Arts centre on creative community’s wish list

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The creation of a highly visible arts centre, more affordable rehearsal and teaching spaces, and a 500 to 800-seat theatre are at the top of the wish list for Dunedin arts practitioners.

These and other ideas to ensure a strong future for the arts in Dunedin were discussed at two in-depth stakeholder workshops led by international theatre consultancy Charcoalblue on Saturday.

Dozens of arts practitioners, educators and administrators from across the city’s arts sector – in the fields of theatre, music, and dance – came together to discuss issues around performance space, operating models, funding, collaboration, and more.

The sessions were a significant part of phase 1 of the Dunedin Performing Arts Feasibility study, which is being led by Charcoalblue’s Melbourne-based team.

The $300,000 study, commissioned by the Dunedin City Council and Creative New Zealand in the wake of the Fortune Theatre closure last year, aims to map the current state of the city’s arts and culture infrastructure and suggest options for a sustainable arts sector in the future.

In addition, the study team is working through local professional theatre practitioners’ group Stage South to engage with a broad range of performing arts groups.

Led by independent academic and practitioner Dorita Hannah and Charcoalblue team leader Erin Shepherd, Saturday’s workshops acknowledged the complex arts ecology of Dunedin and asked participants to consider the positives and the negatives for the arts, as well as possible solutions.

Among the positives cited by workshops participants were Dunedin’s Ara Toi arts and culture strategy, the nature of the city as a supportive and affordable arts environment, the connections between performers and the wider community, and the large local and regional audience base.

The city’s ageing venues were cited as both treasures and challenges for arts practitioners and audiences alike.

In a wide-ranging discussion of solutions, there was a clear desire for the creation of a 500 to 800-seat venue and a high-profile, central city arts hub, with affordable rehearsal and teaching spaces.

Erin Shepherd, of Charcoal Blue was delighted at the turnout to both sessions, saying there had been a “wide range of representation across various performing arts platforms and also great diversity and energetic contributions from the community”.

The workshops would be complemented by future consultation, especially an intensive hui with Maori creatives next week.

A follow-up workshop will be held at the end of March, in order for Charcoalblue to get further feedback from the arts community before it reports back to the council on progress.

The study is due for completion in September.

“We are deeply passionate about creating amazing spaces where stories are told and communities come together,” Ms Shepherd said.

“Fusing local and national voices with what we have learnt from over 150 completed projects with theatres across the world, we’re confident that this study will reveal a clear vision for the future of the performing arts in the region.”