Changes are afoot for artist-run studio and gallery space Fontanelle, with its long-running Bowden site to be joined by an ambitious new contemporary arts hub set to take root in an historic, century-old Port Adelaide location.
The move portside is the realisation of a long-held pipedream for managing curators Brigid Noone and Ben Leslie. “I have been thinking about the Port for a long time, having grown up in the area and now living nearby,” Noone says. “Bowden seemed like quite a risk [at the time] in terms of just being away from the city, with people saying ‘No one’s going to go to Bowden’. But actually, [it turned out] being a bit further away could be an advantage for artists, and for getting this amount of space.” “And it just feels like the right time to roll the dice on the Port,” Leslie offers. “Others have toyed with the idea but no one has done it.” Emboldened by funding secured through the State Government’s publicly voted Your Say program earlier this year, the dream has now become a tangible reality with Fontanelle successfully securing the space following a Renew Adelaide-supported selection process.
Brigid Noone and Ben Leslie are excited by this new Port Adelaide opportunity
Purchased by the City of Port Adelaide & Enfield in 2013, the Vincent Street former post office building makes for an impressive blank slate. The cavernous ground floor hall will be subdivided into a main gallery, workshop space and studios. Upstairs a range of rooms provide more individual studio spaces, many bathed in light from large, heritage-listed windows. One room, Leslie points out, was immortalised in Rolf de Heer’s 1994 cult classic Bad Boy Bubby. “We always knew it would be different to Bowden, but we were surprised by how many [artists] wanted to move with us,” Noone says. “It’s not just a studio and a gallery, it’s also that culture of a community that we support. It connects beyond people that come to shows and talk to us, but a support structure for artists at Fontanelle.” Fontanelle’s Bowden site will continue to exist, the pair explain, with its gallery and project space to be helmed by new directors Ashleigh D’Antonio and Mia Van den Bos under the title ‘Sister’. With a focus on contemporary and experimental works and skewed towards fostering young and emerging creators, ‘Sister’ will allow Fontanelle’s new Port space to examine and question the existing model as well as accommodate a different strand of artists.
Fontanelle’s Bowden site will continue under the ‘Sister’ banner
“There’s a bit more of a focus on established, mid-career artists,” Noone says. “Some of those people like Christian Lock are excited because it’s new and different, and have seen the culture we have created in Bowden.” Set against the proposed merger of CACSA and AEAF, providing space for such artists to work and exhibit in is particularly critical. “We’re really aware that the climate at the moment, there’s a lot of extremes. There’s a lot of emphasis on emerging artists and people who have a profile, but there’s actually not much support for just being an artist, practising and needing a space. “This model we’ve worked out really allows us to give the resource of space, and that’s just such a fundamental thing.” There’s certainly no shortage of the stuff. Access to a laneway opening onto Commercial Road also allows for a broader range of projects including performance art, music events and experimental sounds alongside some external guest curators. “We want to push the boundaries of what we do – do more things, but in some different ways,” Noone says. “It might be something like… rave culture for old people or something,” Leslie explains. “Not necessary getting people to come down at 10pm until 4 in the morning, but still have a really pumping scene if we can develop it.”
The new space will give artists ample room to move
Like neighbouring theatre company Vitalstatistix’ rebirth of the Waterside Workers’ Hall as a haven for offbeat and participatory theatre, this new era for the post office presents another opportunity for Port Adelaide to grow as a cultural centre independent of the CBD. “[It’s] the idea of consciously creating something away from the city, and offering something different as well – it doesn’t have to have the same vibe,” Noone says. “I think the Port has a real history of that kind of creativity or atmosphere. It’s a very creative space, so there’s a feeling of liberation down here for that idea of events and laneway activation.” “It’s a good match in terms of creativity and artists just wanting to make things happen.” Fontanelle Port Adelaide is due to open in October fontanelle.com.au Photos: Jonathan van der Knaap