“It was a bit of a dream and this place was a bit of a dump,” says Amie Batalibasi, founder and director of Colour Box Studio in Footscray. Batalibasi, a fledgling documentary filmmaker, was on the hunt for a personal studio space when she stumbled upon an old tattoo parlour at 236 Nicholson Street, Footscray.
As soon as she stepped into the space, she began picturing a community-based creative hub, an idea that had been playing in her mind for several years.
“I kind of walked in here and imagined that this could be a place where I could invite my networks and community and people that I knew who had their own creative practices to come and use the space to showcase their work,” Batalibasi says.
Her dream became a reality when Colour Box, backed by a team of dedicated volunteers, was officially launched in late 2012. In little over a year, it has showcased more than 100 artists through its niche programs, pop-up shops and exhibitions.
“We aim to provide and showcase a diverse range of artists and a diverse range of art forms,” Batalibasi says of the hub’s ethos. For the first few months, she tried to finance the venture herself but then turned to Pozible crowdfunding to raise enough money to ensure the group could run events until October. Pozible is an online platform where people wanting to get a project off the ground call for public donations.
Colour Box Studio managed to raise more than $8000 from the small but crucial contributions of 166 people.
“Setting up a space costs a lot of money and I was kind of a little overwhelmed at the expense,” Batalibasi says. “[Pozible] is a revolutionary idea. It’s funding projects that I guess on a community level wouldn’t be funded otherwise.”
Humble and sporting an infectious smile, Batalibasi says her role as director has been an eye-opener.
“I do everything from buying the toilet paper to putting the bins out, to managing artists to doing media and social networking,” she says. “I do a lot of paperwork. But I really love every aspect of it.”
Batalibasi says Footscray was the perfect location for the space because of the suburb’s diverse community.
“Footscray is a really culturally diverse and creative community. That’s the inspiration for Colour Box and
it continues to inspire everything I do,’’ she says.
“I feel really comfortable here walking down the street. It really is a community and you get to know people. You see people hanging out on the street. Footscray is a bit of a meeting place and I think that’s really unique.”
Batalibasi says that while she has driven Colour Box, it couldn’t have got off the ground without her core group of volunteer managers. Sitting beside her today is Shae Rooke, the public art program co-ordinator. Rooke is a Melbourne-based artist working with photography, video and installation. She joined Colour Box after responding to an advertisement in artsHub Australia.
Rooke has overseen an eclectic mix of events during the past year, many of them taking shape in an alley next door. One artist covered the entire building in chequered blankets. Another cooked everyone an Egyptian feast in the back courtyard and played a video of his grandmother talking about recipes handed down from generation to generation. “It’s been great,” Rooke says. “I’ve learnt heaps. It’s been lots of work but it’s definitely paid off. It’s a great space.”
A central aspect of Colour Box’s vision has been pop-up events. This month it will feature a summer program that includes a pop-up shop with the creations of 20 Melbourne artists, and workshops. Batalibasi says the pop-up concept was the right fit. “It’s funny because pop-up is one of those catch phrases at the moment and I guess we embraced that style because it meant that we could have short-term programs and we could really reinvent ourselves every time.”
The reinvention isn’t exclusive to programming, with Colour Box on the verge of being kicked out of its space to make way for a 12-storey apartment building.
“We’ve been given the boot,” Batalibasi jokes.
“I always knew this would be a short-term lease. We knew it would be a year and it’s just been a bit more than that. The idea was to see what we could do within that time and develop a model and a framework for what Colour Box Studio is and see how that would roll.”
Batalibasi says she’s confident the group’s profile and online presence mean there is much more to come.
“It’s been a really interesting ride. It’s going to be sad to leave this space,’’ she says.
“But it’s not going to be the end. Leaving here is a really good chance to see how we can evolve and grow and embrace that part of our title, which is pop-up
“We’re not going to fade away and disappear. That’s for sure.”