A Conversation with Katrina Sedgwick
Artists, entrepreneurs and academics from across the moving image industry have found a new hub at ACMI. Designed by award-winning architects Six Degrees, ACMI X is a 60-seat co-working space in the Southbank Arts Precinct that opens fresh pathways in creative collaboration, positioning ACMI at the forefront of 21st century museum practice around the world.
We spoke with ACMI CEO Katrina Sedgwick about the vision, purpose and plans for ACMI X.
How did ACMI X take shape?
We've had the opportunity to move offices recently. Eighty of our staff have been located off-site for the last eight years and we've been et across three different floors, which was really compounding the silos within the organisation, effectively placing us across four different sites. We wanted to use the move to improve our daily working experience for those eighty staff members by putting ourselves in a single office footprint, to enable a much more creative, open, collaborative way of working.
We wanted to get a space that was big enough to house not just us, but one of our key partners, the National Film and Sound Archive. They work very closely with us through our Mediatheque, through our collection and their collection, and we have very ambitious plans with them over the next few years to really reimagine how audiences connect with our collection, so having them next to us every day is really key.
The other thing we wanted to do was set up a co-working space within our environment - one that houses a combination of individuals, businesses and academics. We wanted to select or invite people into that space from right across the moving image industry - a combination of film makers, games developers, app developers, theatre makers working with the moving image, choreographers working with the moving image, visual artists, film publicists, designers, tech start-ups, researchers - an incredibly varied range of people.
What are the aims of ACMI X?
We want to reimagine what a museum can be. In the context of ACMI, which celebrates the moving image across all of its incarnations, and with the rise and rise of smart technology which impacts every single area within the creative industries, we're looking to enhance and deepen the engagement that we have with industry.
We talk a lot about collaboration. We talk about people working across disciplines. We talk a lot about learning new ways of working, about being responsive, about being spontaneous. But in order for that to happen, you've got to create proximity. It doesn't just happen. What ACMI X is about is enabling that proximity, not only for people in the co-working space, but also for our team and the National Film and Sound Archive.
Alongside that, we're building a very powerful industry event program which will take the expertise in the building to create panels, pitch sessions and networking events. That industry event program will be accompanied by an industry event program, and people will be able to become a member, come to our industry events and engage with that growing community of makers, creators, innovators and artists, to share ideas, to discover new ways of working and potentially to collaborate.
Are there any models of the 21st century museum that ACMI has looking to for inspiration?
Absolutely. Some of the finest museums in the world are moving into this much more open, connected, participatory approach to their audience experience. We've just created a new role in our organisation for Sen Chan, our Chief Experience Officer, whose just come from a museum working in exactly that area – The Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design, as part of the Smithsonian Institute in New York. It's a great place of inspiration that has really reimagined it's audience experience.
For something more specifically around the co-working space, there's a museum called the New Museum in New York and it runs a lab called New Inc which is specifically for artists and technologies, and we've certainly taken inspiration from that. There's another place in Britain called The Watershed, in Bristol. They run a laboratory were people are hot-housed to develop their projects, and we've looked at that model. Our approach is different in that it's much more of a co-working space, we're not accelerating projects. People are coming in because of what they do, not because of a particular project. Our goal is to enable conversations.
How does co-working strengthen individual practices?
It's about people learning from other people and having shifts in their practice – shifts in the way that they work or construct their own business. That's a really important thing to note; it's not always about creating opportunities for people to work together, it's about creating opportunities for people to learn from each other and take inspiration from different ways of working.
For us, the industry events program is absolutely key. We've appointed a woman called Emma Sherman who is working fulltime on ACMI X, and her role is to facilitate those conversations and that events program, to make sure that our community is not only building in the co-working space but is engaging with our organisation. We're wanting to get inspiration, we're also wanting to leverage our experience and expertise back out into the sector. We really want it to be a two-way conversation with ACMI as a whole.
We also want to find ways to cross-pollinate the projects that are developing in ACMI X and grow them into ACMI where appropriate and fruitful. How can they engage with our audience as they're developing, for example? Can they beta test? Can they do test screenings? Can they prototype and try things out with our audiences? Our audience want to be part of the process, they want to see how things are made. We think there's a fantastic opportunity there.
It's also quite exciting to have a very commercial, entrepreneurial tech start-up business sitting next to an artist, especially if it's an artist who is building something with enormous potential in terms of audience reach, but doesn't have the skills to turn their work into a business model. Likewise, does the entrepreneur have the creative skills to tell the stories and connect with people, to grow in the way that they want to grow? Inspiration is partly about enabling cultural entrepreneurialism. It's no accident that we have worked with Peter Tullin in developing this project. Peter is one of the co-founders of Remix, which is all about cultural entrepreneurship. We'll be working very closely with Peter for the next couple of years.
Why is the cross-pollination between creativity and business important?
We've just done a big study in Victoria seeing the incredible impact of the creative industries on our economy. Our economy is evolving rapidly, we're becoming much, much more interested in ideas, in sharing of knowledge, in using the digital tools that we have to do so and in telling powerful stories using these rapidly evolving media. Artists area fundamental part of that, the creative industries are a fundamental part of that, and the more than we can assist people to develop successful business models to work in that space, the better it is for the economy of Victoria and the better it is for the people of Victoria.