Community, Creativity & Colour Box Studio
A community creative hub and pop-up shop in Melbourne's West.
The suburb of Footscray in the west of Melbourne is full of good surprises. Whether it be a cheap bowl of delicious Vietnamese noodles, the best branch of Savers* in the country or the iconic Footscray Community Arts Centre, you won't leave disappointed. One of my favourite places in postcode 3011 is the Colour Box Studio, created and run by Amie Batalibasi. Previously a tattoo parlour, it is difficult to define the studio and what it does, because it seems to do just about everything: Workshops? Tick. Pop-up shops? Tick. Walking Art tours? Public Art works? Book readings? Performance Art? Tick, tick, tick, tick.
Upon meeting Amie, it's not surprising how busy and multi-functional the space is. She has an incredible, infectious energy, a can-do attitude, and listens attentively to the community around her. I visited Amie, her new kitten and the Colour Box Studio team for a cuppa and a chat.
Amie, tell us a bit about how the studio came to be?
Before I started the studio I was doing what I still do – making documentary films and also being a media trainer within the community arts. I was also involved in another arts space that wasn’t really meeting my personal needs for what an arts space could do.
I was looking for a studio space as well, for my own arts practice. I knew I wanted to have space in Footscray because I live here and I love it, because it’s such a diverse community. This place came along, and as soon as I walked in here I knew that this wasn’t going to be my studio – I knew that it would be a place for everyone else. Which is really weird, because I was looking for a studio for myself – to this day I still don’t have one!
Often when people say I can’t or shouldn’t do something, I do it.
And that happens along the way a lot, and those obstacles really drive me to do it. I wanted a space that was run by artists, for artists and that would meet artist’s needs. All of the failures we’ve had along the way have actually kept me going because I didn’t know what to expect within this process. I’ve done a lot of things wrong. It’s been a learning process, but it’s also made me more determined to do it right. I think I need the failures as well as the successes to keep going.
What kind of preparation did you do before you officially opened?
In a really short amount of time I did a lot of research on pop-up shops and traditional ARI’s (Artist-Run Initiatives). I talked to people, artists, I sent out a Google form for people to fill out ideas and what they’d be interested in supporting and what could support them. We’re still developing as a community creative hub and pop up space. And it’s taken a little while to actually reach that definition, but that’s what we are. It was also a lot of practical stuff – ‘we have this space, it’s a Tattoo Parlour now, but it needs to be an arts space that feels creative and needs to be a blank canvas!’
So we had to strip everything back – sand things, plaster things, paint things… I just called upon my friends and networks, and people came. Within a month we transformed the space and it was full of 140 people on opening night, so it’s a bit of a dream now that I think about it. But it really was the community coming together and creating something really awesome, and we opened with a bang.
Footscray is at a really interesting time at the moment. It’s always changing. I’ve lived here for about six years now, and you can just see the apartment buildings going up. You can see the progress and you can see the gentrification of the area. Even us, our building is going to be knocked down for a 12-storey apartment building. Its kind of this time of really savouring Footscray and the creative people that live here - it seems to be alive at the moment with creativity. Not that it hasn’t been in the past and not that it won’t be - but it’s an interesting time of change and I think that creative people and artists are embracing this.
We’re really part of that, because this space is so temporal. It’s going to be knocked down and we’ll have to move. This building was built in 1910, and this particular room that we’re in has been a print room – it’s printed a newsletter, way back in the day. Now we’re here, and it's a really great chance for us to bring some life back in the space and be a part of its history. Sadly, it’ll be gone soon. I want to stay in Footscray – I want to keep going, our community wants us to keep going too.
I should say when I started this I didn’t have a plan. And that’s because I wanted to bring other people into it- I invited people to come here when it was still a tattoo shop and we were banging tiles in the front room. That was a total health hazard. But I didn’t care; I invited people to come into the space and said ‘This is it, what do you want it to be?’ And I’m still formulating that plan.
Any mentors or advice that you really valued along the way?
I got my strength and ideas from researching a lot. Also talking to people and asking them what they wanted and listening to that. I didn’t really have a mentor but I always use my community as a guide for everything that I do. Its always community based. All the projects I do, whether its film or this, they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for community, so you’ve really got to listen to what they say. This place isn’t mine, it’s everyone’s… with that philosophy hopefully I can get a holiday in there! But I wish I had a mentor.
Some challenges of doing this project?
With my film practice I’m at a point where I know what I like doing, I know the rates that I charge, I know the way that I work, I know my networks, I’m completely set up. But this has been completely new for me. I’ve never done this before, in my life, so the learning process with all the failures and hurdles along the way has been the biggest challenge.
What's some advice you have for someone who has an idea to start something they've never done before?
The first thing is to not be scared. If you are passionate about something, do it, and you’ll do a great job if you love it. It’s a lot of hard work, but I guess persistence. You have to persist or you won’t go anywhere, you’ll just hit a brick wall and give up. Make sure that you’ve got support, and that you ask for help as well. I’m someone who’s really independent and head strong, and often go ahead and do things like this but I’ve also learnt to ask for help, because I’ve needed it! I’m overwhelmed with how many volunteers have come forward. I don’t know if that’s advice, but that’s what I’ve learnt. Follow your dreams, be persistent, and get some help!
* Seriously, get there. There are $4.99 knits there that are 3D. Three dimensions.