In February 2021, Moreland City Council (through their Arts and Culture department, Arts Moreland) launched quite a unique kind of arts grant to simultaneously support local businesses and artists, called the Community Creator: Artist in Residence Program (CC:AIR). The grant involved a two-part application process where artists were invited to submit an EOI to participate which detailed the range of their arts practice. Businesses were then invited to look at this list and find an artist with a set of skills to assist their business in recovering from COVID19 lockdown. Similarly artists and businesses with existing relationships could also submit, regardless of whether the artist had been part of the EOI process. I was fortunate enough to be approached by a business and become the recipient of one of these residencies.
My residency involved working with Bighouse Arts in Coburg North to install a lighting system into a W-Class Vintage tram. Bighouse Arts had received the tram before hit and so had been sitting, mostly empty, between their studios ever since. The second part of the project was to create a lighting installation as an opening event, that has sadly been put on hold due to lockdown. While I could merrily wax lyrical about the fantastic experience of researching this old tram and my new fascination with the long history of trams in Melbourne (which turned out to be more interesting than I ever imagined), in this time of recovery it is more pertinent to look at the way Moreland structured this grant, which has been such a life saver to me this year. The grant came with a prescribed budget – the bulk of the grant was the Artist’s fee, keeping the focus firmly on artist support. Artist’s fees and budgets ran through Auspicious arts, making it exceptionally simple administratively (incidentally, the auspice fee and on costs were on top of the advertised grant money – another thing I’m appreciative to Arts Moreland for), in fact everything from the application process to the acquittal, focused on keeping the administrative work to a minimum and allowing that arts practice to be the focus of the project.
As a freelance designer working predominantly in independent theatre in Melbourne this grant has been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had in this tumultuous time. The Moreland staff have been the most sympathetic and adaptable of anyone I have encountered in any arts company during the pandemic (lots have been great, Moreland were just superb). While it has been project based with a public outcome, the focus has felt to be firmly on providing an income to artists in uncertain times. However it has also addressed the question of visibility of artists on a local level by looking for ways to promote the work and the calibre of artists that live in the area. Next to the obvious financial losses at this time, I’ve seen (and felt) how much it has hurt arts professionals to be unseen during this crisis. The lack of government recognition of the crisis in the sector, the lack of news coverage. The arts have become painfully aware that we are the first to be asked to ‘chip in’ and offer our services to raise funds for any other crisis, but when we are the casualties, support has felt sorely lacking. While the number of artists supported by this grant is naturally limited, it’s been very encouraging to see a local government body being proactive on this front. It would be great to see more councils rethinking local business engagement with artists and using their position as a hub of community engagement, to further explore these possibilities.
This residency was proudly supported by Moreland City Council through the Community Creator: Artist in Residence program