ACMI X’s shared facilities encourage cultural collaboration
Cultural institutions such as state art galleries and libraries were part of the share economy long before the age of Uber. Funded by the state for public benefit, they are places of learning and leisure, their collections and resources free to use and open to all comers.
While the museum model remains, the cultural share economy has evolved with the launch earlier this year of ACMI X, a curated, co-working space that’s part of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.
ACMI X provides a shared office for selected creative enterprises and is a bit like the open-plan business incubators used by technology start-ups. The shared facilities are not only intended to be cheaper than commercial rents but are designed to encourage collaboration between different creative industries.
The idea grew out of ACMI director Katrina Sedgwick’s desire to tap into the cross-disciplinary zeitgeist and also out of more mundane concerns of finding new office accommodation when a lease expired.
“When the lease came up, I thought, ‘What if we set up a coworking space alongside us, that tells the story of the breadth of creative industries, very visibly in our workplace?’” she says. “It enables us to interact with the range of creative industries and immediately positions ACMI as an organisation that’s leveraging its resources back into the sector.”
Sedgwick arrived at ACMI in February last year after three years as head of arts at ABC television in Sydney. In short time she has moved to put her stamp on the institution, which was run by Englishman Tony Sweeney for a decade. As well as opening ACMI X, she is working on plans to upgrade the facilities at Federation Square, where ACMI opened in 2002 and which is looking tired in places.
She wants to re-engage ACMI’s audience and has taken some obvious steps to increase visitor numbers. One of the first things she did was open the door facing on to Flinders Street and attendance leapt by 150,000 people.
ACMI X is at the Primrose Potter Australian Ballet Centre at Southbank, where ACMI moved its office after the lease expired on former premises in the city. While the move was being planned, Sedgwick commissioned Peter Tullin, founder of the Remix cultural conferences, to produce a business plan for the coworking space. The move was completed in March, and there is room for 60 creative co-workers to share the floor with 80 ACMI staff and also the Melbourne office of the National Film and Sound Archive. Sedgwick shows off the fitout by architecture firm Six Degrees: the shared kitchen facilities, plywood desks and rope dividers.
ACMI X is different from other coworking outfits because it’s a curated space where Sedgwick has selected the tenants. Among the residents are virtual-reality producer VRTOV, photographer Andrew Maccoll and multi-arts performance group Aphids. The idea is to mix it up, so that screen-based producers may end up working alongside theatremakers and graphic designers, for example.
“We have cherrypicked people we think are doing really interesting work and who are pushing the envelope in some way creatively,” Sedgwick says.
“It can be a very art-based practice, but can also be in a commercial frame as well. Putting those kinds of businesses and organisations next to each other is immensely positive for both.”
Standard rent for a desk and access to ACMI X facilities is $600 a month, and daily hot-desk rates are available. The space is subsidised, which Sedgwick says is appropriate for a public institution, and the funding model will work even with 50 per cent occupancy.
The first tenant to move in last March was Sandpit, a digital storytelling agency. It recently collaborated with Grumpy Sailor and Google Creative Lab to produce a technology-powered, interactive performance called Ghosts, Toast, and the Things Unsaid, which had its premiere at the Adelaide Fringe this year. The company now is working on a virtual-reality version of the piece, as a result of its spot at ACMI X.
Sandpit director Dan Koerner says the coworking space encourages an atmosphere of unforced networking, where ideas can be discussed around the coffee machine. “If you begin casually and organically, that’s where real innovation occurs,” he says.
Sedgwick says ACMI X is about building a “community of ownership” around the institution and offering value to the state’s creative industries.
“One of the reasons I moved so fast on the coworking space is that this is the future — to be the first to do it in Australia, as a museum or gallery,” she says. “It’s going to happen more and more. People are going to have to share resources and come together. Everybody having their own separate office, their own infrastructure, their own board — it’s just nuts. We just cannot afford it.”
Back at Federation Square, Sedgwick wants to upgrade ACMI by refreshing its exhibitions and facilities. The building was designed as a retail space, and vestiges of a shopping centre can be seen in its layout and array of escalators. Creative Victoria has supported development of concept plans for a refurbishment project that Sedgwick hopes will happen in 2019. She wants to revamp the cinemas and make them a more visible part of the building, introduce features such as a beta-testing studio for interactive screen content, and update the permanent Screen Worlds exhibit that has been in service since 2009.
In recent years ACMI has enjoyed good visitation with an exhibition program that has included DreamWorks Animation (220,000) and David Bowie Is (almost 200,000). Total attendances last year reached 1.2 million. Sedgwick says people “don’t visit ACMI, they visit exhibitions or parts of what we do”, a perception she wants to change. Her intention is to make the institution more “audience-facing” and last year hired a chief experience officer, Seb Chan, formerly of New York’s Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and Sydney’s Powerhouse.
ACMI will continue to present and curate exhibitions about film and screen-based arts and entertainment, such as the current Martin Scorsese retrospective and itsGame Masters show that has been touring internationally for three years. Upcoming exhibitions include a virtual-reality project with Lynette Wallworth and a show by French multimedia artist Philippe Parreno. Expressions of interest have recently closed for the $100,000 Ian Potter Moving Image Commission for a substantial screen-based work to be shown next year.
Audiences have ever more access to screen-based content and demand greater interaction with institutions that matter to them. Sedgwick says the orientation of galleries and museums such as ACMI must change: they cannot be insular organisations but must find ways to “keep the conversation going” with their audience.
“When I talk about ACMI being a 21st-century museum, that’s what it’s about,” she says. “What does it mean to have a collection now? It’s not enough to preserve it and the curator occasionally show bits of it. Curators are more important than they have ever been, but it’s got to be framed differently, the engagement has to be different.”