From September 2008 to July 2012, Queen Street Studio (QSS) managed the FraserStudios facility for Frasers Property, who had introduced a new initiative to make creative use of vacant warehouse space in the old Kent Brewery development site on Broadway. Three warehouses at 10-14 Kensington Street, Chippendale were temporarily transformed into a multi-disciplinary art space made possible through Frasers Property Australia, City of Sydney and Arts NSW. FraserStudios was returned back to the developer in July 2012 for redevelopment as per agreement.
“(An) obstacle we had was negative perceptions from the sector, that we had gotten into bed with the bad-guy...over time this fear was relieved as the sector saw that our management was strong enough to support the artist and that our hearts were in the right place. The sector came, used and fell in love with the place.” James Winter
How was the space first identified and who was contacted to secure it?
Samantha Chester was first contacted by Fraser Property Australia in June 2008 to consider managing the space based on QSS’s reputation for successfully managing our first studio on Queen St in Chippendale. Samantha was invited to Frasers’ offices to hear their ideas for the activation and was asked to submit a tender for the management of the warehouses. QSS chair at the time, Michelle Kotevski then met with Fraser Property Australia to discuss additional financial contributions to the activation as she identified that the space wouldn’t work unless their was financial support to pay for start-up and initial programming of the spaces. Frasers agreed to invest in the Visual Art Residency Program and agreed to Queen Street Studio being able to generate revenue from the ground floor studios to meet overheads. Our board then met to discuss the activation and agreed to submit the tender.
What was required to secure the space?
A tender process was required to identify how the space would be managed against criteria that Fraser Property Australia developed – mainly to do with ensuring access to the space for artists who had been displaced by development. Samantha created a program that involved the management of the Visual Arts component of the project and identified Performing Arts as a critical community that also needed to be considered. The program also identified the need for the QSS to generate income from the hire of spaces and set a price on the initial investment required to kick-start the activation. When our tender was accepted the first round of artists moved in during September 2008.
What needed to be provided by you as hirer or user of the space?
We provided a very considered program, a network of artists, a commitment to supporting the production of high calibre work, a management structure, some reserves, a process to deal with hirers and residents…a lot of the stuff we had already been doing in our first studio. We constructed a sprung-floor for performing artists and purchased some equipment, but were also allowed to use furniture liberated from the Fosters offices next door.
What were the costs?
Frasers gave us the space rent-free for an initial period of 12-months (which was subsequently extended to 3.5 years). A $10K investment from Frasers was negotiated to support the Visual Arts program and we put in another $10K from our reserves. It was financially really tight for the first year as our overheads had increased (consumables, materials, utilities) when we took on FraserStudios. We were still operating the studios at Queen Street however, and that actually supported the FraserStudios project until we started to get ArtsNSW and City of Sydney funding. It wasn’t until 12-months into the project that we could afford to pay ourselves $250 per week each for the full-time management of the project. By the time the project came to an end we were paying ourselves $750 per week and had 2 staff. This was made possible by hiring out the ground floor studios as event, exhibition and rehearsal spaces and including wages into our funding applications for the Performing and Visual Art residency programs.
What were the resources available to you?
A massive building, access to Fraser Property Australia tradesmen and some furniture. The rest we brought in, bought or made ourselves. We staggered the activation against what we could afford – so we didn’t hit full activation until 12-months into the project. The priorities were the Visual Arts and Performing Art programs and spaces, once these were settled we were able to include the exhibition and event spaces as income generating sources for the organisation.
Who helped you to fit it out?
Samantha and I had our friends and networks come and help us out with the initial fit out. Ausdance NSW donated a sprung-floor to us and some other groups gave us some equipment to start off. When we closed our studio in Queen Street in May 2009 we moved the entire operation into FraserStudios, so we integrated our equipment from Queen St into the FraserStudios site.
What were/are the obstacles?
First obstacle we had was perception – that working with a multi-national developer would be an unbalanced relationship, however over time we understood them and they understood us. The second obstacle we had was negative perceptions from the sector, that we had gotten into bed with the bad-guy, but again, over time this fear was relieved as the sector saw that our management was strong enough to support the artist and that our hearts were in the right place. The sector came, used and fell in love with the place. The third obstacle were the neighbours, who were somewhat suspicious of us and the artists who used the space. This proved very hard but over the course of 2 years we won them over by demonstrating that our activation was respectful and good for the neighbourhood, and they started to see it as their own. The forth obstacle were inconsiderate hirers of the space… which eventually broke us. It became very cool to do stuff in a warehouse, and we had problems with hirers who didn’t understand or respect the core aims of FraserStudios; trashing the venue, disrespecting the art, annoying the neighbours and basically un-doing much of the good work we had fought so hard to achieve.
What were/are the risks?
It was all to do with finances. It was a very expensive exercise for a very small arts organisation to achieve, but we did it by being diligent, keeping to the vision and being entrepreneurial. The programs were the heart of the organisation – and provided the independent arts sector with free space to work. The space for hire was the head – serving the organisation with income so that it could continue to trade and serve artists. Both elements had to work together or otherwise it wouldn’t have worked.