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What’s behind the lights?

Arts Centre veteran leads the YRBA

06 Oct 2020

Arts Centre veteran leads the YRBA Image

By Sean Car

Newly-appointed president of the Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) and executive officer of Arts Centre Melbourne Jeremy Vincent is looking forward to bringing a cultural edge to our precinct’s economic rebuild amid COVID-19.

Following the departure of outgoing president and former general manager of Eureka Skydeck John Forman last month, long-time committee member Mr Vincent has taken up the challenge of leading the YRBA through its toughest period.

But having been involved with the Arts Centre since before its opening in 1984 and with a life of experience across the media, tourism, hospitality and creative sectors, the YRBA is incredibly well placed with Mr Vincent steering the ship.

And as the City of Melbourne and the state government flags the likes of outdoor dining and entertainment to revitalise the city’s empty streets following the pandemic, he said he wanted to draw on his own networks to help revive the precinct.

“It is a challenging time. There is no doubt about it,” Mr Vincent said.

“It’s all very well for restaurants to have diners but you’ve got the financial viability and the readiness of the public to come back.”

“Unfortunately, I think the biggest hurdle will rely on people coming back to work but it’s the day time activities that bring the Southbank area alive. It’s a really lively place when it works.”

“But part of that bringing back to the city will also be about engaging our buskers and performers and I’d be really keen to see how we’d connect with performers from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and other artists throughout the Arts Precinct.”

The New Zealand-born Vincent began his career in media, specialising in a number of topics including sport, food and wine, travel and music in various high-profile publications such as Leader newspapers, Home Beautiful, The Weekly Times and The Australian.

He said when he first came to Australia in 1980, he had written to the Arts Centre enquiring about a possible job and soon after, he said he “got the gig”.

“Basically it [Theatres Building] was a hole in the ground and I learnt about Melbourne from there,” he said.

But having branched back out to working in the media throughout the ‘90s, he would return to the Arts Centre in 2001 and he hasn’t left since. Over the journey, he said his role had morphed from working in communications into eventually becoming the executive officer working directly with the CEO.

And from his position at the helm of largest creative institution in Australia, he has overseen huge transformation in the creative industries, as well as in the Arts Precinct in Southbank. It’s a precinct which alone attracts more attendees every year than Melbourne’s Sports Precinct.

Having been Arts Centre Melbourne’s representative to the YRBA since 2001, he has played an important role in raising the creative sector’s voice within the Southbank precinct, which he said had initially been lacking.

“There weren’t a lot of cultural organisations in the YRBA and I was keen to wave the flag,” he said.

“When we renovated Hamer Hall between 2009 and 2012 we had modernised ourselves to sell that we were right against the river so it was great for us to keep that going.”

“When I joined the executive there was a lot of emphasis on the river but in those last couple of decades the residential side of Southbank has changed immensely and the restaurants are growing so it has become a real destination for tourists.”

“The cultural side was so important. I don’t program what’s on at the Arts Centre but there are connections in the precinct that can be applied to so many of our activities like Melbourne Festival or AsiaTopa.”

“I had the interest to make it work and all the other cultural institutions in Southbank are key contributors to Victoria’s creative economy. We’re not just about what goes on with our walls.”

“We’ve got the restaurants near Hamer Hall and it all becomes one big mix. All the [YRBA] members – we’re all in this together.”

Arguably the City of Melbourne’s most thriving precinct group, the YRBA also continues to be led by a diverse leadership team driven by executive officer Tim Bracher, who has been in the role for more than 20 years.

While it first and foremost exists to support businesses in the precinct, with that responsibility has come an increased role to advocate to local and state governments for many important major projects over the years.

Mr Vincent said that he was proud of the working relationships with the river’s main custodians City of Melbourne, Parks Victoria and Melbourne Water, which culminated in the first dedicated strategy for the lower-Yarra released in 2019.

And he said that sense of collaboration would be vital in rebuilding after the pandemic.

“We are as a precinct part of the City of Melbourne and I think a lot of it is about allowing conversations to happen and not to expect things to happen. But from my experience in the past few weeks, they’re [the council] bending over backwards,” he said.

“As we look towards the light at the end of the tunnel we’re in summer so it gives us a chance to look at coming back safely.”

“The COVID situation means we’re going to get out of this together but we have to collaborate more with our colleagues. We’re all looking forward to being able to get back to Southbank and feel the breeze of the river.” •

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