'The problem with permanence is that you’re stuck with it’: the public arts centre building in the twenty-first century

International Journal of Cultural Policy
Hilary Glow
Katya Johanson

Dedicated arts centres were a common outcome of the great expansion of the public sphere in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the early twenty-first century, however, many of our arts centres present a challenge to cultural policy-making. Expensive to maintain and operate, they are often ill-equipped to host the increasingly diverse range of communities and arts practices that have emerged with each generation.

The article outlines the difficulties that the presence of such arts centres present to cultural policy-makers, using case studies of four Australian centres. It argues that the ‘mobilities turn’ in sociology provides a useful framework for considering the challenges posed by a static building and its array of highly mobile stakeholders. The study focuses on the perceptions of arts centre managers as cultural intermediaries – giving voice to the opportunities and constraints for the arts centre building and to the needs and interests of public policy-makers, artists and audiences, and juggling the tensions between the ideological, political, demographic and cultural forces that define the field in which they routinely operate. The managers negotiate distinctive challenges that arts centres face within the context of decentralised and fluid understandings of creative spaces for contemporary leisure practices.