sacrifice on both sides.

I do worry that people who are unaware of its importance could be flippant with its value and that it could be on the edge of a cliff.

It will only be in retrospect that the full implications of this corporate collaboration will be understood – its importance to the artistic world and its ability to work in space and community rejuvenation.

But as Blender sits in its beautiful space, I must compliment AsheMorgan for having the insight and brains to understand the importance of what is happening down at The District. Without its vison, so much important and amazing work would never have happened.

It really is spectacular and one of the best examples of its kind.

I hope that The District values the collaboration as much as the artists do to ensure that the relationships that hold this whole project together are protected.

Cheers to The District and its understanding of culture as real currency.


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