Brain Cohen makes Trax

An abandoned funeral parlour on Plenty Road in Preston first caught the eye of Brian Cohen from Trax while he was exploring the area for office space during a residency at the Preston Market in 2007-2009. After unsuccessful negotiations with owners of large office spaces, “they all wanted a lot for a little” says Brian, the disused and vandalised undertakers was an appealing prospect.

An online land title search cost just $15, presenting him with the owning company’s name. Further online research directed Brian to the address of a mall in Albury, which led him to the owner. He called immediately to learn that the owner hadn’t seen his property for some time and was shocked to hear it was vandalised. Brian proposed that for a low cost rental he would occupy the building as an arts and culture initiative, clean it up and establish a presence on the site.

The owner was in the process of securing a planning permit for the site, intending to build apartments, so while he agreed to the proposal he was hesitant to commit to any length of lease. Eventually he agreed to a six month minimum lease, which will continue month to month until he receives planning permission to redevelop. A number of locals have recently contacted Brian saying they have lodged objections, so the planned development is likely be 12 to 18 months away, meaning the tenants of the Parlour will have a home for longer.

Initially unsure how the artist population of the unique building (complete with chapel and mortuary) would develop, Brian put out a call for expressions of interest through several channels, including Creative Spaces, back in February. Within weeks the use of the building was fully mapped out with “the tenants that will launch and shape the work culture”, and a growing waiting list in place.

Brian will curate and manage The Parlour, joined by illustrators, bookmakers, textile makers, media artists, a recycled furniture designer and photographers (the mortuary will convert to a dark room). The building has needed a lot of cosmetic attention – painting, carpets, and windows – but the infrastructure is in healthy shape so refurbishment has mostly been undertaken by the tenants themselves.

Much of Brian’s work with Trax focuses on cultural development through creativity and collectivism, with collaborative digital, theatre and installation projects. He sees the Parlour as “an exciting curatorial challenge”. With such a short time in the space he hopes that he can still “encourage memories to be created” and that cross pollinations will occur with the collective creative network that has formed.

Brian also sees the Parlour and its tenants as “the seeds on the sock” on the much larger issue of encouraging cultural vitality with urban renewal and gentrification.

“There is a demonstrated need for affordable studio, office and gathering space for the creative class of the Inner North…without the opportunity for cultural activity to develop what will surround these grey five storey styro-crete constructions?” Asks Brian, who remarks that the character and colour of Preston reminds him of growing up around New York.

“Culture doesn’t just happen; it needs the right environments to flourish within. Long term, it’s mutually and economically beneficial for local government to implement considered cultural provisions around cultural activity. But by then our impending eviction would’ve impended, and we’ll be somewhere else, saying the same thing, again.”

The Chapel is now available for hire, read more.

http://www.parlour.trax.org

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