We hear again and again that Canberra is a ‘cultural capital’, that it’s ‘vibrant’, ‘artistic’, ‘unique’. Come for a holiday! We say. Come here to live! Go to our universities! Unfortunately for us, no city ever became a vibrant cultural capital because of its fire regulation adherence, because of its perfect egress, because the ceilings were the correct height or the treads on the stairs the right depth. No one fell over themselves to visit a city to see how perfectly undamaged the tiles were, how un-slippery the floor, how ample the parking. Look at all these empty buildings! they will say; at least nothing can go wrong when they’ve got nothing in them.
Of course no one, not anyone, wants to put the lives of their staff, artists/performers, patrons/audience at risk. No one wants to do anything that will cause people injury or illness. We are all doing our best. Entrepreneurs and small business people who choose to stay in this city (who choose us) and pour their life savings, their incredible ideas, intellectual property and energy into it deserve to be treated with utmost respect and given the utmost support. They are the clients. These are the fucking experts.
If the vision for Canberra really is what the government spouts, then trust and goodwill needs to be placed with people who work with arts and culture, all of it, on all levels. The vision for Canberra DOES NOT BELONG IN THE HANDS OF ACTPLA or any other bureaucratic organisation. Do you know how to make a hole-in-the-wall café that lights up a whole street? No, so calm down. Do you know how to run an artist space that curators from Biennales will visit to recruit artists? No, so shut up. Do you know how to produce a festival that performers from overseas will travel to participate in? No. Do you know how to set up a venue for the best music, graf and street art this city has, and fill a gaping hole in the community that you didn’t even know existed? No, so step back. Ask them what they need for their venture to be a success. Ask them how we can carry this thing off together.
It’s another whole tragedy that art spaces, music venues and independent businesses are becoming relegated to pop-up industry. Ie: not so important we need them for long Ie: a bit of a luxurious accessory to the city Ie: a sometimes food. But that’s another thing.
I know that I’ve given up on plenty of things because of red tape. I know that mostly I’ve been to tired or lazy to fight things through. I know how infuriating it is when you’re just trying to play it right, and fill out your forms, check the boxes, pay your fees, get your inspections – when you get told five different things by five different people within the same department. When the dude at the office of regulatory services has never even heard of a thing like an exhibition opening, where people might have a complimentary glass of wine (‘for free?’ He says. Yes, for free) and doesn’t know whether or not you need a permit.
Those ultimately calling the shots may know a whole lot about buildings, and access, and ventilation and fire and disaster and insurance and insurance and insurance, but they seem to know bog all about what’s actually going on on the inside. And that’s a problem.
It’s the little red hen story again and again. It’s all shit up a hill now but once the Chop Shop puts Canberra back in the pages of the New York Times or whatever other popularity test is passed the government will put them on a pedestal faster than you can say #CBR, will parade through the street waving newspaper flags like it was in the master plan all along.
For more about The Chop Shop go HERE, and to follow the story read this: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/the-chop-shop-faces-the-axe-as-stopwork-notice-issued-20140723-zw30q.html