THE AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG: HOW TO INTRODUCE CREATIVE PLAY TO MIXED USE SPACES
Picture in your mind the average day. If you work in the Sydney or Melbourne CBD, chances are you’d have to commute around 19 km to work. You’d go to the office, then come home.
A bleak picture? For many Australians, it’s all about this A to B life, where work is geographically separated from rest and play. But is this the best way? According to Dr. Laura B. Alvarez, it wasn’t until the Industrial Age when we started to segregate our spaces into residential and industrial (The Conversation).
Don’t get too depressed - there’s signs that #worklyf might not always be this way. Now, with more people in our cities, less damaging environmental practices and an individual desire to be centrally located and collaborative, we’re starting to see an alternative: Mixed Use Spaces.
The Los Angeles Arts District has been doing the work-play approach for a long time. Credit: Emilya Colliver / Art Pharmacy Consulting
A Mixed Use Space is an urban environment where spaces like offices, creative centres, housing and community hubs are all located in a close-knit space. Residents can eat, work and play in the same area. Mixed Use Spaces are less work versus play, and more work and play.
I’m fascinated by this merging of work-play
People instead engage with play as a byproduct of the creative workspaces and businesses around them. Creative talks in breweries, weekend exhibitions held in lobbies, after hours ceramics classes in artist studios, weekend performances in dance studios … so many possibilities!
I’m fascinated by this merging of work-play - easy access to the fun products of living near creative communities, which residents desperately want in their living areas. The benefit to local developers is that all their products, from office, to retail, to residential, can be in one area.
A creatively-focused Mixed Use Space would be a natural gathering space for night and day events, where you bump into friends at public cultural events and getting errands done.
From long-lasting impact to quick wins, here are creative ways that work-play aspects of multi-use spaces can be facilitated with arts and culture.
WAY WAY AHEAD: GOING BIG
Why think small when you can go big? I recently got lost in LA’s Arts District, and for a city not known for its walkability. The gritty area that gained fame for being the birthplace of creatives such as Sonic Youth, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and George Herms, now features works by Shephard Fairey, JR and the UTI Crew that people come to admire. But that level of creative success takes long term thinking and successive creative endeavours.
Creative design narrative
Let’s start from the top - if you want that key aspect of play in a mixed use space, you have to design for it from the outset. It’s no use getting all excited for your studio spaces for cutting edge artists if you don’t know how the creatives are going to use the space. Creating a functionality guide for the creative possibilities of the space is essential for getting the best out of a space.
Not sure what that would look like? Think about Hong Kong’s PMQ building, with its design studios, shops, offices and exhibitions.
Non-creatives don’t exist
PMQ brings artists into an entrepreneurs environment, encouraging creativity by attracting talent and encouraging collaboration both within and without the building, as well as attracting your self-identified ‘non-creatives’ (though my belief is that these don’t exist!) to events and exhibitions. That takes planning - and a very good community manager in residence.
THINKING AHEAD: DIGITAL AND SEMI-PERMANENT INSTALLATIONS
Thinking more along the year to three year mark, there are longer term ways to make a mixed use space *sparkle* for the right reasons.
Got a smartphone in your pocket? Know your Java from your Python? As technological savviness starts to become the norm, there are more ways than ever to use digital art as a semi-permanent way of activating a space, giving it a story people can relate to, and even giving it that needed sense of play.
I love immersive, site-specific works like those by Cuppetelli and Mendoza, which really give audiences and excuse to pause. Using elastic cords, digital software and video cameras, the cords moves, echoing the audience’s movements. Not only is this beautiful, but it entreats the viewer to stop and engage. Can you imagine one of these in the lobby of a mixed use building?
Another opportunity are semi-permanent installations that hark back to the area’s origins. In 2015 we installed the sound installation artwork ‘La Piazza Parlante’ by Marta Ferracin in Sydney’s Five Dock. For an area heavily influenced by the surrounding Italian culture, Ferracin collected auditory material of voices from the local community consisting of their stories, looping to those who can sit at benches below. If you didn't know what the area was about, you would after you’d seen it.
QUICK WINS: EASY CREATIVE ACTIVATIONS
Quick wins - they do what they say on the label. Sometimes, when kick-starting that OMG awesome Mixed Use Space you need to buy yourself a bit of extra time before you can think of those long term big hairy goals (BHG’s). But remember - when it comes to setting up community spaces quick wins are just that. Quick. It’s best always to think of the bigger picture for long lasting effects!
In 2012, when I first started doing pop up galleries on Sydney’s Oxford Street, my team and I brought artworks by emerging artists to unused retail spaces, selling them to visitors. While I’ve moved on from my events days, it taught me how attractive the creativity of local art openings can be for patrons.
The usage of recycled shipping containers has blossomed in Australia, so what better way to use them than setting up a temporary - and moveable - gallery in a budding Mixed Use Space? Having an exciting, ever-changing gallery where locals can pop their head in and see changes every two weeks will build genuine connections between local residents, particularly those who are curators, artists and culture lovers. By activating play in this way, you start to naturally strengthen hubs where shops and work spaces are located.
Themed creative workshop series can also be held in shipping containers, but have the benefit of engaging community groups for a specific amount of time. For example, at Green Square in Alexandria, Sydney, we organized workshops for local children which saw a local artist showcasing their skills in areas such as paper lantern making. Events like this bring a liveliness to shared spaces, and (with the right marketing) new residents.
The quickest of wins - if the rumble of construction vehicles hasn't quite died down yet, it is essential to beautify the area as much as possible. While councils such as the City of Sydney are now mandating that developers cover hoardings on construction sites with works by living Australian artists, or historical images relevant to the area, developers can also commission their own artist. Take the opportunity to make it a work that adds to the area’s conversation.
Want to improve your own community space? Hit us up - always free for a good chat about work-play balance …