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Gaffa is an artist-run initiative committed to providing an accessible creative space for emerging artists in Sydney. With its accessible CBD location, situated in a beautiful heritage listed building, Gaffa’s business is all about promoting and nurturing cross-platform collaboration, collectivity and cohesion within the contemporary art community. Since moving into its current location, Gaffa has expanded into a complex of gallery, studios, workshops and a retail arcade. Gaffa’s initiative director, Kelly Robson talks to arts interview about the Gaffa journey.

Interview by Iris SiYi Shen

Can you tell us about yourself and the Gaffa Creative Precinct?

I am one of the founding directors of Gaffa so have now been in this role for coming up to 7 years. My only formal education is in the visual arts, for which I have a Masters Degree. Gaffa is first and foremost, about access. For artists and designers this is access to space, access to networks, equipment, support and an infra-structure. For our patrons, its access to a welcoming environment which the public doesn’t often get to be a part of. They can become part of our community, come to exhibitions, social events, attend workshops and open studio days and support us by buying exhibition pieces and retail items. They can enjoy a genuine experience that isn’t homogenized or franchised, which in our current location of the CBD, is pretty hard to come by.

Tell us about Gaffa’s journey, starting as a small gallery in Surry Hills to becoming an established Artist Run Initiative (ARI) that dabbles across the art, fashion and design fields. Can you articulate Gaffa’s growth as an ARI?

Gaffa was established at a time when many artist spaces were in flux. Between 2004 and 2006 a number of spaces closed down (Kilo Gallery, Space 3, Imperial Slacks, Quadrivium, Gallery 156) just to name a few. In fact one of the first spaces I was involved with, ‘The Wedding Circle’ in Chippendale was closed down by council after only a year of being open with the reason being cited as a “place of unlawful assembly”. However the closure, and also general climate of instability in the ARI community is what motivated me to comply with council requirements and red-tape in all endeavors since then, (as much as possible) to avoid disappointments down the track.

For this month, the theme for arts interview is collaboration; can you tell us what collaboration means to the Gaffa Creative Precinct?

Collaboration means everything to Gaffa. If not directly on projects, then through developing a supportive community and frame-work through which people can feel comfortable trying, testing and refining their ideas. Having numerous projects, exhibitions, launches and artists upstairs in the studios at any one time creates a certain dynamic in the building. Frequently, when people walk through our doors for the first time, they comment on the energy in the building. They can feel the excitement and the intent. Creative networks are collaborative by necessity, it is critical to pool resources, to support each others projects and to create strength in numbers in general.

Currently Gaffa is home to a handful of fashion labels and homeware stores, what do you think about the dynamics of these retail spaces in relation to the gallery spaces and artist studios upstairs?

Having the crossover of activities in the building is critical to what we do. Our store, cafe and arcade work well on the ground level as they serve as a welcoming ‘entry’ point for random passersby. It is a familiar and easily accessible environment. Once they have entered, they realise there is much more going on inside and are hopefully hooked! Since moving to what is a much larger building we have adopted the phrase ‘Creative Precinct’ and the fact that you can meet with our artists and designers, have a coffee while you browse, see art works and also purchase quality design work on the ground floor all works together to create an almost physically felt dynamic and energy. Something often commented on by our patrons.

 What are the challenges Gaffa faces as a Creative Precinct?

I guess first and foremost is the obvious, which is being disciplined enough to sustain our infra-structure. Everyone who works here is a practicing artist, yet the tasks that need to be done each day are so diverse. Everyone here learns everything on the go! But that’s also the great thing about here. People who come on board can choose what skill-set they want to develop and then really run with it. The second is also obvious, which is making sure that we choose to spend the money that we manage to make on things that will increase our longevity.

www.gaffa.com.au

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