Design Satellite’s newest guest writer, Bec Gleeson, left Geelong a year ago in a bus with her family and travelled around Australia, recently landing in Design Satellite’s homelands in Denmark, WA. Here, Bec talks to one half of Boom Gallery, Kate Jacoby about this dynamic creative venture built with business partner, Ren Inei.
The Boom story is close to my heart. Way back in 2008, I remember talking to this super-cool mum at school pick-up – one of those awkward, we-barely-know-each-other conversations – about her fledgling dream of opening an art space. I’d recently moved to Geelong, and was wowed by her vision.
Back then, my impressions of Geelong were pretty grim. But, over the years, I’ve watched the blue collar vibe get unpicked by people like Kate Jacoby, that inspiring school mum. Kate and her business partner Ren Inei have seized on the city’s ingrained industrialism and created something pretty special.
Kate and Ren are the pair behind Boom. An art gallery. A hip café. A meeting place. A studio space. And so much more. Over the years, Kate and Ren have transformed a tired, red-brick mill building on the banks of the Barwon River into a vibrant hub of creativity, culture and design. Arts-loving G-towners and Surf Coasters flock to Boom for their fix of culture – and get to enjoy one of Geelong’s best coffees while there.
From the moment Boom opened, it has (excuse bad pun) been booming. The gallery strikes that beautiful balance between being a respected arts venue, and opening the doors to a wider audience. Some people come for the jewellery and ceramics, others come for the coffee, others still simply soak up the art.
How have they done it? Well, I now have the opportunity to continue that 2008 conversation with Kate – asking some (hopefully) more intelligent questions about the conceptualisation and growth of Boom.
You both grew up in Geelong. What made you think, ‘Yep, we can do this’?
The initial idea was Ren’s. He’s the creative visionary. We’d paid a visit to another iconic mill site in Geelong (now home to Little Creatures) for a pop-up David Bromley show. Seeing the industrial space being used to showcase art really got us thinking. The seed was planted, and we started looking for our own space.
At the time, Geelong didn’t have a permanent space like this, and we really believed there was a need for it. Once we found this site, we knew that – if we set it up in the right way – the locals would respond.
In its 4 years since opening, you’ve held many exhibitions and events. What’s been your standout moment?
Hosting the Brainery Store lectures in 2013 helped us realise the potential of the physical space. This fantastic series of lectures showed us that Boom can be used in so many different ways to engage with likeminded audiences.
But really, every time we open up new spaces in the building … these have been the (terrifying and) exhilarating moments. Before opening up our new design and jewellery space recently, Ren and I were sledgehammering through walls and loading bricks into wheelbarrows at 7am each morning. I was so scared that it wouldn’t work – but was then rewarded with people’s response to the space.
What have been the driving forces behind Boom’s evolution from gallery space into arts hub?
Much of its evolution has been in response to the site itself. Ren is very good at thinking laterally, and asking “What could we do with this space?”
As we spend more and more time here, we see more potential. And, while certainly not in our original vision, the growth into new areas – like Factory 21 and our education offering – has become a great asset. By diversify our business, we can keep going with our primary passion – the gallery itself.
Right now, we are working with some people to turn our carpark out the back into a new urban garden resource centre. There’ll be permaculture, rare plants, landscape architecture … like nothing Geelong has ever seen.
While still early days, how have the locals received your art classes and workshops?
Yes, it is very early days – and we’re still tweaking things. But we’re very excited about this new direction. We’ll be offering one-day and term-based classes, kids workshops, and so much more.
Many of these workshops will be run by the artists we represent, so it’s an opportunity for people who have been coming to our gallery for years to learn off the artists they now know well. Plus, it gives our artists an extra income stream!
As a regional gallery, how do you maintain connections to the wider arts scene?
This is a real challenge. We try to use social media in a way that’s engaging, so we can constantly broaden our audience via these channels. We reach out to new artists via social media, too. Our current group show has artists from Brisbane, Sydney and Mackay – who we all found on Instagram.
Reassuringly, when I make contact with interstate artists or makers, they know of us. So it seems that whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it right!
You can say that again.