FraserStudios

From 2008 to 2012 arts organisation Queen Street Studio teamed up with developer Frasers Property in Chippendale for the highly successful meanwhile studios, FraserStudios.

BigHart Gold project Danish students set up at Queen Street Studio 

Big hART's Project 'Gold'. Photo by Arunus Klupsas.

The Aarhus School of Architecture from Denmark set up at FraserStudios for two weeks. Photo by Arunus Klupsas

One of the biggest challenges facing arts organisations is generating enough funds to pay for a space in which to exhibit or perform works. 

Queen Street Studio - which began operations in a space on Queen Street, Chippendale, in 2005 - is a member-based, non-profit organisation which provides studio space run by artists for artists and produces training programs for Sydney's independent performing arts community as well as residency programs for both the performing and visual arts sectors. 

In July 2008 the City of Sydney and developer Frasers Property approached Queen Street Studio's directors Sam Chester and James Winter with a proposal to collaborate.  Frasers Property offered them a huge, three-storey, heritage-listed warehouse in Chippendale, initially for one year's temporary use.

Sam and James jumped at the chance and in September 2008 opened the multi-disciplinary art space, FraserStudios.  This 'meanwhile' studio and rehearsal space in the heart of Sydney that ran for almost four years, until July 2012. 

The artist's perspective: Sam Chester, Queen Street Studio

"We opened the space in September 2008 and put the visual arts residencies up first," says Sam Chester, founding co-director of Queen Street Studio. "Within a month we had our first round of about 12 visual artists."

Located at 10-14 Kensington Street, Chippendale, the meanwhile use of FraserStudios included the development of studio spaces, a rehearsal space for performing artists, an exhibition space and a shared space for arts and community events. 

The agreement

The project was on a formal year-by-year lease except Queen Street paid no rent or service charges.

"Frasers kindly gave us free use of the space and they paid for the services such as water and electricity," Sam explains. 

Queen Street Studio paid for public liability insurance for the whole building as well as theft insurance. Frasers Property also took out their own public liability to cover the visual arts residents. Queen Street Studio paid for all outgoings like rubbish removal, general consumables, some work on the building to make it viable - like the sprung wooden floor for the rehearsal space, which was $6000 - and all artist fees and wages. 

Frasers Property looked after the development application and heritage application for the FraserStudios use of the heritage-listed warehouse. According to Sam Chester, this was very important as creative enterprises should avoid being bogged down with complicated DAs. 

She remembers that when they first arrived at the space it was filled with cages and not very clean. "So we asked Frasers to get rid of everything and clean the space, which they did," she says. "They also put in a bathroom and a wall and painted one of the rooms.

"We then built a rehearsal space and put in other infrastructure and Frasers were happy for us to do this," says Sam.

Challenges

One of the major challenges of working with a developer from Sam's perspective was the perception by some in the arts sector that Queen Street Studio had 'sold out' or lost its independence. 

"Some people mistakenly thought Queen Street Studio was funded by Frasers, but we weren't. We received project funding from the City of Sydney and Arts NSW as well as receiving an annual cash donation from Frasers of $10,000, but the rest was funded by the revenue raised by Queen Street Studio."

"But that was challenge in terms of our branding, getting the message across that Queen Street Studio was an independent arts organisation while being inside FraserStudios and not being able to put our name on the building."

But while the space was called 'FraserStudios', the developer took a hands-off approach to the activities in the space. "There was no censorship by Frasers," Sam says. "We ran the space pretty much as we did our original studio on Queen Street." 

Landing a huge, rent-free space reaped plenty of benefits, but there were some challenges in terms of time and operations.

"The scale of operations were larger than our previous experience. We had three studios and two floors of visual artists - and the expectations from artists were so much more - but we were still running on pretty much the same budget as for one studio," says Sam. 

"So space can be a liability. FraserStudios is five times the size of what we originally had, so the cost to all of our management team, in terms of volunteer time we had to put in, was huge. It was five times the amount of work from our previous experience, which was a big shock when we were starting up." 

Lessons learned

"It was a fantastic experience," Sam Chester says. "Our vision was to be a provider of subsided space and creative development. We wanted tocreate temporary spaces that created opportunities for others and we did that."

"The lesson is that if developers and local government want temporary spaces to be used in this way, they have to back the initiative in a meaningful way, which means there needs to be an ongoing injection of cash to the organisations managing the space.

"I'm into artists being entrepreneurial but if you want amazing outcomes from a space, you have to support the organisations and people making it happen," Sam says.

In June 2012, Queen Street Studios secured another three-year, temporary use site from the City of Sydney at Heffron Hall in Darlinghurst.

According to Sam Chester, working with Frasers was an excellent way to experiment with ideas and see what works.

"Our long-term objective is to buy a building where we can have both visual and performance artists, like with FraserStudios," says Sam. 

"Our occupancy of FraserStudios was somewhat utopic - we'll never get that square meterage again in the middle of the city - but it has affirmed to us that, as an organisation, we can both aim to move into a permanent space as well as temporarily use empty spaces in the meanwhile."

The developer's perspective: Lisa McCutchion, Frasers Property

Lisa McCutchion, Group Marketing Manager at Frasers Property, explains their partnership with Queen Street Studio and reflects on the experience as a template for future community partnerships.

FraserStudios is Frasers Property Australia's first foray into arts sponsorship. 

Space is Frasers' business, so it seemed logical that space would be Frasers' gift to the Chippendale arts community. 

Queen Street Studio, a Chippendale-based community arts organisation, works at the coal face of the independent arts community and grapples with the scarcity of space - for rehearsal, for project development, for art-making - every day. 

FraserStudios was a temporary - or 'meanwhile' - activation of warehouses that would otherwise sit vacant for several years, awaiting restoration as part of a property development called 'Central Park'. 

Frasers provided the space, seed capital and a contribution to the running costs for for FraserStudios, while Queen Street Studio contributed management and curatorial expertise, community networks and their own operational funding. 

Once Frasers bought the old Carlton United Brewery site in Chippendale we suddenly owned an entire street of houses and warehouses, all vacant. We knew from our community consultations that the arts were valued here yet space for art-making was being lost to development, so we decided to create a temporary arts space. 

Initially, we thought it was just a matter of finding some artists to fill the space, but quickly realised that a 'property management' model wouldn't create the kind of street-level activation and community engagement we imagined. We needed an arts partner, so the City of Sydney's Kiersten Fishburn gave us a list of local arts collectives to have a chat to, including Queen Street Studio.

The biggest thing we had to learn was that space is easy to give away but is expensive to run. 

When Frasers first imagined this project, we thought our gift of space was wonderfully benevolent. In our first meeting, Queen Street Board Member, Michelle Kotevski, pragmatically told us that space without money to run it is a liability, and a lost opportunity. Artists don't live on air and imagination, and space needs to be managed to be effective. 

Frasers offered $10,000 annually to kick off the project, and further funding was received from Arts NSW, the City of Sydney and Queen Street's own resources. 

Benefits

Frasers' enjoys a host of benefits from FraserStudios, including:

  • Positive goodwill amongst the local Chippendale community, which was initially - and traditionally - distrustful of developers. 
  • Positive goodwill amongst our development and planning stakeholders, including the City of Sydney and the NSW Department of Planning. Mayor Clover Moore officially opened FraserStudios in October 2008, and speaks publicly and with great enthusiasm about our project.  

Other benefits include:

  • Creating a 'creative and cultural' character for the future development precinct. 
  • Directly addressing the topical issue of arts spaces being lost to urban development. 
  • Activation of a disused portion of the development site in the years prior to work commencing. 
  • Extensive, positive media coverage. 

The relationship

Although Frasers and Queen Street Studio are very different organisations they both wholeheartly saw the potential of space.  That given the right circumstances something can grow that is new, innovative, imaginative, beautiful and even, occasionally, controversial - in this case, FraserStudios.

Looking back to the first year of FraserStudios, it's clear that Frasers didn't immediately realise what Queen Street Studio could bring to the project. That is, their passionate commitment to quality programming and their big picture plans for artist development. It also took us a few months to understand their absolute need not to risk their organisation's hard-won financial stability.

Risks

FraserStudios was conceived as a temporary space from the beginning, informing the structure of Queen Street Studio's programs and the character of the space. 

We started cautiously with a 12-month brief, extended for a second year and, in the end, Frasers committed for almost four years before the re-development of Kensington Street began in June 2012. 

The greatest risk for Frasers was that in delivering this hugely popular space we would create a sense of permanent entitlement, and risk a negative backlash when the project inevitably closed. 

But Queen Street Studio's thoughtful short-term residency structure ameliorated this risk, and the final month of the studio occupancy were marked by a series of public events to conclude and celebrate the project. 

Despite the slight risk of negative reaction, Frasers took the position that some risk was better than allowing buildings to sit vacant for want of imagination.

The life cycle of FraserStudios was followed with close interest by the City of Sydney and Arts NSW, both interested in developing models for successful corporate-arts partnerships of this type. 

It was important to both Frasers and Queen Street Studio that 'temporary' didn't imply that the space wasn't valuable, or that this project was less legitimate than long-term partnerships.

Managing the partnership

FraserStudios was managed day-to-day by Queen Street Studio, with Frasers taking a back seat in respect and recognition of Queen Street's expertise as arts producers and community arts advocates. 

Frasers' staff assisted during Open Days and provided public relations and logistical support during events, as well as providing day to day property maintenance. Queen Street Studio staff called on Frasers if they have a new program or special request to seek approval and, in some cases, additional funding. 

In some respects the arrangement was informal. Frasers didn't feel the need to oversee Queen Street Studio's management of the warehouse - they're experts - and our contribution, while significant, doesn't give us 'controlling rights' of their activities. We trusted the Queen Street staff to call on us when they needed and to keep us in the loop, and it worked well.  

First of many partnerships

We believe that what Frasers and Queen Street Studio achieved with FraserStudios will be a template for future partnerships between developers and arts producers in Australia, proving the point that this type of temporary activation is possible, mutually beneficial, and extraordinarily rewarding.  

We view FraserStudios as a pilot project for future sites and partnerships. While FraserStudios came to an end in July 2012, we now have a great appetite for similar such projects. 

After establishing FraserStudios in 2008, we were approached by a local food co-op, seeking space for their community venture. Our experience with Queen Street Studio prompted us to say 'why not?', so Kensington Street also hosted a meanwhile Food Co-op. It wasn't art, but it was creative community development, and a direct outcome from of our successful partnership with Queen Street Studio.