A bit of controversy on the blargs recently about “Fitter’s Workshop”, an antique building in Canberra (the controversy being whether the ACT Government should turn it into a facility for printmakers or into a concert venue). I’ve been out of town for a while, so I don’t know all the details of the latest flare up, but I’m going to share the thoughts that I’ve had since last year.
Basically I’m not sure that Fitter’s Workshop is all that fitting as a concert venue anyway. I’ve had a number of extremely rewarding concert experiences there and it’s true it has an beautiful resonant acoustic (great for performances of choral and brass works with lots of long mellifluous tones). But there are downsides from a concert perspective. It has no chairs, stage or lights, so all of these things have to be trucked in at great effort and expense. It’s difficult to load instruments and equipment since there’s no road connected to the dock at the back. The HUGE windows mean that it’s bright and uncomfortable to read music or see instruments during the day (especially in winter when the sun is low) and freezing cold at night. There’s no box office, or easy access to toilets or kitchens for catering. There’s not much within walking distance to grab dinner before or after a concert (except the lovely glassworks café).
All of these problems would need to be addressed permanently in order to make it a more “professional” concert venue.
Of course, these problems can be overcome in an ad hoc way for some projects - the CIMF achieves great results by having concert series (economy of scale), and harnessing hard work of dedicated performers and organisers around Canberra to lug all of the equipment in and make the whole show happen (I was proud to be involved in 2009 and 2010 and carried many chairs and instruments).
But I think that concert venues and music festivals are different beasts. Supposing Fitter’s Workshop became a pro venue, equivalent in support infrastructure to Llewellyn hall or the Street Theatre, the cost of hiring it would probably make it LESS desirable to festivals like CIMF. Plus, it would be in competition to the other excellent venues across the water and many other venues with real permanent concert facilities around town.
Personally, I wouldn’t hire the Fitter’s Workshop for the kind of one-off or short run performances I organise. The acoustic is all wrong for me and the lack of infrastructure is too hard and expensive for me to overcome. For me, the Fitter’s Workshop doesn’t fit at all.