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These responses were recorded as part of the panel discussion Who You Know: Building Networks in the Arts at The Museum of Contemporary Art on June 9th 2012 .An event in partnership with arts interview and VIVID Sydney.

Original panel discussion chaired and transcribed by Eliza Muldoon

Sebastian Goldspink is a Sydney based arts producer, gallerist and artist. In 2011 he opened Alaska Projects in an abandoned mechanics office in a Kings Cross car park and has since held numerous exhibitions in the space. Sebastian’s art practice is street based with a focus on advertising manipulation, he has shown at numerous artist run spaces and internationally. As an arts producer Sebastian has worked for various art organisations including the MCA, MONA and his current role as producer of Art Month Sydney.

You work across a lot of projects and roles, do you bring people with you to work across your various roles? If so, why?

It’s great to work with people that you like, to work with people that have a great work ethic and it’s also good to work with people that are into things that you’re into. Similarly, if you have a problem then you are naturally going to reach for people that have solved problems with you or for you in the past.

You know a lot of people- a lot. How did you meet them all?

I think for me personally it is a number of factors. I’m 40 years old, so I’ve been around for a while. I grew up in Sydney, I’ve never left Sydney and so Sydney is kind of my territory. I’ve worked both in the arts and in the film and TV industry and so I know people form both of those industries.

I think it’s also about being an active participant in the environment that you live in. I make an effort to go and be involved, instead of staying home and watching Game of Thrones I’m out and meeting people.

Has the development of your network been quite natural and organic or have you at times had quite a strategic approach?

I feel like I’m giving away a lot!

I think it’s both. I think sometimes it’s organic, say if I meet fellow panelist Julia (Julia Lenton features next week), we might just start talking about shows, if I meet an artist that I don’t know I’ll ask questions about their work. I’m interested, genuinely interested, and that’s an organic process of gathering information.

At the same time I can be strategic as well. If there is someone that I want to meet then I’ll research that person, I’ll learn information about that person, I’ll ask people in my networks about them too. If an opportunity arises I’ll make sure I have something to say to them. I think it’s a combination of strategy and organic development but I think there’s an opportunity to blend the two and consider strategy in a more organic way.

What advice do you have for those that want to start a relationship with an organisation that they need something from.

With all networking, or whenever you want to get something, it’s really great to think about the other side of the fence, who you are talking to, how does their mind work, what do they need? We set up an arts space in the basement of a Kings Cross car park. First we noticed that there was vacant space and we knew that it had been vacant for some time. We called up the City of Sydney and spoke to the parking services department and told them that we wanted to discuss the possibility of setting up this space. So they came down and met us, and part of their agenda was about public safety- they wanted to make it safer to be in the car park. They asked me if I thought having an art space there would make the car park safer. That was a concern I have never considered. I had never intended to open an art space to make Kings Cross safer, so that informed my future discussions and applications. Assume all councils are risk adverse, they aren’t cowboys, so always ensure that you have a response that is compatible with that.

My final advice on that is do your research. Get to know the organisation.

How important is volunteer work in your work in your opinion?

During my time at the MCA I would sit in on a couple of hundred job interviews a year. Sometimes people would dismiss something as ‘just volunteer work’ because they didn’t get paid, but from my perspective volunteering was an incredibly positive thing. I was actually a bit distrusting of people that had not volunteered. While there aren’t always paid jobs in the arts there a lot of unpaid opportunities and if you want to get a job in the arts you should take advantage of these.


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.


SafARI is the ‘unofficial’ fringe exhibition that accompanies the Biennale of Sydney, showcasing emerging artists in multiple artist-run initiative spaces during the Biennale’s opening weeks. SafARI is intended to be co-curated, two curators – one incoming and one outgoing. With its unique co-curator model, Danielle Robson, one of the current co-curators, discusses the model’s ups and downs, and how it has impacted her learning.

Interview by Iris SiYi Shen

What role does an artist run initiative (ARI), such as SafARI play in the development of its collaborators?

I can really only answer this question based on my experience with SafARI. SafARI was ‘officially’ recognised as an artist run initiative in the lead up to the 2010 exhibition, although the model and intention behind the organisation has been largely the same since it began in 2004.

SafARI’s collaborators are emerging artists, emerging arts workers, other ARI’s, emerging designers and emerging curators. Essentially anyone who wants to get involved, in whatever capacity, can contribute and become a collaborator.

In this way, the role of SafARI is to provide a place for experimentation, professional development and to build and expand on professional networks. It also shines a light on the grass-roots of the arts world at a time when the global arts’ focus is on Sydney during the Biennale.

Explain how the SafARI’s co-curator model works?

Although SafARI was founded in 2004, the emerging co-curator model was first initiated in the lead up to SafARI 2010.

Founded by Lisa Corsi and Margaret Farmer as a vehicle for them to develop their own professional experience, SafARI was also developed in response to an identified need for other activity to take place in the city during the Biennale. They co-curated the inaugural SafARI exhibition held in 2006. The idea for the co-curator model was hatched by Lisa Corsi at some point between 2007 and 2009 and was formally introduced in 2009 with a call for submissions to co-curate SafARI 2010.

The co-curator model builds on Lisa and Margaret’s original intention for SafARI to be a platform for emerging arts professionals to get a start. Having achieved that for their own careers, the doors have now been opened for up coming arts professionals to grow and learn through their experience and involvement with SafARI.

I came on board as the first incoming emerging curator working with Lisa Corsi to co-curate SafARI 2010. Lisa has since stepped down from a curatorial role on SafARI and Presides the SafARI board. Late last year we put out a call for co-curator applications and Nina Stromqvist was selected as the new incoming emerging co-curator to work with me on planning and delivering SafARI 2012. After 2012, I will step down and another call for co-curator submissions will be put out to find a new person to work with Nina on SafARI 2014 – and so on and so forth.

The beauty of the model is that a level of organisational memory remains intact, as one half of the curatorial team carries the experience and lessons learnt from the previous SafARI. Yet each new co-curator brings new ideas and energy to the collaborative mix. In this way, SafARI remains fresh, current and adheres to the spirit of experimentation that is at the heart of SafARI.

Co-curators can come from anywhere in Australia, provided they are willing to be in Sydney at certain critical points to make it workable – particularly the last few months. And while situations can understandably change over the course of four years, in accepting the role of SafARI co-curator there is an expectation; a hope that an individual commits to the role for two rounds of SafARI.

What challenges have you faced in your role?

I think the challenges I experienced as co-curator are common to many people working in the arts: limited time, budgets and resources combined with big ideas and aspirations. SafARI is not my day job, nor is it the day job of anyone else involved – i.e. the SafARI Board, the artists, designers, arts workers, or people involved with the ARIs. SafARI is what everyone fits into their spare time around all their other work/life commitments. In the face of minimal time, I just did what I could, where I could, to make sure things happened. For example, I drew up floor plans in my diary on the bus on the way to and from work. I also remember tapping out email responses on my iPhone to an interview that had a tight deadline whilst sitting in my graduation ceremony.

How does it compare to other learning models you have experienced to date?

There are lots of excellent opportunities out there for motivated emerging artists, curators and arts workers to gain valuable learning experiences. I think what makes this model unique is the incoming/outgoing collaboration that happens each year between two appointed co-curators – two individuals who have more than likely never worked together or even met before.

It enables shared learning, insight through different points of view and forces a negotiation of working with someone else to jointly deliver a project you are both proud of.

I cannot compare the SafARI co-curator mentorship to a similar learning experience I have had myself, but I can attest to what a remarkable and invaluable experience it has been. Its existence is a wonderful legacy for Lisa Corsi to have left to SafARI.

Organisations that support learning in the arts can be found below: