The ICU is set up for arts research and development. It has separated 3-phase power for sound and light, a grid, and all walls are in concrete. It can hold 80 people standing and seat 70. A meeting room and kitchen go with the space.  

“It‘s a space that has a clandestine feel – it’s underground, so we work with that and have managed to maintain that even though it’s been open since 2008.” Punctum Inc

How was the space first identified and who was contacted to secure it?

The ICU is part of Workspace Australia’s building – an ex country hospital that has been a small business incubator managed by Workspace since 2002. I (Jude) had a small office there but someone heard I was looking for an Research and Development space for Punctum’s works so the janitor at the time showed me the basement. It was an old storage space for the hospital full of defunct equipment, bits of beds, tiles etc and was the access space for the hospital’s plant rooms. Some of the dumped equipment was pretty amazing but I quickly realised that the space had a special feel and its brutalist architecture and earth wall gave it an acoustic and aesthetic quality that suited contemporary arts research. I set out to secure the space for R and D – and of course to save some of that beautiful equipment.

What was required to secure the space?

We had to address the Workspace Board several times where we tabled 3 options of how the space could be managed and what would be required to get funding to undertake the infrastructure works. One option was that we enter into partnership whereby we both project manage the works, Punctum would manage the space as an arts incubator and pay for a feasability study based on engineering results and an OHS risk assessment. Both studies indicated the technicals could work, and the Workspace Board was happy to enter into the partnership. I met with various funders, wrote grants which Workspace submitted in their name and 2 years later, from idea to entry, we opened the space.

To make the space compliant; an external public entry carved through 4m of dirt and a concrete wall, installation of a fresh air system, installation of three phase power and a ceiling grid, sealing of the floor, a drainage system, toilet upgrade, security storage, change room, public entry ramp, and a management plan.

What needed to be provided by you as hirer or user of the space?

Time, patience, persistence, energy and $2,500. Never listen when someone says never. Great relationships with builders and tradies. On site every day to project manage.

What were the costs?

The entire refurbishment of the site to bring it up to standards and make it a usable for research and development projects, as well as public entry cost approx $100,000, plus many volunteer hours 

What were the resources available to you?

Shared responsibility for project management with Workspace, our own local networks for good value materials, builders and tradespeople, and trust.

Who helped you to fit it out?

Workspace Australia, Grant Davis, a highly skilled local technical designer, local tradespeople, and local sculptor Keith Wiltshire. We also received a considerable amount of help through Arts Victoria.

What were/are the obstacles?

We had a surprise discovery of some external asbestos which slowed works down and elevated our $ estimate of works. There were some issues with the drainage works, at times we weren't sure if it was going to work, thankfully though this paid off.

What were/are the risks?

The risks were that people wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about the space as we were/are and that it would only be used when we needed to develop our own work. To counter this I set up the space as an incubator where we support 6 other artists/projects per year through an Expression Of Interest process and they get free use of the space, equipment and get peer professional support along with some funding. This program is called SeedPod and we now have a program where international artists come to use the space and collaborate with artists here. Local artists also hire the space to test drive their work, and this is happening increasingly. It‘s a space that has a clandestine feel – it’s underground, so we work with that and have managed to maintain that even though it’s been open since 2008. We’re in an old gold mining town so an underground space fits with the history and cultural landscape. It’s a lot of fun and there’s now a considerable volume of great works and artists that have been associated with the ICU and Punctum.

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