Features & Interviews
Interview: Sarah Booth and Alessio Fini on the East End Arts Precinct in Perth
Sarah Booth is the Managing Director of Spacemarket & Community Development Lead at Hesperia. Spacemarket is an interface for the exchange of floorspace and seeks out underused and opportune pieces of the city and overturns them for a new use. They pair a variety of tenants with unique spaces such as old brewery warehouses, empty police barracks, and a forgotten turn-of-the-century ballroom. Sarah's experience in Spacemarket is coupled with her role as a Community Development Lead at Hesperia. As a Certified B Corp company, Hesperia is Western Australia's leading property developer and operates across a diverse range of disciplines within the property and sustainability sectors.
Alessio Fini is the Creative Director of Fini Group. Fini Group is a property developer with an aim to develop projects that are close to shops, transport, or public amenities so that they are able to reduce the use of cars and encourage people to take advantage of nearby amenities and public transport.
Both Sarah and Alessio are working on projects in the East End Arts Precinct in Perth to revitalise and highlight the environment, character, and quality of the area. The precinct is filled with contemporary art spaces, such as Moore Contemporary, and unique gastronomical experiences.
This week, The Artling had the opportunity to speak to both Sarah and Alessio to learn more about their plans for the East End Arts Precinct and their vision for an "arts-driven neighbourhood"!
Image courtesy of Sarah Booth. Photo by Duncan Wright.
The East End of the Perth CBD (or Boorloo - its Noongar name), is an area that is facing considerable challenges – both social and economic. It has far more going for it than at first glance though – it’s very close to the core CBD, it’s connected to all major transport hubs, it’s a walkable stroll to the greater Perth Cultural Precinct, and, best of all, there’s thousands and thousands of square meters currently sitting empty.
The idea for East End came about when we considered that in a city that has seen its galleries and its art scene go to coals, five of its most important contemporary art spaces sit within this precinct (Art Collective, Cool Change Contemporary, Kamile Gallery, and Moore Contemporary), and with more emerging (Lightworks, and Dova Collective). Beyond the galleries, there are also some incredible owner-operated, independent businesses (Lo-Fi/ Butter Goods, Edicole, Shari Vari Records, Dada Records), some exceptional food (Hifumiya hand-made Udon noodle house, our favourite café Howard’s Groove, Balthazar) – and all against a backdrop of some beautiful, quite unique, very vacant buildings.
Our idea isn’t to turn this area into something different – our idea is to tip a whole heap of magic people into what’s currently available. We’ve given it a simple, loose name because to get some movement around it we’ve had to define it – though the concept is one that can absolutely evolve.
Our first step is to consolidate a community around and connection between the places and people who already exist here.
Next, we’ll work with property owners to see if there are some medium-term properties we can take for affordable rent. We are already working with one property group - who own a long-vacant hotel - to begin moving arts orgs and creative businesses in there. Their property also includes five levels of offices, a ground floor restaurant, a basement bar and a rooftop pool deck – all which are currently in play. The City of Perth and the State Government also own warehouses and other amenity – so we’ll start building our relationships here and with agreeable landlords first. Hopefully, if we can start creating a positive vibe some of the more difficult owners might develop some interest.
It’s going to be a slow process, but slow isn’t bad if it’s going to be sustainable.
Mello House. Image courtesy of House 17.
‘Community’ is one of those words with a tinny meaning, but I guess, yes, at the root of it we want people to ‘commune’ – to gather together, to share space, responsibilities and to collectively develop a care for the area. To do that in a genuine way, we have to find a way to make it possible for people to actually be here. In relation to property, or inner-city areas, this is hard because the spaces themselves have become unaffordable. Providing access is how I feel we can best provide support. To unlock a significant amount of affordable, dedicated, central space where people can develop ideas, work and practice – without expectations around productivity and financial return. And quite simply, for people to be working in proximity to each other, sharing resources, ideas and platforms. The Perth creative community is spread so thin and far, we’d love to help build an entire neighborhood where people can come and know there’ll be a place for them.
East End Arts Precinct. Image courtesy of Sarah Booth and Alessio Fini.
Perth has always been on its own tip. We’re also relatively free from outside influence – equal parts to our benefit and detriment. Without any overt value placed on culture or creativity finding your place here as a creative has always required deep diving, you’re either keyed in behind the veil or you’re not. I guess that might be why so many young people leave?
Pond’s Nick Allbrook writes a fantastic essay for the Griffith Review ‘Cultural Darwinism: Pretty Flowers Grow in Shit’ Creative Darwinism - Griffith Review, which I hate to snip from as it really should be read as a whole, where he reflects on the lack of creative romance in Perth; “Mundane and discouraging places like Perth create a vicious Darwinism for creatively inclined people, where survival of the fittest is played out with swift and unrepentant force and the flippant or unpassionate are left behind, drowning in putrid mind-clag.” On the flipside; “Being isolated spatially and culturally – us from the city, Perth from Australia and Australia from the world – arms one with an Atlas-strong sense of identity. Both actively and passively, originality seems to flourish in Perth’s artistic community.”
Perth has always been an outlier. Bent on gross productivity, isolated, conservative, too distracted by the comfortable lifestyle to agitate for much at all, but underneath there is an electricity; of blinding white light and heat, of sensational personalities, a mythology of venues and clubs and scenes and sub-scenes, whole art movements were born and died here, music, performance, people, places – I’d love for us to throw off our nanny socks and loosen up a bit. Perth can stand out because it’s vast, it’s overlooked, it’s at the edge of the world – I’d encourage people to come here, because what do you want to DO? Do it here.
Patrick Little of Shari Vari Records, State Buildings, East End. Image courtesy of Sarah Booth. Photo by Duncan Wright Shari-Vari Records.
First of all, I’ve loved moving back here. You can kind of do anything, pretty much without too much judgement or critique – it feels like no one is watching and that feels quite freeing. I feel people could get a lot weirder, push things further, and I think the physical space around everything would accommodate for that.
As has always been the case there are lots of incredible people doing things, but very much in isolation. There’s no one PLACE. There’s nowhere to GO. Every creative venture feels born anew every time and that can create a disconnection. Coming from Collingwood in Melbourne, there was a huge sense of horizontal collaboration, that was mainly born of proximity. I’m not looking to recreate Collingwood here, but it would be nice if we could also enjoy some of the fine grain things that spontaneously exist when you have a lot of creative, challenging, interesting people together in some density.
Mello House. Image courtesy of Mello House.
While we will have a digital presence, we won’t be creating content per se, but if we can make space for LIFE to exist here I think people should look forward to everything that comes from that. Whether that’s performance, visual art, public art, a nightclub, a new gallery, a festival, art spaces, workspaces, VR, alternative education – I’m not sure what’s going to happen here yet but we’re going work our asses off trying to unlock space and set the conditions to allow for that to happen.
Image courtesy of Alessio Fini.
As with most of our projects, we fall in love with the building first, the concept comes after. In the case of Lawson Flats it was easy…in a city short on heritage the Lawson Building has long been a crowd favourite. Built in 1937, the building has always housed a private club (first the Perth Club and most recently the Karakatta Club). We are simply carrying on this legacy…but in our own way.
East End Arts Precinct. Image courtesy of Sarah Booth and Alessio Fini.
It’s not so much a question of transforming space but developing new narratives and communities for those spaces. CBDs are undergoing a big structural shift. No longer is the CBD the place to shop, nor is it the only place to work. So what it is the CBD for? Certainly, a large portion of it will continue to be corporate but there is an awful lot of space that doesn’t currently have a raison d’être. The East End Arts Precinct is a new narrative for this area of Perth that we love.
Some people might call this strategy ‘open-source urbanism’. We aren’t trying to drive a formal built outcome. Instead we are have identified pre-existing communities that are in the area (art-galleries and youthful independent retail) and drawn a circle around them - helped them build a collective and get funding etc. We then introduce this circle to other groups that we believe might be interested in it. This ranges from potential retail tenants, arts organisations in search of office space, festivals looking for exciting spaces to use. The circle slowly becomes fuller and people start to do things in places that we could never have imagined!
Lawson Flats. Image courtesy of Heritage Perth.
Perth has many challenges and therefore also opportunities. Unlike other Australian cities, Perth hasn’t yet had its ‘moment’ and that is hugely exciting because I believe it will come. What does that ‘moment’ look like? I can’t say exactly, but I know that it involves a lot more youth and creativity than we currently have in Perth. You can’t build a desirable city on corporates alone. In fact you don't even need them to build a desirable city…Berlin for example. Anyway, back to the question, I’d love to see Perth adopt daylight savings. Perth wakes up early and goes to bed early. This in itself isn’t a bad thing however it does work against civic city making. You essentially trade a walk on the beach in morning for an art-gallery opening at night. Night time economy suffers big-time.
Old Gasworks on Wellington Street. Image courtesy of Sarah Booth
We increasingly see our role in Perth as being ‘cultural catalysts’. Creating places and narratives is the means by which we do it. Slowly developers are coming to understand that you can’t just build a cheap box and wait for Apple or Uniqlo to show up. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. In someways the market realities will incentivise landowners to work with authentic communities. This is already happening in the East End Arts Precinct. We’ve worked with some great landowners who have understood that trying something new, backing young creatives, is the only chance they’ve got of turning the tide for their asset.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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