Serge’s Column June

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Councillor Serge Thomann


As I write this June column, it is Saturday afternoon and I am at a transformed St Kilda Town Hall, all part of the St Kilda Film Festival.

The auditorium has become a movie house, the gallery a café and meeting place and all the meeting rooms on the first floor are full with workshops and forums about topics including movies, crowd funding and the use of drones.

I love this kind of buzz as part of Council’s contribution to the cultural life of our City. Over ten days, thousands of people will come and watch short films or take part in our festival activities, which started on the wonderful opening night at the Palais Theatre. Adele Denison (looking very glam in the pic with me!) and Paul Harris and their team have done a wonderful job – especially coming up with the Town Hall as a wonderful alternative venue as the Astor is being renovated.

Talking about the Astor, I am wishing all the best to the Palace in taking over this iconic cinema which is reopening with a Gala event on Thursday 26 June with the premiere of Gillian Armstrong’s new movie “Women He’s Undressed”. And I am also sending good wishes to the Cabaret Festival coming to the Alex Theatre in Fitzroy Street in mid-June, the first time it is in St Kilda, partly thanks to a Council grant.

Tonight I am going to see “Songs of Bob Dylan” at the Memo Hall at the RSL featuring many local artists including Tex Perkins, Rebecca Barnard, Stephen Cummings, Chris Wilson and Shane Howard. Memo Hall is certainly cooking under new management with sell-outs nearly for every show. With great acts and theme nights, people still come and watch bands!

St Kilda is buzzing with art and culture. There are more live venues than a few years ago and Council recently demonstrated its support for live music by approving a planning permit that allows bands to play — but also gives more certainty to nearby residents.

The Espy has closed for a few months for refurbishment – we all agree that the great lady was looking a little tired – and I am sure she will reopen rejuvenated. The State Government – and Council – have confirmed their investment in the Palais with Council going through the process of securing a long term lease. Through hard work and the support of a passionate community, there is at last a clear process in place to secure the long term future of the Palais and I am proud of what has been achieved as I know how much the Palais means to St Kilda and Melbourne.

The Council Plan for the CoPP “promotes an improved range of cultural and leisure opportunities that foster a connected and engaged community.” Through its activities, we creatively engage with the arts and our people. We support arts and creative organisations, events – such as the St Kilda Festival and the Film Festival which we produce – and have one of the most successful library services in the State.

We are reviewing our grants program. Despite Council’s significant contribution, we need private enterprises and organisations to do their bit. I believe there is a merit for a “Port Phillip Cultural Foundation” which could harvest money from our community and local philanthropists to spend more in the arts scene.

St Kilda, as has been the case many times in its history, is going through a change. Fitzroy Street is having serious difficulties and solutions are not simple. Let me assure you that Council is taking these issues seriously with a streetscape upgrade planned in July-September 2015, improved lighting and another attempt at engaging with landlords to activate some of the empty shops. Council is working with the St Kilda Community Housing and the State Government to influence decision making regarding allocation of resources and funding. And we are working with other partners about the response to alcohol and other drugs, including ice.

I am looking forward to chairing the Fitzroy Street Village Community Partnership Group when it convenes for the first time in June – as well as the Acland Street Group.  These groups will bring together diverse community members to work together and with Council to strengthen local community networks and activate both streets.

It was interesting to hear Acting Victorian State Architect Jill Garner at the recent unChain Forum talk about the urgent need for urban renewal for St Kilda and the opportunity the Triangle presents to us as a key part of the future of our City. I am looking forward to the next stage of the Triangle community co-design process with the development of a business case by the end of the year. Council knows we cannot do it on our own, and I am confident that our business case will stack up and interest other parties, organisations or the State and Federal Governments.

We need to stop being negative and reminiscing about our past and harness the creativity and positivity in our community to move forward, as we always have done in our rich past. We have been Melbourne’s playground for a couple of centuries and there is no reason why we can’t keep being it!

Until next month. Enjoy the Cabaret Festival and feel free to contact me and let me know your thoughts and ideas.

Cr Serge Thomann

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