Features/Visual Art

Mentoring from a distance

30 April 2020

Fremantle’s artist-run housing initiative, SHAC, has managed to work around COVID-19 restrictions to present a new exhibition and workshop programme, discovers Jaimi Wright.

Despite the pandemic, the show must go on.

This is a sentence I never anticipated contemplating, let alone writing down or uttering aloud, and I know from conversations with friends that many in the Perth arts industry are in the same unstable, often leaky, boat. The forced closures of exhibitions and live performance spaces, as part of the strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19, have had a devastating effect on the arts industry.

It warmed my heart, then, to talk to the Project Coordinator for SHAC Incubate, Rachel Riggs, about SHAC’s upcoming exhibition and free community workshops, which are going ahead, albeit with modifications.

For the uninitiated, SHAC stands for Sustainable Housing for Artists and Creatives. As the name suggests, the artist-run housing initiative focuses on securing permanent, affordable and eco-conscious housing and workspaces for creatives in and around Fremantle. Although the housing has only been open a few years, the concept dates back much further.

As Riggs explains, despite Fremantle’s proud identity as a cultural city of Perth, over the last couple of decades gentrification has seen local artists priced out of accommodation in the city, and forced to move to the outer suburbs. The idea for SHAC has its origins in an old artist share-house in Fremantle, that was sold in 2007. Recognising that local and affordable artist housing was needed in order to maintain Fremantle’s artistic integrity, the former residents of that house banded together. It took a decade to bring the initiative to life, but with the the support of LandCorp and the City of Fremantle, SHAC’s accommodation was built in 2016 and in 2017, the first artists and their families moved in.

“Our philosophy is, as practicing artists, to share and create a space for artists to practice, to mentor emerging artists, and work together with the local community to have arts and creativity at the heart of this new eco-village.”

While the provision of housing is central to the initiative, SHAC provides a sense of community and opportunities for mentoring and development, too, explains Rigg. “Our philosophy is, as practicing artists, to share and create a space for artists to practice, to mentor emerging artists, and work together with the local community to have arts and creativity at the heart of this new eco-village,” she elaborates.

Last year, SHAC’s program, SHACtivate!, introduced two new creative spaces, CoLab 1 and CoLab 2, for exhibiting artwork, performances, theatre and creative community workshops. This year’s program, SHAC Incubate, is designed to mentor the next generation of local, up-and-coming artists in the fields of visual arts, curation and installation, circus/performance skills, First Nations arts and culture and poetry/electronic music production.

“SHAC now has artists who have had very substantial careers and can share their skills with upcoming artists,” Riggs explains. “The upcoming artists [featured in SHAC Incubate] had already approached SHAC and expressed an interest to be involved and engaged [with us]. These relationships, formed through “SHACtivate!” last year, were helpful as we weren’t able to have a normal audition process due to COVID-19.”

The established artists from SHAC involved in the projected are Lynne Tynley, Fiona Gavino, Lynda Moylan (Diva Dingo), Marcelle Riley and Tineke van der Eecken, and the emerging artists are Mikaela Miller, Natalie Scholtz, Gaea Anastas, Seantelle Walsh and Elsewhere/Rebecca. Riggs laughs a little as she remembers the selection process. “It turned out that it became a female led project because the SHAC artists who responded and their upcoming artists were all women!”

The process of putting together the program has included a bit of sidestepping to manage the restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, says Riggs. “As you can see in the Facebook group that documents the project, the artists have been working together on Zoom and phone calls or, if meeting in pairs, keeping socially distanced at all times.” The public programmes have been adjusted too – instead of Incubate’s exhibition opening and workshops occurring at SHAC’s venue, these events will take place online. The program kicks off May 1, with the Incubate exhibition opening, which will be streamed live from SHAC’s website. Free online workshops will then be streamed live on SHAC’s Facebook group, May 2 and 3, featuring skill sharing and audience interaction from SHAC’s resident artists and their protégés.

“Because of the way the camera is used you can really see the detail of the work up close,” Riggs notes. “You feel more engaged, particularly as we are now in a world where we are not allowed to touch things. It’s an interesting emotional relationship.”

SHAC Incubate is a timely and inspiring reminder that our interaction with the arts industry and local creatives doesn’t have to come to a screeching halt because of the pandemic; artistic communities can still reach out to each other in new and inventive ways.

Riggs finishes the interview with this small but resonant piece of wisdom:

“Artists are artists. You’re going to stay creative no matter what happens.”

The SHAC Incubate exhibition, sponsored by the City of Fremantle, will open 1 May, 2020, at 6pm.

Online workshops and talks will be accessible 2 and 3 May, on SHAC’s Facebook group.

Pictured top are SHAC Incubate mentor artists, holding photographs of their mentees, who could not be in the photograph due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi Wright is your friendly neighbourhood art historian. She has just completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) at UWA and dabbles in curating, local arts writing, and 19th century French history. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

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