Arts precinct bouncing back after another lockdown blow
By Katie Johnson
As Melbourne shakes itself off from the fifth lockdown, the Arts Precinct is attempting to recover from yet another blow.
National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Arts Centre Melbourne and the Malthouse Theatre are all digging deep to make sure the show goes on as the state’s art lovers begin to return to Southbank.
To kick things off on August 27, the NGV’s Ian Potter Centre is opening its new technology-based exhibition, Sampling the Future.
NGV director Tony Ellwood said the exhibition would help to bring audiences back in the wake of the lockdown.
“Through the work of leading designers and architects, this exhibition gives audiences an exciting glimpse our many possible futures – both real and imagined,” Mr Elwood said.
“The designers in this exhibition are using their ideas and skills to create objects, environments and images that expand our understanding of design, as well as to raise philosophical questions about how people in a distant future might make sense of today.”
The free exhibition will include work by speculative architects including Roland Snooks, Leanne Zilka and Sydney-based duo Kyoto Hashimoto and Guy Keulemans to comment on the issues facing the near and distant future.
Arts Centre Melbourne also announced its new disability-focused arts festival, Alter State, which will debut in Spring.
The festival will celebrate a diverse program of contemporary art and live performances by artists from across Australia and New Zealand in conjunction with Arts Access Victoria.
Art Centre Melbourne creative producer Wendy O’Neill said Alter State would highlight the talent of local artists with disabilities to celebrate their diverse range of stories.
“Alter State is more than a presentation of amazing art; it is a two-year journey of artists exploring creativity shaped by our geographic location and histories, telling stories from our region and delving into new approaches to access in a program that we hope will seed and imagine diverse futures,” Ms O’Neill said.
The festival will host a launch event in November, before returning for its full appearance in September 2022.
The opening event will include two commissions – one in collaboration with the Metro Tunnel Creative Program and the other a part of the UK/Australia season, a collaboration between the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Foundation artist Joshua Pether said the festival would also signify a step in a positive direction for changing how the Australian public viewed disability.
“I don’t see the festival as only being a platform to showcase performances by artists with a disability but rather, and importantly, a place where we can have conversations and spark dialogue about what we want to see for the future in our community,” Mr Pether said.
“We want to build on these conversations, deepen the rigour to our practice and apply that to our performances and the work we create.”
“If we create slowly and methodically, then we can potentially change the face of disability arts in Australia, become a major artistic voice in the Melbourne arts community and within the Pacific region.”
Meanwhile, the Malthouse Theatre has announced it will be presenting its immersive production Because the Night from August 30 to September 12.
Malthouse Theatre executive director Sarah Neal said that art lovers should book in quick to avoid missing out.
“The popularity of the show means we are fast running out of tickets and we can’t extend the season, so we want to ensure that anyone who is thinking of coming – please book in quickly,” she said.
Ms Neal said that although it had been touch and go with its new gothic production, MONSTERS, Malthouse was working hard to get it back on stage.
“We’re remaining vigilant in our practice to keep artists and audience safe and we can’t wait to share this new work with audiences. It is shaping up to be an unforgettable live experience that celebrates the marriage of theatre and contemporary dance,” she said.
Despite the array of offerings, the Art Precinct is bound by strict COVID protocols and is still reeling from five lockdowns.
Indoor non-seated entertainment venues like galleries are currently open to a maximum of 300 people per space with density limits of one person per four sqm.
Between 2019 and 2020 these industries lost 5300 jobs, and the economic difference between 2019 and 2020 is $756 million.
Despite the damage COVID has caused, NGV director Tony Elwood said that Southbank’s Arts Precinct still provided a refuge for Melbourne’s art lovers.
“We have seen over the past year the vital role the NGV plays in the community as a safe and meaningful social space,” Mr Elwood said.
“The gallery is a refuge for many, and as with previous lockdowns, we have seen an enthusiastic return of visitors upon reopening.” •