Good Help Is Hard To Find – The New Belconnen Arts Centre

 Building rendering

Iconophilia’s musings on the dubious nature of advice given to the ACT Government has got me thinking about the most recent addition to the ACT arts family, the Belconnen Arts Centre.

Whilst the facility has been open for some months now I only recently ventured over to ‘that’ side of town to see it for myself. ¬†Unfortunately, for all its good intentions and years of planning, I am immediately aware that the centre appears to have been let down by a lack of practical advice.

Rather than being a hard-working, adaptable, no-fuss space for all forms of creativity the centre is instead an earnest caricature. It appears that more attention has been paid to procuring ‘cool’ furniture and fixtures than constructing practical facilities, and the strange, out of place details tell the tale. Take for instance the still-vacant artist’s studios: there are no work benches, sinks or exhaust fans in sight, only wide desks and reading lamps, but most bizarre is the fact that each ‘studio’ is completely carpeted. An odd choice and one that will very quickly become a complete waste of money.

The custom-built gallery is even more depressing. What I first take as being a light and airy space is actually incredibly clunky and a victim of architectural whims. There are four sides to the gallery: one is nearly completely glass, overlooking the lake. The next is curved outwards. The third is slanted, tipping forwards at the top, and the fourth is interrupted by two doors. Along the wall runs a hanging system, symbolising an expectation that the exhibitions will be only of artwork that is either framed or on canvas – experimental or interdisciplinary art forms need not apply.

The two workshop rooms resemble a cross between an Ikea catalogue and the boardroom of an edgy advertising firm. I get the feeling that the furniture and fixtures here may not last much longer than the first few groups of excitable school kids, but at least the floor is concrete.

On the positive side, the building looks like a million bucks (well, 9 million actually), the staff are friendly and helpful and the natural light and lake views make the most of this less than glamourous part of Canberra. I just cannot understand why it seems no one stopped to check what functional and durable creative spaces require: what do artists want out of a studio? what do art galleries look like? How can you provide for a variety of artforms?

Did anyone ever stop and ask the artists?

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