Format closes its Peel Street doors

February 2013

  • Alex Parry

Artist hub Format Collective will close the doors at its Peel Street, Adelaide home in March, after more than five years in the laneway.

 

The community of musicians, visual artists, dancers, writers and other creatives has an uncertain future after March, when soaring rent will force the collective out of its home.

Managing Director Stan Mahoney said there were plans for a “long-overdue” renovation of Peel Street to align it with the boutique wine bar and coffee culture of Leigh Street.

“We’ve done our best to let people know about this street, where stuff happens, but the new vision, unfortunately, doesn’t figure in us because we can’t afford that kind of rent,” he said.

“There’s no ill will, we completely understand. We’ve had a good run here. But again, the problem is the sheer value of CBD property and the fact that small, volunteer, artist-run operations are slowly getting squeezed out of the city.”

Format Collective and its publishing arm Format Press were born from the annual Format Festival, with the intention of opening up a free space for artists without traditional bureaucratic and financial restrictions. The Collective has been paying up to $35,000 a year in rent on Peel Street, largely funded by parties, gigs, small grants and donations. Over the years, many established and emerging artists have walked through the doors to join a like-minded community and grow their talent.
“Chloe Langford was a director of visual arts who was here in the early days. She’s now a practicing artist in Berlin. Lots of really amazing bands have gone on to Melbourne or Sydney, Bitch Prefect, Old Mate, Terrible Truths,” said Mahoney.

However, many artists are firm on staying in Adelaide. The Collective gives them a key and trusts them to co-operate with others to share resources and the venue, which features an upstairs lounge and gallery and downstairs stage/studio.

Angela Schilling is a musician with local band Swimming.

“The week after we played our first show, we came here to rehearse and we’ve been here ever since. We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for Format.”

Swimming plays in the venue and at other city gigs, and has enjoyed the affordable services of sound mixer Pat Lockwood, Format’s Live Music Co-ordinator.

“There is a total sense of community, everyone’s in the same boat. We’re artists trying to create on a low budget while we study and work. We’ve met so many amazing touring artists. It’s given us a central place to rehearse, keep our gear. We couldn’t afford to do that, we don’t have the money,” she said.

Many eccentric characters contribute to the ramshackle charm of the place. Peel Street’s foot traffic has also meant enough passersbys are attracted to the sounds of a good show to build audiences for otherwise struggling local musicians. The growth of the Format Collective could be evidence that successful music and art venues in Adelaide do not require perfect spaces, bars and sound systems. Rather, an emotional attachment to the space and the people in it, and the freedom to create.

“You look at a lot of bands that try to find success through that kind of preset pattern in Australia: ‘We need a single that can be played on triple j so that we get an audience in our home town, so that we can then build an audience to tour’,” said Lockwood.

“I think Format has opened that up and made it more about the music again. It’s people making music purely because they enjoy and find some release in that, doing interesting things without worrying whether it’s going to be popular. I think that’s something where we can turn around in five, 10 years’ time and say yes, those guys are still interesting now.”

Format’s directors are hoping for another city venue but are dubious about licensing restrictions and the cost of rent.

“We are not the only artist collective but there should be at least five of us,” said Mahoney, who also ran the former Urtext collective on Grenfell Street. “People quite rightfully do not trust scruffy young artists with money. The trouble is that we are not a front for drug dealing; we just want to make good work. If public servants and policymakers were attending our events, they would understand us.”

“We don’t want to be a bar,” said Lockwood. “We want something flexible that allows us to sell responsibly and make our rent. The building coding – it seems counter-productive that we need people to be handling that when they need to be focusing on their art.”

Despite the struggles, the Format Collective is grateful for small grants and more readily-available temporary liquor licenses. The artists accept they will probably never make a livelihood from such a collective; however, they hope to sustain the opportunity for young, talented people to combine, support, share and nurture each other – and build a more solid and professional arts scene in Adelaide.

 

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