Tuesday, 3 July 2012

'Fixing' Arthur Head

'Fixing' Arthur Head. It's an issue that's been attracting a fair amount of attention for a little while now and I thought it was time for me to weigh in on the debate.

What currently works?

Having walked around the precinct a couple of times with this issue in mind, I reckon that a lot of what is currently in place is actually working on a foundational level. It strikes me as a shame the City seems to be inclined to take the easy way out and wipe the slate clean, which is admittedly the more fun approach when compared with the hard, boring work of good maintenance and continuous small improvements.

I like that a proud and engaged community organisation like the Fremantle Society is headquartered within a stone's throw of one of Freo's most iconic buildings. I like that community groups can book this building for meetings and that events like the Amazing Place Race are run from this old cottage. I like that there is a young family living next door, with kiddies who activate the area in the way only children can.

Fremantle Society HQ

To me it seems wrong that the few elements of the precinct that really work are the ones destined for the chop.

Walking down the weather beaten wooden steps to the J Shed, I think that it is charming that the man responsible for so many of Freo's cool statues (and a fair share of my mini Freo monuments), Greg James, has his HQ in one of the studios. Another successful artist, Jenny Dawson, as well as her photographer partner, Peter Zuvela, also operate out of another of the J Shed studios. I first met Peter at the photo exhibition of his trip to Croatia held just around the corner at the Kidogo Arthouse. I reckon that there is a successful arts precinct happening in the J Shed right before our eyes.

The J Shed...already a nice little arts hub?
Maybe it's the cynic in me, but why would whacking in a few more artist studios make Arthur Head any more of an attraction than it currently is at the moment? It seems a shallow, one-dimensional idea of facilitating the arts and placemaking to me, and not a guaranteed recipe for vibrancy.

What needs improving?


- Walking around the actual precinct, I couldn't help but notice that signage is lacking.

Look and feel around the J Shed

- Quality places matter when it comes to attracting people. Gravel and sand just doesn't present the right kind of message.
Gravel and sand around the J Shed

(I understand a Greg James led initiative to repaint the J Shed is in the works for later this year, which will greatly improve the look of the shed. Great initiative.)

Marketing and promotion

- Arthur Head barely cracks a mention on the City's website. 

Programming of events

- The precinct could be included in more of Freo's Festivals. Additionally, Is there an opportunity to have a series of dedicated events that run out of the precinct? Maybe the artists already housed in the J Shed would jump at the opportunity to be included as part of this initiative?

Rundown buildings

- This is a no brainer. Like many of the City's buildings, the current building that hosts the Fremantle Society is in dire need of some tender loving care.

Where's the food?

My stomach may be doing the talking on this one but I think that the City is being naive when it thinks that it can attract people to the area and then keep them in the precinct without food. Giving people the opportunity for a coffee and cake is such a sure-fire way to get them to visit and then hang around that it seems remiss that it hasn't been included. Or maybe the City's intention is to only attract serious arty types for whom art is meat and drink enough? (A crowd not known for their unrestrained sense of fun, in my experience.)

A cafe/restaurant/small bar in the most southernly J Shed studio would be pretty cool.

View from a potential cafe/restaurant...looks good to me

Great opportunity for a potetial cafe/restaurant to operate out of the J Shed?

Defining success step by step...backwards

I've become very attached to a process called backward mapping in recent years, which basically works by beginning with a description of your desired outcome and then working backwards to define the steps necessary to produce it.

In this instance, outlining the management of artists seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse. I don't think the time, nor the priorities, are right. I suggest that the City and Council would get more value out of doing the following:

- Shifting the focus from arts hubs only thinking to broader, more inclusive and more practical ideas for Arthur Head, such as infrastructure upgrades, building maintenance, and placemaking opportunities.

- Defining how a successful Arthur Head precinct would look, feel and function. I'd like to see some evidence that someboday has considered the ideal experiences of Arthur Head by an artist, a resident and a tourist.

- Break down what is needed into individual components and fit them into a backward map. Start defining what projects fall out of the backward map and what a successful year would entail.


The current approach to planning for the Arthur Head precinct doesn't appear to fit intuitively with what is currently happening on the ground in the area. The arts hub only thinking also has a distinct sledge hammer feel about it.

For me, thinking about what a successful Arthur Head would look like would provide greater value at this stage rather than persisting with an arts hub only approach.


  1. Interesting blog, Michael! I was hoping to email you some information but couldn't find your contact details on here. Mind enlightening me? :)

  2. Hi Gemma,

    Thanks for getting in touch. You can email me at michael.swanepoel@gmail.

    Take it easy.