Inner West Independent

Time’s up for Roomies Artspace

Artist Clarrice Collien and Roomies co-director Anne Kwasner. Photo: Chris Peken

A creative space in Marrickville for artists with mental illness will close down and seek a new home following a decision by the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (NNC) to cease its formal relationship with the program.

Roomies Artspace is currently set up under the auspices of the NNC, which runs a range of programs for residents in boarding houses, explains director Anne Kwasner.

“Some of the people participating in [those programs] were quite serious about their art and needed more opportunities,” she said. With co-director Natalie McCarthy, she set about finding a studio specifically for producing visual art that was affordable and accessible for boarding house residents. That space was Hut 43, at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville.

Operating under the auspices of the NNC, the space was rented with the help of the community and Terry Cutcliffe of the Addision Road Art Centre. Roomies Artspace survived on individual grant funding, most recently from state government body Arts NSW.

“It’s a grant that enabled us to open our doors to different artists in the area with disabilities [and] to provide workshops,” Ms Kwasner said.

It also allowed Roomies to put on exhibitions at the nearby Westside Gallery and the Damien Minton Gallery in Redfern. About 25 artists have come through their doors since the space opened up in 2006, and it has won two awards for services in mental health. The name was suggested by boarding house residents, who call themselves “roomies”.

Ms Kwasner is understanding about the decision to stop funding and is optimistic about the future.

“The Newtown Neighbourhood Centre haven’t found funding for it on an ongoing basis and their focus really is homelessness,” she said.

“It’s a hard decision but we also feel it’s right for us because our model doesn’t fit directly into the community centre. Financially, we have to find a space and we have to try to find some seed funding so we can grow.”

Carol Hamilton, community linking project manager at the NNC, said it was incredibly difficult to keep generating income for the program.

“The neighbourhood centre really needs to be looking at where its priorities are,” she said.

Ms Hamilton said the space itself was becoming harder to access for the boarding house residents to access as they get older. Residents will still get to practise their crafts as part of the NNC’s own program at the Tom Foster Community Centre in Newtown, from which the Roomies Artspace originated. It is hoped that Roomies will be able to organise and fund exhibitions as an independent entity.

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