What drives someone busy to give up their time and plant seeds for Geelong’s artistic future? I asked José M. Rodriguez (also known as Jose) this question and his answer is simple.
“I was eager to get on board to be able to participate on something that could change my hometown for the better.”
Let me introduce Jose (in case I haven’t already) because he is involved with something you may have heard about, have seen or even admired from afar, walking past shop windows: Made in Geelong.
So what’s this Made in Geelong, anyway? Tell me a story.
“Sure darling, here’s a story. Once upon a time…”
“No, not that story! Mum, you’re so embarrassing.”
That awkward, unexpected and irrelevant moment aside, here’s the (real) story. Are you ready?
“Yes,” you sigh impatiently. “Please do get on with it!”
Well, it all started when I woke up one day and had the strangest dream.
Actually no, bad opening line, it actually all started in Newcastle, NSW actually with the Renew Newcastle Project.
This was where the problem of empty shops and all the problems which can occur from that was solved by a brilliant plan in this charming coastal town which the much loved 90s band Silverchair comes from: empty shops being temporarily subletted by local artists.
Artists! Yes, creatives playing shop and selling their wares and exhibiting…
Not only did it offer a chance for local artists and designers to flourish and enjoy exposure and exhibiting space it also created something invaluable for the town, “a vibrant community atmosphere,” as Jose remarks.
For Geelong local Jose, who holds degrees both in design and architecture and teaches his craft at Deakin University, the chance to be a founding member of the ‘Made in Geelong’ project in 2010 was all too tempting.
A passion for architecture and design, along with optimism mixed with experience acted as a catalyst for his involvement in the project.
“I’ve seen first hand, the large-scale impact small initiatives like Made In Geelong can have on cities.”
As well as using his background in design as a way of contributing to this non-profit organisation by assisting with graphic design and branding, he’s also been involved with the strategy of the Made in Geelong mission, as well as helping implement individual shop spaces.
With local arts patron Tim Edwards as chair, other arts driven members join Jose in comprising the Made in Geelong members who are all, as Jose says, “driven by the enthusiasm and passion of its members, who all share a vision to see Geelong become a notably vibrant place of art and culture.”
So, since operating for more than a year, what has Made in Geelong already achieved in Geelong?
Since its debut late last year, Jose admits that it’s difficult to quantify the kind of results Made in Geelong has already had within the Geelong community.
“It is hard to measure its impact at this stage,” he tells. “But I do feel that there is much more discussion about the role of art in the city, and not just institutional art, but independent, grass-root initiatives.”
“We hope to see Made In Geelong as an organisition that plays its part in strengthening the ongoing development of a vibrant, local, arts culture in Geelong.”
Getting the group to the ground running has not exactly been a walk in the park. Initially, the brainchild artists who were pivotal in bringing the group could not overcome the problem of insurance, seeking support from the City.
Yet, then the saviour came. Support came about in the formation of a pilot project which was established and funded jointly by the Arts and Culture Department and Central Geelong and Waterfront.
The mission for the group is clear, as Jose explains: “Today, Made In Geelong finds artists, cultural projects and community groups to temporarily use and maintain vacant retail spaces in the CBD.”
The group believes that arts based businesses and creative industries can contribute to the renewal of the Geelong Central Business District.
As well as Made in Geelong’s fundemental role in helping accommodate empty shop space with creatives, there are new things on the horizon as the indepdent, non-profit organisation expends.
Jose explains, “As our project develops we hope to expand the variety and scope of our efforts.”
“Ways that we can see this happening is by connecting art groups and initiatives, establishing a method of updating members and public about the many art-based events in the city and possibly hosting themed events and informal, but regular, get-togethers to discuss ideas and activities.”
The organisation partners with many local businesses and local governments, including Harwood Andrews Lawyers, Knight Frank, Maxwell Collins, WMC Accounting, Class Concepts, Fleetwood Print Group, GPAC, Central Geelong Marketing and City of Greater Geelong.
For this young designer eager to improve his hometown for the better, Made in Geelong seems a great way to do it.
“Made In Geelong is a young organisation with a pretty grand vision – but this vision is shared with many other members of the local community that are doing their part.”
With such a zest for improving the Geelong community, I couldn’t help but ask Jose what his favourite features of the city were.
Q. What are some of your favourite things about Geelong?
- Its array of natural features
- It’s a relaxed place to live. (Locals refer to the CBD as town)
- Its diverse ethnic community.
- Its industrial and agricultural heritage.
- There’s nothing missing (Some things just need improvement)