BEING AN ART COLLECTOR can be as simple as buying art. But for others, those who step beyond being mere collectors into the realms of philanthropy, creativity plays a part when it comes to supporting artists and their careers. In the past few years there have been some notable innovative projects such as Melbourne-based Dr. John Wu, who purchased two warehouse spaces in North Melbourne and Brunswick East with the intention of renting them out cheaply to artists. Now, Teresa and Andre Biet, the duo who started Art Incubator with a coterie of collectors and the Macquarie Bank Foundation, have launched Shirlow Street Studios [SSS] in Marrickville, Sydney.
“We decided to establish a creative art and design precinct at 3 Shirlow Street that now houses eight artists on the upper level and a Design Studio on the lower level. The response has been overwhelming,” says Teresa. “We have the artists Mason Kimber, Will Cooke, Phil James, Zara June Williams, Izabela Pluta, Cybele Cox, Tim Silver and David Griggs taking up residence.”
The residencies can last as long as two years, with an option to continue. And with studio space, kitchen and break out areas, and a handy location, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to leave. (The space officially launches with an open studio day on Saturday 4 May.)
The original Art Incubator program was established to provide enduring support for emerging artists. In addition to a $5,000 grant to cover studio rent, materials and travel costs, it also provides participating artists with the opportunity to exhibit. “We felt strongly that simply collecting art does not do enough for emerging artists,” says Teresa. “For example, quite apart from the financial grant, Art Incubator arranges an exhibition in an established gallery for each grant recipient. More than gaining excellent exposure, this can, and has, led to representation by an established gallery.”
Shirlow Street Studios is separate to Art Incubator’s previous projects, but it shares their philosophy that art plays an important social role. “The importance of visual art goes way beyond its aesthetic appeal,” says Teresa.
“It can play an invaluable role in shaping society. Artists can, and often do, make important social and political statements that in turn create awareness and change. This belief in the importance of the role of art in society – and the general lack of funding for the arts in Australia – were major factors in motivating us to assist talented younger emerging artists pursue their goals. And potentially enrich our society in due course.”
The Australian art world has, for many decades, relied in part on funding at state and national government levels. While organisations such as the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), and the Australia Council have provided vital support to artists, the amount of money available, and the effectiveness of their programs, are at the mercy of government policy and the often-mercurial decisions by arts ministers.
This is where collector/philanthropists such as the Biets make a difference. “It is clear that the traditional support paths for artists are not coping with the volume of artists needing support,” says Biet. “The Art Incubator program has shown that there is a huge benefit to the artists in providing both financial support and opportunities to engage with all stakeholders in the art world. It is not only about grants, but also spending time with artists to better understand their ambitions and assist in building networks of engagement. Every art collector makes an initial difference by purchasing an artwork, however, there are so many opportunities to do more. Art Incubator has shown that this is possible, and we would love to see more collectors and art lovers put their hands up.”
The Biets’ Art Incubator is a company limited by guarantee, registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, and has full charity status. While Biet acknowledges that tax deduct- ibility is important, that’s not the sole reason for their enthusiasm. “It’s not only about the money,” she says. “It’s about engagement, time commitment and demon- strating support with physical presence. Visiting exhibitions, talking to the artists, showing that you care goes a long way in promoting the well-being of every artist. We have had the most wonderful feedback from artists and arts advocates, and we would encourage everyone to get involved. The door is open for engagement at every level.”