River Studios: Is it enough for West Melbourne artists?

River Studios: Is it enough for West Melbourne artists?
Kaylah Joelle Baker

West Melbourne’s River Studios is a flourishing working art space for local artists, but artist-run group MREAM believes the demand is still greater than the supply.

MREAM, standing for Maribyrnong Rivers Edge Art Movement, is a long-standing art group in Melbourne’s west and is responsible for the discovery of the Sims St warehouse River Studios was founded in.

Unable to move into the space themselves due to believing the owners wanted the entire three floors to be occupied, MREAM brought the space to the attention of the City of Melbourne for its Creative Spaces program having seen it as a viable space not to be wasted.

The Creative Spaces program was launched in 2008 in partnership with the RMIT Design Research Institute and Creative Victoria with the purpose of supporting local arts production through the provision of a range of low-cost bookable spaces.

“The Sims St space was fantastic but was too large for us at the time and we were unable to have just the top floor which was what we wanted,” MREAM’s Allison Orton said.

“A MREAM member then contacted the City of Melbourne, and this succeeded in the warehouse becoming the fantastic space it now is.”

Following the space being managed by the Creative Spaces program, the warehouse was successfully renovated with the building’s owner, Arts Victoria and the council each contributing $100,000 to the space’s refurbishment.

The project, which took 16 weeks to complete, was designed by Breathe Architecture and won the Victorian Award for Small Projects in 2011.

But while MREAM deems River Studios “a great space” with 57 studios currently occupied by 75 artists, it said West Melbourne needed more like it as MREAM continues to look for space capable of accommodating its organisation in the local area.

“Several of us had or have studios at River Studios but really, we need a gallery space [ourselves] because the demand at River Studios is greater than supply,” Ms Orton said.

Before finding the River Studio warehouse, MREAM resided in Moreland St in Footscray before being removed.

“MREAM and our hundreds of resident artists were forced out of Moreland St after almost 30 years when the building was sold by the [Maribyrnong] council for residential development,” a MREAM spokesperson told North West City News in a statement.

When the River Studios space fell through, MREAM moved onto Pipemakers Park in Maribyrnong before then settling in Maidstone in 2013 where Ms Orton said they spent the relocation money given to them by the City of Maribyrnong.

Although satisfied with the location, it was then when the building was sold from underneath them that the unsuccessful search for a space in West Melbourne began, leaving MREAM members questioning whether enough was being done to support the local artists in the area.

“Suitable affordable studio spaces for artists have seriously declined since 2008, presenting great issues for artists to continue their practice locally. This lack of suitable rental space has also led to MREAM currently being without a home,” Ms Orton said.

 

There are a lot of artists who have moved over this way [to West Melbourne] and they can’t afford it, resulting in a lot of artists in the city moving out.

 

In response to North West City News relaying concerns raised over commercial rents for artists, a City of Melbourne spokesperson advised MREAM to reach out directly as it had “not received an application or expression of interest from MREAM for the Creative Spaces program.”

In reaffirming the council’s support of local artists, Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the community arts organisation had a pivotal role in shaping West Melbourne’s vibrant creative and cultural scene and the council was looking for more ways to help.

“We’re acutely aware of the challenges faced by many creatives in accessing affordable and permanent operating spaces, and we’re always looking for solutions to support them,” she said.

To support artists the council has recently awarded more than $1 million under the Annual Arts Grants program to help out 1500 artists and is funding up to $50,000 through the City Activation Grants program to support over 30 activations around the city.

The council’s latest 2022/23 budget also includes an “$8.7 million boost for local artists, creative spaces, and major events,” including $2 million to secure new creative infrastructure for independent, small and medium creative sector operators in spaces like offices, rehearsal spaces and cultural production studios.

The council the investment also included “expanding the Creative Spaces website to foster stronger relationships between creatives and the commercial real estate sector.” •

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