Arts House prepares to reopen


The threat of a pandemic was not on many people’s minds – despite warnings from epidemiologists – before 2020. But way back in 2018 North Melbourne’s Arts House was asking what would happen if a pandemic came to Melbourne …

Refuge 2018: Pandemic was presented over four days of public forums, games, conversations and artistic works: “Join us at Refuge 2018: Pandemic at the North Melbourne Town Hall for real information and real science, as we get real creative in our readiness for what the future may hold,” the Arts House website read.

Now, after experiencing a year of a real pandemic, Arts House is preparing to reopen to the public. Artistic director Emily Sexton said it would attempt to address questions that the past year had raised.

“A lot of questions have been brought up by the inequality we all say manifest last year and that’s a responsibility I think artists take very seriously and so do we,” she said.

“That will be a focus of a lot of our work. We’ve shifted a number of our programs after 2020 and one of the most important ones is a big research program called Makeshift Publics which will support artists to think through what the new configurations of artists, community and place are.”

“What is it like to come back together? What do people feel safe doing? What are our responsibilities in relation to climate change while there’s a pandemic unfolding? They’re really going to tackle some big questions and then we’ll share that research at the end of the year.”

Arts House reopens on April 8 with a big free program soon to be announced. The team is back working in the Town Hall with artist rehearsals already happening around them.

“It’s so, so great to be back in North Melbourne and really feeling creativity surround you,” Emily said. “It’s a huge relief.”

Emily was appointed artistic director at Arts House in 2018, but the institution has featured in her career for much longer. 

“I feel like in many ways, and I’m not unusual, Arts House has been a home for me throughout my career,” she said.

“One of my early jobs was at the Melbourne Fringe Festival and at that point it had a hub at Arts House, so I spent a lot of time dancing and sneaking into weird corners to see strange shows in this building.”

“Then I worked at the Wheeler Centre and we did some cool collaborations with Arts House in my time there and then when my predecessor in this role moved on, I thought ‘it’s my dream job in my hometown’.”

Since 2018 there has been many highlights for Emily at the Arts House, but she said the only show they managed to put on in 2020 was “one of the most special things” she had ever seen.

“That’s one of my best memories. It was the only live show that we did in the building in 2020 and it was one of the proudest shows I’ve ever worked on,” she said.

“It was called Are You Ready to Take the Law into Your Own Hands and it was a collaboration between a Filipino company, an Australian playwright and a lot of local queer dancers who are part of the vogueing collective the House of Dévine.”

Among Emily’s other highlights were Trilogy – “which saw over a hundred staunch feminists get up on stage in the nude” – and a Melbourne Festival show by American choreographer Faye Driscoll.

“There’s a lot of memories here,” she said.

“I guess it’s like a lot of theatres: if the walls could talk, they’d tell some really good stories.” •

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