Interview

Alice Glenn and Hazel Brown of Schoolhouse Studios

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 15th August 2014

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Artists Georgia Hutchison and Geoff Riding at the new Schoolhouse Studios complex in Collingwood. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

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Tiggy – the in-house cafe at Schoolhouse Studios! Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

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Delicious food from Tiggy, the in-house cafe at Schoolhouse Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

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Hazel Brown at work in her studio. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

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Hazel Brown (left) and Alice Glenn (right), co-directors of Schoolhouse Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Over two years ago, in April 2012, I wrote a little story about the original incarnation of Melbourne’s Schoolhouse Studios, an amazing collaborative artists’ community founded in 2011 by local creatives Alice Glenn and Elizabeth Barnett. The studios originally occupied the old Sophia Mundi Steiner School in Abbotsford (hence the name Schoolhouse).  It was AMAZING, a truly inspired use of a disused building, with over 100 artists, filmmakers, designers and other creatives working from every room – the old classrooms, the chapel, assembly halls and even the squash court!

WELL, as many of you may know, the old Steiner school was never going to be a permanent home, as the building had been earmarked for development from the start.  Sadly, around 18 months ago the Schoolhouse Studios were finally evicted, and found themselves on the hunt for a new home.

No need for sympathy though!  Studio co-founder, Alice Glenn and new co-director Hazel Brown left no stone unturned in their search for a new home for their creative community, and they found it in Collingwood.  This dynamic and incredibly driven pair have spent the past 18 months learning more than they ever expected about fundraising, grant writing, philanthropy, building permits, construction, fire-ratings (!), insurance and everything else that goes into the development of a brand new, purpose built artists’ community!  It it a remarkable achievement for these amazing ladies – and did I mention, Alice is Mum to 4 year old Otis, and both Alice and Hazel each run their own creative businesses aswell!!? (No Lights No Lycra and Two Bright Lakes, respectively).

Finally, just last month, the NEW Schoolhouse Studios was christened.  And it looks amazing. And they have a 5 year lease!  The building is owned by The Molonglo Group, an innovative Australian development company who have agreed to subsidise the rent by nearly 50%.  The fit out, designed by local architect Murray Barker and interior designer Raphael Kilpatrick, and built at a greatly reduced cost by McCorkell Constructions, is a modular design, based on the idea of an ‘artist village’ with a series of self contained workspaces that intersect via internal laneways. All these internal structural elements have been designed so they can be disassembled and relocated in future, if necessary.

I really love this interview.  Hearing from these amazing ladies first hand really is a testament to what can be achieved through sheer passion, determination and teamwork!  Neither Alice not Hazel knew exactly how to make their vision a reality… but they worked so hard, they asked questions, they had meetings (so many meetings!), they found the right people to advise, to assist, and to contribute, and they bloody well got there!

‘We wanted a space where we could work alongside other artists, share resources and pretend we were Sunday Reed and the folk at Heide talking art over a cup of tea’ says Alice of her original vision for Schoolhouse Studios. I think the Reeds would be very proud of your efforts, ladies!

Tell us a little about each of your backgrounds – what did you study, how do you know each other, and when did you start working together on Schoolhouse Studios?

Alice – I went straight from high school to Deakin University and studied a Bachelor of Arts in Contemporary Dance. I have since completed a Media Arts degree at RMIT and a Diploma in Primary Education. I spent about seven years working in the film industry in many different roles including production runner, continuity assistant and production secretary. In 2009 I co-founded a dance organization called No Lights No Lycra with my very close friend Heidi Barrett. In 2010 my son Otis was born and a year later I started Schoolhouse Studios with Elizabeth Barnett.

Hazel and I are cousins and so our history runs deep. When Lizzie stepped back from Schoolhouse to have her baby 18 months ago I asked Hazel if she would be interested in taking on the position of Co-Director with me. Thank goodness she said yes. She is an incredible force for the business.

Hazel – My background is in the music business. In 2007, I started Melbourne independent record label Two Bright Lakes with Tig Huggins and Blake Byron-Smith. Throughout my twenties I studied various courses at uni; Creative Arts, Arts and Law part-time, but my other interests always took preference (Two Bright Lakes, Schoolhouse Studios and managing bands) and I never finished a degree. Alice and I are first cousins, so we’ve always been very close, and our shared passion for community building in the creative industries brought us closer over the years.

I started working with Alice at the Nicholson St Schoolhouse Studios in August 2012 about nine months before we were evicted. I started off as the site manager and handled bookings/events too, then when Alice’s co-founder Elizabeth Barnett resigned to have a child and concentrate on her painting career, I came on board as a manager with Alice, and we became fiercely determined to continue the wonderful thing that Lizzie and Alice had begun and find a new home for our 100 odd artists and creative business start-ups.

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Georgia Hutchison in her space at School House Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.
Schoolhouse Studios is a creative community offering affordable working spaces for local creatives, as well a space that hosts events and exhibitions. How did the idea behind Schoolhouse Studios originally manifest in 2010, and in the early days did you ever anticipate it would grow from having only 9 tenants to over 100? What were your original expectations for Schoolhouse Studios?

Alice – Three years ago Lizzie and I set out to find a space where we could work along side other artists, share resources and pretend we were Sunday Reed and the folk in the garden at Heide talking art over a cup of tea. It was something we wanted in our lives, but it quickly became obvious that there were many artists in Melbourne also craving a community work space.

We put forward a proposal to the Steiner School requesting a lease on the unused Monastery building at 97 Nicholson Street. It took a little persuading but they agreed to take us in and within months the rooms were filled with artists.  In September of that year we leased the building adjacent, and filled it within 48 hours. Over the next 12 months and as the Steiner School moved over to the convent, we took over more and more buildings. By the time we vacated in March 2013 there were more than 100 artists working out of the old classrooms, the chapel, the assembly halls and the squash court.

We certainly never set out to create something on this scale but we also never put the brakes on. We’ve taken every opportunity that’s come our way and had an enormous amount of support from local artists, the council and our friends.

In 2013 the lease of the original Nicholson St site of Schoolhouse Studios wasn’t able to be renewed due to property development plans. Instead of giving up and closing school forever, you launched a POZIBLE campaign and started seeking investors to bring to life a bigger and better version of Schoolhouse Studios in a new location in Collingwood in 2012. Can you tell us a little bit about the lengths you had to go to keep Schoolhouse Studios alive?

Hazel – Setting up Schoolhouse Studios Rupert St was an extremely challenging yet incredible experience. Alice and I worked full-time, living off the smell of an oily rag, working out of each other’s kitchens, my mum’s front room and sometimes cafes. We learned so much from the process, throwing ourselves into new territories of management from fundraising to commercial leases, construction, project managing, grant writing and more! We were lucky enough to gain great friends and mentors in all these areas along the way and the project wouldn’t have come to fruition without their generosity and guidance.

Having such a small budget for what really was a disproportionate goal, we also became amazing hagglers and negotiators and were humbled to receive a lot of help from friends and partners for free.

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Johanna Howe and Sarah Russel at Schoolhouse Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.
The fit-out itself is impressive, with small ‘house shaped’ studios complete with mini roofs built inside of the space. Who is responsible for the design and build of your new home?

Alice – A modular fit-out was designed for the new Schoolhouse Studios site in Collingwood. The design celebrates the concept of an artist village, by forming a series of lane ways and courtyards that act as social and collaborative project spaces. The artists’ studios architecturally resemble cabins with translucent pitched-roofs allowing for views of the lofty saw-tooth warehouse trusses, while flooding them with natural light

The broad circulation corridors link the studios and open onto a large central courtyard brimming with greenery, a suspended gallery, ping pong table and stage allowing for play and community inclusive performance and exhibition.

The design is a collaboration initiated by the Schoolhouse Studios and executed by architect Murray Barker and interior designer Raphael Kilpatrick.

Besides co-managing Schoolhouse Studios you each keep occupied with your own creative work and businesses. Tell us a little bit about your personal work and projects?

Alice – As mentioned above I also run another creative business, No Lights No Lycra. When I’m not doing the business thing I am directing music video clips and doing my best to tame my four-year-old son.

Hazel – I manage an independent record label called Two Bright Lakes. We look after quite a few Melbourne and Sydney electronic and folk artists including Banoffee, Collarbones, Oscar Key Sung, Martin King, Seagull, and Hello Satellites to name a few.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of School House Studios? Who are some of the creatives and small businesses currently working from the space?

Schoolhouse Rupert Street has been blessed with a full house of talented and dedicated artists and creatives. It’s hard to single people out, but these are a few artists who are doing really exciting work including architects Murray Barker and Sarah Trotter, Studio Osk, painter and sculptor Winsome Spiller, writer Hannah Moore, illustrator Leith Maquire, film maker Cam Ford, sexologist and yoga teacher Vanessa Muradian of Mia Muse, and graphic designer and typographer Colin Trechter.

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The studio space of Winsome Spiller at Schoolhouse Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

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Artwork by Winsome Spiller at Schoolhouse Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.
What does a typical day involve for you?

Alice – Oh goodness this could take a while. A typical day for me begins with Otis waking around 6.30am (on a good day). We experience all the joys and battles of breakfast, shower, dressing, packing bags and leaving the house around 8am. Otis goes to kinder, I go to Schoolhouse and meet Haze for a morning debrief / list making session. We eat fluffy pastries fresh out of the oven from Tiggy and both order our embarrassing morning hot beverages of ‘one weak soy latte and one weak English Breakfast tea, eeek!’

Our list of jobs can range from changing light bulbs in a studio, managing the bookings for the hire spaces, invoicing tenants, applying for grants, council permits, curating the gallery, preparing for our next event or calling the plumber or electrician with an emergency.

The day winds up around 4.30pm if I am collecting Otis or if not it continues through till 7pm when I run a No Lights No Lycra class in Brunswick. I love my busy days and although I sometimes feel like I can’t breathe anyone who knows me will tell you that I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hazel – I wake up around 7am and meditate for 15 minutes, or go to yoga or run, depending on what day it is. The past 18 months has been quite stressful so I’ve developed a near bullet-proof self preservation routine to keep me sane.

I then eat a big breakfast (I am a strong believer in breakfast) and meet Alice and we begin our day as she’s said above. When Alice leaves to go get Oti, I’ll normally do an hour or so of Two Bright Lakes emails. I’ve just started playing basketball in two teams, so I do that at night three times a week! Then I’m exhausted and I fall asleep about 9pm most nights.

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Fiona Simmons at work in her studio at School House Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.
Which Australian local designers, artists and creatives are you each of you liking at the moment?

Alice – Oh there are so many worth mentioning, but I’m going to say painter Emily Ferretti  and Melbourne’s best singer / song writer,  musician Brendan Welch. I also like CHART, which is a new independent publication, publishing the insights and perspectives of artists and writers, to inform the conversation about our place in the world. Definitely ones to watch!

Hazel – Becky Freeman (AKA Siu Zhen) is doing amazing things on screen in videos she’s making and on stage, she’s an incredible artist in so many ways. Murray Barker is an beautiful architect and artist. His concrete ping pong tables at Muma (Monash University Museum of Art) are amazing. They’re collaboration with artist Laith McGregor. Bush Projects have been responsible for the greenery at Schoolhouse Studios. They are two very inspiring landscape architects. I cant wait to see what they do next. There are so many others; Colin Trechter, Nick Huggins, Lucas Golding, Total Giovanni, Zoe Croggon.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media you tune in to regularly?

Alice – My top five would be artist Rob Mchaffie’s blog, Assemble Papers, Utopian Slumps, Becky Suizhen, and Tiny Homes.

Hazel – I regularly visit The Wild, The Fader, 102.7 Triple R radio, and Freunde von Freunden.

–What are you looking forward to?

We’re both keen to build tiny homes on trailers and start a community on wheels.

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Detail from the studio of jeweller Fiona Simmons at Schoolhouse Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

MELBOURNE QUESTIONS

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

Alice – Collingwood, despite being so close to becoming completely gentrified it still has pockets that feel raw and exciting.

Hazel – Brunswick for the overgrown backyards and huge sky and the river. Collingwood for the creativity and the friends and Sonsa.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Alice – It’s really hard not to say Tiggy. The food is actually incredible and it changes every day!

Hazel – Barry in Northcote. The hotcakes with ricotta and cacao-coated mulberries is superb.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Alice – At a café with Otis eating eggs and drinking weak tea.

Hazel – At Slow Poke with my boyfriend Lucas and the paper.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Alice and Hazel – Vanessa Muradian. She runs a sex and wellness business called Mia Muse, plus runs workshops and seminars and YOGA CLUB at Schoolhouse, it’s the cheapest in town at $12 a class!

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Cute studio spaces at Schoolhouse Studios. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 15th August 2014

5 comments

  • Des Bunyon 3 months ago

    F troupers…. the artery. Wow!

  • chrissie 3 months ago

    All I can say is we need more people like Alice and Hazel getting stuff done. Inspiring.

  • One of a Find 3 months ago

    Seeing all of the work spaces inspires me so much! Plus I wouldn’t mind getting a yummy snack at the in-house cafe.

  • Glenda Lindsay 3 months ago

    A breath of air in backstreet Collingwood – wonderful!

  • Erica 3 months ago

    I love the planter on Hazel’s desk!

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