9 May 2019

Don't like Art, not Apart? Get over it!

| Alex Tricolas
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It takes two things to make shit happen: Money and vision. Sadly, those with the money don’t always have the vision, and those with the vision don’t always have the money. On occasion, however, if the two can come together, then big things may happen. When it comes to a particular pet project of our Chief Minister, and for that matter, many Canberrans–our metamorphosis into a ‘cool little capital’–we probably need to realise that money and vision will have to learn how to dance together while occasionally stepping on each other’s toes.

The NewActon precinct is amongst the handful of recent examples that are wheeled out every time Canberra wants to talk itself up, the paradigm shifting poster child of the new ‘cool’ Canberra. Lauded globally for its innovative architecture and edgy aesthetic, the precinct is presented as a triumph of urban renewal; an achievement by private developer Molonglo Group, after many years of red tape and bureaucracy, that breathed new life into a previously derelict ANU owned asset.

When it comes to money meeting vision, this is perhaps a perfect example. Molonglo Group patriarch Tim Efkarpidis (the money) passed the baton to sons Nektar and Jonathan (the vision). Like two modern day dandies, the brothers have surrounded themselves with Canberra’s cultural movers and shakers, as patrons of the arts and big time visionaries, and made sure to express their patronage in the precinct. Without them, NewActon would have been just another real estate development, but it has become so much more than that, which no doubt makes people like Art, not Apart organiser Dave Caffrey a happy man.

Caffrey is employed by Molonglo Group as their events manager and cultural coordinator. With their support, he has been able to turn this event into a serious contributor to Canberra’s cultural capital. This year, Art, not Apart has spilled over Parkes Way to include the new Westside container precinct, another example of a vision–The Stomping Grounds Collective–meeting money–a healthy dose of government funding. With this new collaboration, Art, not Apart is looking like it could rival any cultural event across the nation, and one day even outdo the well established Floriade as a tourism drawcard.

All this does not, however, make everybody happy, especially an undisclosed number of residents in and around NewActon who, it seems, much rather prefer the quiet flowerbeds to the vibrant atmosphere of this particular festival. Groups such as the Irate Residents of Acton (IRA), have been active in trying to shut any cultural and entertainment events down in the precinct. Formed to push an agenda through social and traditional media, they are hoping that they can import their suburban serenity to their new inner city homes.

And here we have the case for money and vision stepping on each other’s toes. It takes money, and a lot of it, to make a visionary precinct like this happen. The truth is that the carefully curated and privately owned precinct is expensive: twenty bucks will get you a burger, and a couple of million will get you an entry-level penthouse. In other words, the only way this vision was going to be feasible was if it attracted serious money. Baby boomer, empty-nester money; and there is the dilemma. The average participant in events such as Art, not Apart is just not representative of most of the residents at NewActon.

Canberra’s creative and at times scruffy young arts community is imported en masse on this particular weekend into a space that is ruled on most days by wealthy professional types or cashed up retirees; residents keen to downsize into something that reflected their own aspirations, who were perhaps sold the dream of the inner city life without considering the occasional inconvenience high density urban living would bring them.

It seems a few of them just don’t have the patience for, or the interest in, the cultural event that is going on just outside the front doors of their immaculate apartment buildings, or for that matter, the activities that will soon be taking place across Parkes Way at Westside. They probably feel that this is not what they signed up for, but they are wrong. This is exactly what they signed up for. This is what living in a city is like. A city’s cultural expression mostly happens in its inner precincts, and as residents of those precincts, they should welcome this or perhaps move back to the ‘burbs.

Last weekend, Sydney put on its annual Mardi Gras, an event that basically takes over a great chunk of the inner city and, no doubt, creates a number of noise, traffic and access problems for thousands of residents. Canberrans flock to the event, as do many people from around the country. Sydneysiders–locals and those from all over that particular city alike–embrace the event because of what it brings to Sydney, both culturally and economically.

The thing is, they know that in a big city, they have to share. And that is what our baby boomer residents need to understand as they transition to inner city life. It requires a willingness to share. At the end of the day, their complaints surely fall squarely into the category of ‘first world problems’ and they would be better off putting as much outrage into real issues like homelessness–something that, judging by their digs, they obviously don’t have to worry about.

Art not Apart is a free event. It welcomes all to enjoy the party, not just those with enough money to afford the penthouses with lake views. As our government makes grand plans–both to sell off great chunks of inner city land to make way for higher density developments, and to nurture the growing cultural equity of our city–it would do well to understand that money and vision are the two horns of a dilemma that it must grasp. If higher density living means that the cashed up classes have the power to shut down our cultural growth, or to push out those in the community that are less privileged, it will have achieved nothing. If it can manage it correctly, then we may certainly be a cool little Capital.

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Cor Blimey, Roger!
don’t put all the baby boomers in the negative basket – been looking for cultural edgy innovation in Canberra for years. We used to have some dance and theatre too, but Canberra’s a small space – things will come and go.

Sharon Casey4:23 am 25 Mar 15

I agree with a lot of this – but it gives the developer’s a free pass on the hole in their vision. They designed an area around consumers and neglected to factor in the workers and makers. If 10 or 20% of the development had been affordable housing, where chefs, wait staff, artists and other workers could reside close to where they work – they would have created a community base. But they went for the money and now wonder why it is so difficult to deal with the NIMBYism and entitled self interest of some intractable residents.
I also think that the vision is great – but importing it as festivals and events to this site makes it more a theme park than an organically vibrant cultural precinct. Truly vibrant arts areas don’t just adorn a city – they critique it, challenge it, and always upset some people.

Alex Tricolas1:03 am 28 Mar 15

Hi Sharon, Thanks for your comment. Valid points about art’s role in a city. I would say though that rather than giving the developers a free pass, the piece highlights the hole in the vision.

Seraphim Isaac9:17 pm 20 Mar 15

Great piece in illustrating the dilemma between the intergenerational Inspired Visionary Doers and the Irrelevant Recycled Assholes (IRA). The dilemma is that there are those of us like the Efkarpidis who use our great wealth to create a vibrate city precinct that is inclusive and invites all to Australia’s best kept secret that is ‘the magic of Canberra,’ and makes true the CBR Brand – That Canberrans are a very diverse multicultural community of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ yet we all are Confident-Bold-Ready. Then there are those of us the very few IRA who uses our money to CBR (control-bully-ransack) any vision that generates and breathes energy and life to the very sterile urban space that we choose to take residency in; and then complains and whinge when we cannot control the ‘usage’ like we do our exclusive country estates or summer coastal residences. Some of us need to ‘get a life’ or even better, may I suggest ‘a sea change’. As a resident of New Acton precinct, I look forward to many more events that give a platform to the many talented unearthed Canberrans and showcase ‘the hidden gem city of Australia’. To my fellow New Acton IRA, stop BEING ‘Irrelevant Recycled Assholes’, otherwise run away for the weekend. That is what money can buy YOU…CHOICES!.

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