The inner western suburbs are one of Melbourne's most culturally diverse regions and they are expanding rapidly. Along with the population, the arts scene in the West is experiencing an extraordinary boom.
By 2023, the West is expected to see a 32% growth in population, with over 130 cultural groups and 150 languages already represented. It is an ethnic melting pot, influenced by gentrification and guided by a desire to promote liveability and community well-being in the face of unprecedented growth. In this hot bed of culturally diversity, the arts are playing a crucial role. Through its collection of dynamic and ambitious arts organisations, the inner West has found its voice.
In January 2012, Arts West was established with the support of Creative Victoria. A unique alliance of arts organisations, the group works together to improve their marketing and communications capabilities - developing and implementing new and innovative marketing approaches, promoting their organisation and work to new people in new ways, diversifying and/or increasing earned revenue streams, and sharing what they've learnt with the sector.
Over the course of two years, the Arts West organisations saw a 196% increase in online visitation. Two of the organisations now share a joint Marketing Manager (Snuff Puppets and Western Edge Youth Arts), three share a joint bookkeeper (Women's Circus, Big West Festival and Western Edge Youth Arts) and a full time position was created for the Arts West Coordinator.
Arts West became independent from Creative Victoria in 2015 and the organisation continues to thrive, with Artistic Directors and General Managers from member organisations meeting and collaborating regularly.
Footscray Community Arts Centre
Located on the banks of the Maribyrnong River, Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) is the grand dame of western arts organisations. Working with artists, producers, teachers, students, community groups and cultural facilitators, FCAC is an inclusive, creative organisation presenting cutting edge performing arts, exhibitions and workshops. Having just celebrated its 40th anniversary, FCAC remains a crucial force in defining western cultural life and bringing the best artists from the region to a wider Victorian audience.
The Substation is one of Melbourne's newest contemporary arts centres, housed in the historic Newport Substation. A small band of dedicated volunteers restored the venue over 15 years, creating a 250-seat venue steeped in atmosphere. In addition to the flexible performance space, The Substation includes flexible performance space, creative development studio, visual arts workshops and studio spaces, as well as the western suburbs' most extensive gallery space. Establishing itself as a vibrant artistic hub, The Substation presents innovative community-based projects and the best of contemporary arts programming.
Western Edge Youth Arts
Championing emerging talent in the region, Western Edge Youth Arts creates artistically complex, funny, socially engaged performances by collaborating with local communities, schools and young people. The organisation focuses on providing high quality arts experiences to young people who would not otherwise have access to them, particularly from CALD and disadvantaged backgrounds. Western Edge supports, mentors and trains CALD emerging artists to become cultural leaders in their own communities and beyond through the arts.
Next to the Whitten Oval in Footscray, you will find Snuff Puppets. Founded in 1992, Snuff Puppets remain one of Australia's most celebrated physical theatre companies. 'Unashamedly hand-made and experimental in a world obsessed with perfection and mass-consumption,' they seek to inspire progressive cultural change with their anarchic and inclusive shows. With extensive international experience, their work includes giant puppet roaming acts, community workshops and main-stage shows, presented in a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces.
Snuff Puppet's neighbours are the Women's Circus; another community arts organisation empowering and inspiring women of all ages and from all walks of life through participation in contemporary circus. A not-for-profit organisation, the Women's Circus celebrates the physical and imaginative potential of the human body to nurture self-awareness and self-esteem for women and their communities.
Cohealth Art Generator
On Barkly Street in the heart of Footscray's business district, Cohealth Art Generator works with individuals and communities who experience limited access to arts and cultural opportunities. They run a dynamic program of cross arts projects and are co-located with Lentil As Anything, a not-for-profit cafe.
100 Story Building
100 Story Building is a centre for young writers. Children and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse and marginalised backgrounds are mentored by members of Melbourne's creative community, giving the kids the opportunity to foster their creative voice. To support the creative writing excursions, publishing programs and after-school activities they provide for children, 1000 Story Building run school holiday programs and workshops for adults.
Big West Festival
And finally, Big West Festival. Staged every two years until 2015, Big West brought audiences out to enjoy cutting edge, multi-cultural and multi-art form works created with, for and by the people of the West. Established in 1997, the Festival was created to address issues of geographic, cultural and social isolation of local residents, challenging perceptions of the West as culturally impoverished by highlighting its rich, diverse and dynamic arts scene. Big West announced mid-2016 that the festival would be retiring.