Artists fear for tenure

FREMANTLE’S J-shed artists have once again been left feeling unsure about their future under a new artist studio policy adopted by Fremantle council last week.

The policy would cap two of the four studio spaces at five-year leases with no option to renew. A report to the council said this was a direct response to the over-demand of studio spaces and long waitlists in the Fremantle area.

The J-Shed’s two end studios are currently tenanted by emerging subsidised artists who will be affected by the new policy and have been left pondering whether the one-term limit will exclude them from applying again, even though they’ve been there less than the five years suggested in the new policy. 

The other two units are occupied by established artists who pay full rent.

Deputy mayor Andrew Sullivan said the aim of the policy was to move forward to “let everyone have a crack at it”. Cr Sullivan said the long-term goal would be to have a high turn-over of artists.

“The preference is not to create tenure over the studios,” he said.

Peter Zuvela, a photographer and established artist at the J-shed has been there for over 20 years.

“We have installed all the necessary facilities to run a business. The shed was an empty shell. It didn’t even have a front door,” he said.

Mr Zuvela hoped his current neighbours would be offered the five-year term after the hardships of Covid-19.

He also expressed concerns the policy restricted the subsidised artists from using their studio as a “commercial’ space, fearing artists wouldn’t be able to hold exhibitions, which were vital for making an income. 

“We do have concerns over how the artists are going to pay their rent if they are not allowed to have exhibitions or works on sale,” he said.

He fears the lack of exhibitions would also undermine the work he, ceramicist Jenny Dawson and sculptor Greg James have done to attract people to the area.

But Cr Sullivan had a different reading of the policy and believes “exhibitions and the like would be reasonable”. 

He said the policy was aimed at stopping anyone from simply running a gift shop or wedding reception operation from the studios. 

The J-Shed precinct has long been the centre of redevelopment debate including the failed Sunset Event tavern and the Aboriginal cultural centre which has resulted in the established artists being put on licenses that only guarantee them 12-month tenancies.

Mr Zuvela said this made it hard to plan for their businesses into the future.

Greg James, a sculptor and tenant for 29 years said he is “totally reliant on the studio space”.

“We built from the ground up,” he said. “I would hope that both of our studios would be considered a valuable asset to Fremantle”. 

Councillor Sullivan said the plans for the Aboriginal Cultural Centre and the J-Shed precinct were still a work in progress and “cooking away slowly”.

by TALISA RIMLAND

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