If you’ve spent any time in the Perth Cultural Centre recently, you’ll know that the public open space in this key cultural precinct is desperately underutilised. For a site that includes many of Perth’s most significant cultural institutions the number of people who choose to spend time in the space daily is depressingly low.
The Cultural Centre should be Perth’s cultural heart. It should be one of the city’s major destinations. It should be the place you bring the family on weekends because there’s always something going on. It should be one of the Perth community’s ‘cultural watering holes’ – one of those significant places from which we can draw nourishment and ‘fill up’ on a sense of community vitality, connection and shared values.
As it is, many Perth people don’t even know that the Cultural Centre exists. The activities of its cultural institutions don’t reach out into the public space that links them and the only regular programmed activity is a small weekend market. Many of the spaces within the cultural precinct are consistently empty of people.
So what’s needed to breathe life into the Cultural Centre, and soon?
The good news is that there are simple steps that can be taken right now. We can look to successful places like Federation Square in Melbourne for clues. Many people experience the buzz of ‘Fed Square’ and assume that the secret to its success as one of the city’s major destinations of choice lie in its distinctive architecture and design. What they don’t see is that there’s a team of people who manage the public space and oversee a diverse program of activities and uses that provide the magnetic pull for people. And then these people attract more people.
The same can be done for the Perth Cultural Centre. When you look past the 1980s architecture, bland public artwork and street furniture that desperately needs an upgrade, you start to notice that within the centre’s public space are a number of diverse and interesting smaller areas. Like different rooms in a building, these spaces could be venues for a range of programmed events and activities designed to attract the whole of the Perth community to one of the city’s key public places.
There are some promising moves on this front, with Artrage Festival events, the Earth From Above exhibition and a laneway festival livening up the Cultural Centre through November to February. But more needs to happen to ensure this isn’t a summer festival season aberration. One of the keys to the Cultural Centre’s revitalisation is to create a permanent, funded team dedicated to managing, promoting and encouraging community use of its diverse outdoor spaces. Regular programmed activity, both daytime and nighttime, could be complemented by making the Cultural Centre Perth’s biggest free outdoor Wi-Fi hotspot, providing movable seating and tables for flexible daily use and encouraging food vendors and street performers.
Any improvements to the physical design of the Cultural Centre will take time. The formation of a Cultural Centre management team can and should start immediately. A broad place making process should be scheduled for early 2009 to engage the community and other key stakeholders in creating a shared vision for the Cultural Centre that will then provide the blueprint for its ongoing management.
Let’s bring the beat back into Perth’s cultural heart. Starting right now!