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Three ways co-working spaces help creative practice

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Brooke Boland

Co-working and co-locating initiatives are stimulating ideas and partnerships in the creative industries.
Three ways co-working spaces help creative practice

ACMI X. Image: supplied.

Since Dan Koerner moved to ACMI X his productivity and opportunities have blossomed.  The director of Sandpit, a collaborative company that creates immersive storytelling experiences at the intersection of design and technology, he relishes the opportunity to rub shoulders with other creatives. 

A conversation over coffee between Koerner, CEO of ACMI Katrina Sedgwick and ACMI curator Sarah Tutton, eventually led to the commission of Sandpit’s immersive virtual reality experience Ghosts, Toast and the Things Unsaid.

‘We were able to share our work that we’d made in the past and they said that could be really interesting at ACMI,’ said Koerner. Ghosts, Toasts and the Things Unsaid became a partnership with Sandpit, ACMI, Google Creative Lab and Sydney-based digital storytelling studio Grumpy Sailor.

As Koerner said, it’s the design of ACMI X that works really well.  It has a large social space that creates the opportunity for organic conversation but doesn’t infringe on the quiet co-working space.

‘There’s a huge amount of creative and technical talent in the building and we are in an environment where we can really organically have a conversation around the coffee machine with each other and also with ACMI staff.’

Creative opportunities

ACMI X is one of a burgeoning group of co-working spaces and co-location initiatives in Victoria providing creatives with new ways to connect.  It is also the first in Australia to be run by a major cultural institution, Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).

‘There has been enormous focus on co-working, co-location or collaborative work places over the last ten years. Places where creative practitioners work side by side, sharing ideas, resources and space with an emphasis on collaboration and interdisciplinary exchange,’ said Bree Trevena, who heads up Creative Victoria’s creative spaces programs.

‘It is becoming more imperative for people to share not only their resources and their spaces, but also to share their knowledge.’

Key drivers behind co-working in many industries include the need for affordable space in city locations, the desire to overcome isolation and the economy of shared facilities – such as Happy Hubub in Melbourne’s Preston, a co-working space that offers childcare facilities. Co-working can provide both the economic sustainability of shared infrastructure, plus the social value of connection and relationship building.

But for creative industries there can be additional benefits in more adventurous models that co-locate different kinds of organisations or artists in order to facilitate creative environments – and the creative outcomes that often result don’t just benefit the creative practitioners who co-locate, but also the broader community.

Get your work seen

Testing Grounds in Melbourne’s Southbank isn’t just a creative space – it’s a creative experiment.

For those looking for a space to develop and perform new experimental works, Testing Grounds is pushing the envelope on what a co-working model can do.

Occupying what was once a parcel of disused land, Testing Grounds now provides a free indoor/outdoor space for experimental arts practice within the arts precinct, enabling emerging artists, performers, writers, architects and even game designers to have their work seen by a broad group of other creatives, audiences and community members who visit the site.

Joseph Norster, Creative Director of The Projects (the design firm behind Testing Grounds), said the intense short-term relationships formed on the site were quite different from those of co-workers who work side by side at a desk over an extended period.

‘I think that programming a site with a multitude of different art forms or creative practice is really exciting.  Because you do get some genuine connections between different art forms, you do get dance performers and writers inhabiting the same space at the same time, and that does inspire or provoke some really interesting outcomes.’

‘There are very few things we say no to. As programmers we have a “Yes, if” rather than “No, because” attitude - Yes you can do it, if this proves safe, as opposed to “no you can’t, because you might set fire to yourself”.’

The project, an ongoing partnership with Creative Victoria, is currently undergoing an upgrade and will reopen in late November. Three new interior spaces will be introduced on the site; a white box, a black box, and a third that will have high clear walls. There will also be an exterior open box providing an unprogrammed, improvisation space for the community to use.

‘People can choose how they use the site... All of the elements, every part of the site can be used for creative practice it’s not just a white wall or a black box but the entirety of the site is seen as a big framework for creative practice.’

Peer-to-peer learning

One reason mixed-used spaces are valuable in the creative sector is the opportunities they afford for collaboration that can often lead to new innovations in practice or discourse.

At Schoolhouse Studios, a non-profit arts organisation in Collingwood and Brunswick, affordable studios and exhibition spaces are combined with networking opportunities and events. The Directors started the facilities after feeling isolated working from bedrooms and kitchen tables.

‘Many of our resident artists have found freelance work, advice and networking opportunities through these incidental interactions,’ said co-director Hazel Brown.

At The Arcade, Australia’s first not-for-profit collaborative workspace for the games industry, many independent studios are brought together under the one roof. This has real benefits for those smaller companies who make up the industry.

President of internationally successful development and publishing company Hipster Whale Clara Reeves said being a resident at The Arcade ‘lets us be a part of something a bit bigger in size than we actually are.’

‘In the video games industry, a lot of studios are smaller than they used to be. In some cases you have studios that are only made up of a couple of people. [The Arcade] helps to recreate a bit of that situation where you have different kinds of projects, skill levels and experience.’

She recounted an experience where another resident studio was struggling with a bug in a game that they couldn’t reproduce themselves.  ‘They asked the bigger community at the Arcade, “Can anybody reproduce this? Has anybody seen this before?” The brains trust comes in and everyone had a go and they were able to solve it. It’s having access to resources bigger than you would necessarily be able to afford.’

‘The Arcade is an important part of the whole ecosystem in Victoria. For some studios it makes sense to be in their own space, and The Arcade and what’s going on there might not suit them entirely. But it’s a really good option particularly for tiny studios to just get out and be in a space where there are people doing the same sort of thing who have maybe been through it a few times before and who can help them out. On the flip side of that, the more experienced studios have the opportunity to meet new people and look for new staff,’ said Reeves.

Students have even been known to hot desk at The Arcade as a way to start networking with companies.

For Marcus Westbury, CEO of Contemporary Arts Precincts and the man leading the exciting development of Collingwood Arts Precinct on the site of a former Technical School, bringing creatives together is important.

‘We have a big site so we want to make sure that it’s a home to a diverse group of creative practitioners. That’s really important. When you bring people into proximity with one another, who have different practices or different networks or relationships, they can feed off each other and create possibilities that wouldn’t exist if they weren’t around each other often or all the time.

‘Our aim is to have a wide range of creative practices and practitioners working out of one space. I think it is really important that, as we put the space together, to design it in a way that people interact and don’t just disappear into their own silos, and create a community that is bigger than the sum of its parts.’

The rise of co-working across different industries may be the result of a particular set of circumstances, such as the need for affordable work spaces. But for the arts and creative industries these spaces are being pushed in new creative directions to foster more opportunities for individuals and organisations – as well as local communities.

The Inside Creative State Report is brought to you in partnership with Creative Victoria. Creative State is a Victorian Government strategy for growing Victoria’s creative industries across arts and culture, film and television, design, digital games, design and fashion. As part of the strategy, Creative Victoria is developing a new program to activate co-working spaces and hubs across the state.

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. She recently completed her PhD on gender, translation and women's writing and has tutored undergraduates at Victoria University and the University of NSW.

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