Creative arts at the heart of new Australian university town

By Kerry O'Neill, Footscray University Town Program Manager

At a time when many universities appear fixated on looking inwards to improve the financial bottom line or performance against other universities, Victoria University in Melbourne’s inner west is, in partnership with the City of Maribyrnong, focusing on revitalising its local community, with creative arts as a central feature. The Footscray University Town initiative aims to create a strong social and economic future for Footscray - a future based around education, jobs, enterprise, creativity and opportunity. 

 Maddern Square Celebration, States of Blue West Projections Festival. Photographer: Rachel Main, Shuttermain | Image courtesy of Victoria University

Maddern Square Celebration, States of Blue West Projections Festival. Photographer: Rachel Main, Shuttermain | Image courtesy of Victoria University

The university, or college, town concept, adopted in many US and European cities, recognises the university as central to the life and economic future of the local community. It contributes a culture of youthful vibrancy, research and learning, and shared experiences and facilities that spill over into employment, creativity, business opportunities and industry innovation throughout a local region. While the high tech sector is associated with the university towns of Cambridge in the UK and California’s Palo Alto, the creative arts are one of the major focuses for Footscray University Town.

Footscray has long been a magnet for creativity, artists and the establishment of creative spaces, due to its affordability, proximity to the city, and unique industrial heritage. A recent report identified over 3000 home-based and emerging creative industries in the City of Maribyrnong, including the Dream Factory, a new warehouse business and co-work environment for design, technology and social change enterprises.

Creative Footscray, one of the priorities for the Footscray University Town initiative, builds upon Victoria University’s creative arts courses in higher education and TAFE, and promotes the benefits of Footscray’s thriving arts community.

Since 2014, the partnership has invested time and money in a range of projects directed towards supporting and growing Footscray as a university town. VU at MetroWest provides a multipurpose community space including gallery/exhibition/event spaces, hot desks, meeting spaces, the Hatch graphic design studio, the Hanger business start-up generator and holds an annual exhibition program for a wide range of creative projects.

 Picturing BluScray. Photographer: On Location Photography | Image courtesy of Victoria University

Picturing BluScray. Photographer: On Location Photography | Image courtesy of Victoria University

In 2016, BluScray, a collaboration between Victoria University, local artists and the Footscray community, presented a program of cultural and arts activities to celebrate Victoria University’s Centenary of education in Footscray.  It involved almost 1500 artists, businesses, community and VU students and staff, and included the Picturing BluScray photography competition, the Threads of Footscray community needlepoint artwork and the States of Blue West Projections festival.

Footscray University Town also collaborates with major festivals such as the Melbourne International Jazz Festival whereby renowned jazz artists have come to Footscray providing a unique opportunity for engagement between these artists and local musicians and students.

The recent key initiative for Footscray University Town is the Footscray Art Prize. It is a unique collaboration between Victoria University, Maribyrnong City Council, Footscray Community Arts Centre and the Rotary Club of Footscray, who share a commitment to demonstrating and promoting creativity, cultural achievements and the arts.  The Footscray Art Prize is a new biennial non-acquisitive visual art prize for contemporary artworks across multiple platforms and disciplines, and is open to Australian resident artists. It comprises four prizes and includes specific Tertiary and Street Art categories where four street artists will be shortlisted, and each provided with a wall in Footscray CBD to create their concept. This year’s prize closes on 3 March 2017.  Further details on the Art Prize, and Footscray University Town initiative, are available at: https://www.vu.edu.au/footscray-art-prize or www.footscrayunitown.com.au