Craig Donarski on reworking powerhouse venues

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Turbine halls and boiler rooms – we consider them as relics from a bygone period of energy technology and, but, Tate Trendy in London has proven how such post-industrial websites will be efficiently reactivated as inventive mixed-use venues.

The pattern, nevertheless, isn’t unique to examples overseas, as Craig Donarksi would attest. Donarski was the Director of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (Casula), in Sydney’s metropolitan south-west, from 2016 to 2023, and has just lately been appointed the inaugural Supervisor Arts, Tradition and Artistic Industries for White Bay Energy Station (White Bay), on the perimeter of Sydney’s CBD.

ArtsHub catches up with Donarski as he displays on what it took to rework a venue with the complexity of an influence station, and the way he grew audiences at Casula – a ability that he’ll deliver to White Bay with its excessive expectations for engagement.

A trajectory that made sense

In late November final 12 months, Placemaking NSW introduced its appointment of Craig Donarski.

‘I set my remaining day at Casula, as someday after my seventh anniversary,’ he tells ArtsHub. ‘Once I was recruited by Kiersten Fishburn, who was CEO of Liverpool Council on the time, she needed a minimal five-year dedication. And I stated, “I don’t do something for lower than seven”.’

Previous to Casula, Donarski had spent 12 years on the ABC as an Government Producer for Triple J, 11 years at Sydney Opera Home selling the Studio, and 7 years at Sydney Movie Competition as its Advertising Supervisor. However, he provides, ‘Transformed soiled coal-fired energy stations appear to be a match with me.’

Donarski says he had been drawn to the constructing at Casula for the reason that Nineteen Nineties. ‘It was the primary time that I had the chance to deliver collectively all of my enthusiasms underneath the one roof.’ Equally, a part of his transient for the Studio, he says, ‘was to herald individuals who don’t usually go to Sydney Opera Home’.

‘We dragged the common age up from the place it was – which was 55-plus on the finish of 1999.’

He provides that the Studio gave him a variety of performing arts expertise, from music to comedy, to cabaret, to festivals, which was then expanded throughout his time at Sydney Movie Competition. One in all his best learnings was taking ‘the present on the street to regional centres, to locations that didn’t usually get – as somebody in Charters Towers as soon as described to me – “movies with writing on the backside”,’ he says.

Donarski says the ultimate hyperlink that landed him at Casula – and which was partially liable for the venue’s success underneath his helm – was his ardour for meals. ‘One of many actually central issues to the renaissance of Casula was placing in a very compelling meals providing. Once I began, it had probably the most dreadful cafeteria. Practical, however boring as hell. One of many issues Kiersten stated to me was “repair the meals!”

‘My companion, Jackie McMillan, had been a eating editor for a few years and, by being her unnamed eating companion, I obtained to study so much concerning the trade, and about what works and what doesn’t.’

However Casula’s success was greater than only a swanky menu and a cool atmosphere. Slightly than turning over the concession to a leasehold, as is the norm, Donarski introduced the restaurant workforce on to workers.

‘It’s truly a workforce employed place, which was actually uncommon.’ The transfer was acquired, ‘with nice scepticism at first, however after some time, everybody noticed the way it can then grow to be a part of the programming,’ he says.

‘So, for instance, throughout a movie competition we would display screen a documentary about Venezuelan barbecues, so we may placed on a Venezuelan barbecue within the Turbine Corridor earlier than the movie. It was most likely the only most transformative factor to introduce to the positioning.

‘That larger integration, and actually working rather more hand-in-glove with the programming of the centre – to hit an thought or a theme that would department off into all of those completely different tangents and instructions, geared toward completely different audiences, all concurrently – is a holistic platform for tradition,’ Donarski tells ArtsHub

He provides that one of many final exhibitions staged underneath his tenure, Flight, was an amazing instance of the success of this mannequin.

What’s the key to discovering audiences?

Donarski reveals that one of many best classes of his profession got here throughout his time on the ABC. ‘That was the place I first actually realized concerning the variations between the audiences. Triple J was initially a really inside metropolis type of station, however as quickly as we began going to locations like Darwin, it opened our eyes to how you actually needed to adapt to accommodate the pursuits and issues of these wider audiences,’ he says.

‘That was taken even additional on the Opera Home, the place we have been attempting to generate a sequence of audiences for various genres and completely different artwork types. That basically requires an strategy of excited about the potential audiences for every of these exhibits, and how one can attain the folks that may be taken with these exhibits and persuade them to come back again,’ he continues.

Donarski has maintained this strategy all through his profession, and can once more utilise it when contemplating the brand new web site of White Bay Energy Station.

Learn: Sydney will get a Turbine Corridor, with 2024 Biennale venue reveal

Being a part of native authorities at Casula allowed him to attach with its neighborhood sources, he explains. ‘Councils are the sharp finish of service supply, and you’ll draw on that brains belief of the Council and say, “Hey, we’re pondering of doing this factor; who ought to I be speaking to?”,’ he says, admitting that it took time to work on this and deepen these connections.

Casula sits inside an LGA (Native Authorities Space) that’s ‘spectacularly numerous – you’ve obtained folks from over 150 nations talking over 140 completely different languages, and no single group even hits double digits in percentages,’ says Donarski.

To make use of that ‘C phrase’ – problem – is it troublesome to create a way of possession with numerous audiences?

‘To an extent, sure,’ says Donarski. ‘However we did discover that our catchment space – the radius that folks have been coming to us from – was a lot wider than I’d have anticipated.’ He provides that the artwork centre’s location on a practice line with a devoted station was an enormous issue when it got here to sustaining its viewers.

Casula is completely off the crushed observe, and on the finish of a really lengthy personal driveway, so no person stumbles upon us. The one people who go to Casula are intending to go to Casula,’ Donarski says of the organisation’s best problem.

‘One of many broader challenges was the discrepancy between ambition and sources. We have been excellent at “smoke and mirrors”, when it comes to folks pondering that we obtained extra funding than we truly did. And we obtained excellent at driving the greenback.’

He provides that one of many persistent challenges for Casula was the shortage of stability with multi-year funding, and falling into the hole between town and regional as a metropolitan-based gallery.

Craig Donarski, Supervisor Arts, Tradition and Artistic Industries, White Bay Energy Station. Picture: Equipped.

What have been the milestones throughout his tenure at Casula?

Donarski believes that one of many nice desires to get throughout the road was decreasing that hole in geography.

‘Getting extra of the nice festivals of Sydney to decide to having a severe presence at Casula, so that folks may expertise Sydney Competition, Sydney Writers’ Competition, the Biennale of Sydney or Sydney Movie Competition. Individuals ought to be capable to count on to be included with out having to schlep into town, and so these festivals actually grow to be, you understand, actual,’ he says.

The opposite factor he’s most happy with, is that aforementioned cross-arts mannequin. ‘A multi-form artwork area with a really multi-lens method of having the ability to sort out a subject in numerous methods all of sudden: intellectual, middlebrow, lowbrow and no forehead – for adults and youngsters and all of the factors between A and Z.’

He continues: ‘That type of strategy to programming allows you to pair huge identify artists with an rising artist, with a type of democratic equivalence that basically helps carry up earlier profession artists.

‘The curatorial workforce that’s in there now will hold this flag flying however, on the identical time, will stay dedicated to all the time excited about audiences first, as a result of for those who don’t have an viewers, then what are you doing?’

How will that mannequin be launched at White Bay Energy Station?

‘In the identical method that I had my eye on Casula for a very long time, earlier than working there, I first went to White Bay Energy Station about 10 years in the past, again after I was working at Sydney Movie Competition. Catherine Martin and Baz Luhrmann had simply completed taking pictures The Nice Gatsby – a whole lot of which had been filmed there.

‘They held their wrap occasion there, and I used to be strolling by this place with levels for DJs and performers, and bars and dancing, and I believed, “Oh my God, that is probably the most unbelievable area ever.” It was so atmospheric with that post-industrial look occurring – it revealed the potential, and I used to be already dreaming, “how [do I get my] arms on this place?”.’

A decade later, Donarski has.

How is a future mapped out for a web site of this scale?

‘That is my fifth week on the job. What I’ve been spending the time on to date, and can proceed to do over the approaching months, is having conversations with everybody. To date, I’ve commenced over 50 conversations with folks throughout festivals, popular culture, classical, music, dance events, craft and design, the fishery sector, cultural communities, up to date dance, display screen and visible arts. It’s actually attempting to speak to utterly everybody who’s within the web site, and who I wish to get within the web site.’

Donarski continues: ‘It’s about figuring out what the subsequent phases are, and the priorities, when it comes to the continuing redevelopment of the positioning, and the way that should occur. I don’t underestimate the dimensions of the duty.’

He describes White Bay as a ‘Powerhouse on steroids’.

‘It’s going to be this type of progressively unfolding and blossoming factor, and that’s going to require a whole lot of experimentation alongside the best way,’ he says, including that the goodwill and ‘inventive imagining that’s occurring is admittedly heartening’.

And people jackets…

Donarski guarantees that we’re going to see extra of them. ‘Sure, I’ve created a monster there! You recognize, if I put on black folks suppose one thing’s terribly improper. I’ve overheard folks say, “That’s him,” which makes me snigger.’

In our follow-up story, ArtsHub will drill down on what plans are being laid for White Bay Energy Station, and their anticipated timeline.

Donarski began his new position on 28 November 2023.

The 2024 Biennale of Sydney would be the inaugural occasion offered at White Bay Energy Station, from 9 March to 10 June 2024.

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