Eve Sullivan in conversation with directors Brigid Noone and Ben Leslie
Fontanelle has made its mark in Bowden, once a forgotten part of Adelaide, now a massive site for urban renewal. How do you now reflect on what you have achieved and where you will go from here? Will the new location at Port Adelaide change the way you operate as an artist-driven creative space?
There are a few ways we reflect on the Bowden project. Firstly, it gave us a platform to develop a new model for studio and exhibition presentations in the contemporary arts sector. Combining a studio culture with a contemporary exhibition program was not happening anywhere else in Adelaide on the scale we see at Fontanelle, and it was the subsidised lease as real estate support from Renewal SA that helped make this possible. We were able to attain a large space, as opposed to just a small shop front. The scale, and the exhibition model have attracted artists to join us, also from interstate. That, and the playful spirit that this giant studio and gallery affords, has fostered the Fonty culture!
There has been a massive change in the neighbourhood. In the space of a few years, we have seen multiple apartment complexes rise up to gentrify the previously industrial environment. We are very grateful to have brokered and negotiated our occupation of Fontanelle in Bowden, but being an active place-making component of a government development has its challenges. While it has been a progressive move to offer a temporary three-to-four year lease, we aren’t quite at the stage where grassroots arts culture is embedded within a longer-term philosophy.
This has been part of our reason to look further afield, to the next destination, and the Port has obvious attractions. What we hope for at the Port is that the development process retains some of the arts culture, and continues to facilitate and support initiatives for years to come. Only then, will it keep its edge and attract an ongoing arts culture of a high standard. We are taking this opportunity to reassess what has worked and further develop our unique model. Being adaptable gives us the chance to reinvent and imagine new modes of operation that ultimately maintain our independence and our balance of individual and collective practice.
The “Fonty” culture is definitely out there with the fantastic exterior painting of Sam Songailo that has made such a visible impact in Bowden. You and Vitalstatistix are doing a lot to create an active community at the Port. What are your models, and how do you see yourselves supplementing other cultural institutions?
Setting up in the industrial and underdeveloped Bowden five years ago, gave us an opportunity to define our own space and program permitting invited artists to (within reason) transform the gallery spaces (including the painted exterior by Sam Songailo), giving us the opportunity to experiment with different models of interactivity. Our plans to move to the Port do include more active interactions with the community and developing new partnerships (also with Vitalstatistix) and a focus on public art programs.
This is a good opportunity for us to reassess the way our model operates. We are committed to showing good art but we are also aware of our need to adapt and reinvent. We get a great response to our opening events. But, to some extent, the gallery model of operating as a static space, waiting for people to visit within conventional gallery hours isn’t as relevant now. While we are planning our move we are spending some time questioning the influence of the dominant model of galleries and art spaces, taking our lead from the strength of our studio culture and gaps in the postgraduate arena.
Through strategic planning and daydreaming we plan to reassess the possibility of an extended events-based program that includes more social offerings. Focusing on the studio culture informing our future also embeds the development and support of mid-career practices. As artists, we want to ensure the development and growth of independent practitioners.
Tell me about your program for 2016 across the two spaces and the evolving agenda. How will you manage the transition?
This year our program will include interstate artists Chris Dolman and Caleb Shea, residents Min Wong and Ben Leslie and a collaborative project with Tutti Arts featuring local and visiting artists from Indonesia. While we are planning a full program in Bowden for 2016, we plan to move to the Port mid year, focusing initially on establishing and strengthening the studio culture with a series of public events, followed by the release of a full program for 2017. We are still waiting on final confirmation for access to the building at the Port, but the transition will be fuelled by our willingness to explore new directions and expand our current model. In true artist-run style we want to enjoy the process and see the space develop as a new work in its own right.