The Dire Straits of the Fremantle Arts Scene

Bye Bye Fly

The Fly By Night Club has been wound up. They will hand back the keys of Victoria Hall to Fremantle Council this week. Promoted as the longest running non profit community arts group in Australia, it was only last year they were named as one of the top five music venues in Western Australia by the National Live Music Association.

For 32 years they have provided great music to the souls of Fremantle. They originally grew out of the Fremantle Arts Foundation as a funded sub committee.

The 1992 photograph above, courtesy of the Fly By Night archives, shows the Federal Treasurer and Member for Fremantle John Dawkins pouring a drink to celebrate the new bar being opened, in the Fly's previous venue - the Drill Hall, after receiving a grant for $80,000 from the WA Health Promotion Council (this is not a misprint). The night featured the acoustic band Rich and Famous and local legend Jim Fisher.

In 2015 Fly by Night were turfed out of the Drill Hall for not paying rent, and moved into Victoria Hall, where they also didn't pay their rent, despite raising $9303 in two months through a GoFundMe campaign. The ratepayers will foot the waived rates bill of over $70,000.

Dire Straits - The Fremantle arts scene staggers from one catastrophe to another.

a) Victoria Hall: the attractive restored heritage icon and brilliant performing arts space with magical acoustics, is being sold by Fremantle Council because they have failed to realise its potential as a community space for weddings and community events, besides performing arts groups. The restoration for example of the heritage of the Fremantle Arts Centre has provided a venue for a very successful arts hub with committed council staff. The $2.2 million spent on the heritage restoration of Victoria Hall should have brought better results. The imminent sale by a cash strapped council puts the future of Victoria Hall in peril.

b) J shed and Arthur Head "Arts Hub": Initially touted by council as an alcohol venue for 15,000 people, the catastrophe that is the past 5 years of Arthur Head has left the surviving artists numb and in shock, with no apology from the mayor and councillors who caused the anguish, and no certainty about their lease.

c) Felice Varini: Crossing the (Yellow) Line: The hugely expensive art work down High Street just got far more expensive. Varini put lines over 9 Victorian buildings in Granary Square, London in 2013, and this year yellow ones over the second most visited heritage site in France, the castle at Carcassonne. In both cases the works were removed after several months. Fremantle, which has embraced graffiti, graffiti art, and murals anywhere people want to paint them, decided to extend the Felice Varini yellow lines for so long, they will cost a fortune to remove. The extension will cost the ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that could have been better spent on much needed restoration of the same buildings in our premier street. This project, High Tide 17, is the 'first incarnation of the Fremantle Biennale, a unique event, hosting the best in site responsive art.' Will the second incarnation show as little respect for heritage in the way it is managed?

d) The Percent for Art Scheme: The well intentioned scheme whereby developers spend 1% on public art, has resulted in a dismal array of junk cluttering buildings and streets. Heaven help us when the "$270 million" King's Square project has to cough up $2.7 million for more public art.

In the hands of mature people, the world famous heritage of Fremantle can be married with successful arts events and venues. But there appears to be no way to hold council to account.

The community doesn't even get an apology, for the dire straits of the current arts scene.

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society


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