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Dionysus: Developing the culture of NewActon and beyond

Beatrice Smith

Canberra’s cultural shift over the past few years is no longer restricted to small stirrings in Lonsdale Street and NewActon.

The diversity of cultural events on offer, the influx of new restaurants and bars and the shift away from the old perception of ‘politicians and roundabouts’ has made the cultural hub we knew it could be.

Joining this positive shift is new cultural development organisation, Dionysus, headed up by cultural gatekeeper and founder of Art, Not Apart Dave Caffery.

Consulting to Molonglo Group (creators of NewActon) and partnering with Michael Liu, Dionysus’ Events and Media guru, Dionysus promises to become a formidable force within the Canberra cultural scene.

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At the physical centre of Dionysus’ grand plans is their office and event space in NewActon’s Nishi Building. It’s somewhat like stepping onto a film set – warehouse chic meets Mad Men.

We enlisted the help of architectural photographer Rodrigo Vargas to capture this incredible space while we discussed the new organisation with Dave and Michael.

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“Having a background in philosophy at ANU and working with lots of local musicians, I was offered a new cultural events role at Molonglo Group,” explains Dave.

“I started out doing all the cultural programs in NewActon – it’s blossomed as Canberra has blossomed. The city is at a cultural turning point at the moment.” He’s also a key part of MusicACT, who just released a new live music strategy for the ACT Government.

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“We now have the opportunity to work with more than just NewActon, [and] we’ll be running all the cultural programs from this office.”

“We’ll be working with high impact organisations like developers and government to produce ongoing cultural programs, as well as some of our own events.”

“We do events, cultural advice and philosophical research,” explains Dave.

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“We’re not interested in doing one-off events, we’ll be doing event programs that help the artists and the people involved but also create habits and lifestyles for Canberrans.

Stemming from my philosophical research, we’ve chosen the tag-line ‘cultural development’ to synthesis cultural theory, like the idea that art shapes the patterns of existence into something recognisable, with cultural practice, like Tommy [Balogh]’s paintings or an arts festival.”

“We’ll be using our connections in the music and art world to bring life to areas of Canberra like NewActon, Braddon, City To The Lake – we’re even working on Woden at the moment.”

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“The space has to be an inspiring place to work,” says Dave. “Hopefully we’re doing work that inspires other people – we want to present exceptional local and international art and music in the best spaces Canberra has to offer.”

As for the creation of the unique space, Dave knew exactly who he wanted on board.

“Who better to style our space than April’s Caravan, a local artists and stylist,” says Dave. “Netti Vonthehoff put her absolute heart and soul into this, as she does every project, and has created something that’s just fun to work and play in.”

“Netti has styled every room to have a specific function threaded with the 60’s vintage James Bond theme.”

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“Collaborative areas are really important to us, but I’ve also learned that having your own space is key to get the deeper work done.”

“It’s quite an industrial space because we only have it for 6-12 months.”

“Benny Chop’s shelving has helped to segment the space whilst also keeping flow and openness. Acoustically it’s the same space but we feel a sense of intimacy in each room.”

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“We can have about four meetings in here at a time and it actually works, except when someone cracks out the gin! It’s dangerous having our own bar. Great for engaged, late meetings… but dangerous.”

“The furniture is all authentic vintage – Focardi shag pile rugs, Parker shelves and the red velvet dining room chairs are by Namco, who also did the [bar] stools,” explains Dave.

“Namco released a ‘staff only’ collection of red velvet furniture in the 70s and Netti actually found it on the Central Coast from an old Namco employee. I also got clothes from her vintage clothing shop in Bailey’s arcade to match the fitout. Netti is perfectly over-the-top: a genius of fabulous.”

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“Luke Chiswell decorated the smoking bins (and event designs) and Tommy Balogh made the incredible artwork behind my desk. [Tommy] came to me last year and said he wanted to get involved with some projects I was working on.”

Dave tells me that Tommy created bespoke artwork for Art, Not Apart 2015 and from his subsequent show in Nishi Gallery, organised by Dave, Tommy is now going on to show in Sydney and New York.

“Tommy’s probably our biggest success story for this year in terms of how we want Canberra artists to be seen,” says Dave. “He’s met a mentor to support his journey to New York and that came out of the exhibition. Everyone that knows Tommy respects him and his work.”

Pictured: Tommy Balogh's resin creation

Pictured: Tommy Balogh’s resin creation

“Art is important for people to connect with. It highlights emotions and senses that we easily forget. Music constantly reminds me of beautiful feelings and I take these into other parts of my life. I hope to help other people do the same.”

“I think Canberra’s tagline should be ‘Food Wine Art’ because we have great selections of all of them.”

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“When it comes to the events themselves we really want the art and the collaborations to speak for themselves, we’re just the engine room, not the figurehead,” explains Michael.

“We don’t have social media,” adds Dave. “We run social media for some organisations but we don’t have it ourselves. Dionysus is a background organisation.”

“For Nietzsche, the word implied ‘before recognition’. Dionysus is the world of energy before we carve it up into the things we focus on. It’s the source of creativity and it’s shared, like culture.”

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“We want to ignite those pockets of cultural development in Canberra and help them blossom into something positive and lasting.” concludes Michael.

Dionysus is starting a boutique dance party series on 20 November. 

The headliner is a classically trained PhD geneticist turned techno producer! Max Cooper is playing with live video art, new paintings by Tommy Balogh and very high production quality.

On the 22 November they’re coordinating the popular Suitcase Rummage in NewActon, and an Arty Farty Christmas Party in Nishi Gallery on 10 December. And don’t miss the next Art, Not Apart Festival: 19 March 2016. 

All images by Rodrigo Vargas

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Editorial Coordinator involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise you’ll find her at the movies, ordering a cheese board or ordering a cheese board at the movies. More about the Author

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