For those involved in The Fly By Night Musicians Club, this hasn’t been a very fun week. Monday’s decision by The National Trust to enter lease negotiations with Sunset Events for the Military Drill Hall has left many feeling disheartened, ignored, and even betrayed. While Facebook is flooded with people decrying the commercialisation of public assets, ill-founded accusations of conspiracy and obituaries of Fremantle’s live music scene, I believe this decision may (potentially) be the best thing to happen to The Fly in the last 20 years.
Firstly, there has to be a realisation that the Fly By Night Club is not inextricably linked to the Military Drill Hall. Yes, it has a long and rich history at the venue, and that history should be celebrated. However, and to horribly butcher “Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, a church is not the building that contains it, nor is a university the bricks and mortar in which people learn. The true Church and University are the thoughts, the activities and the body of faith/reason that exist within them. The same is true of the Fly. The real Fly, the true Fly, is its energy, its public interest, its activities and its goodwill. What will determine the failure or success of the Fly is how well its physical location can help facilitate these aspects.
The Fly is in a very fortunate position to have a supportive council that will actively work to secure it an alternative venue. It is doubly fortunate to have a council that owns two assets that are currently vacant and suitable for the activities of the Fly, namely the ex-Kulcha site, and Victoria Hall.
My personal belief is that Victoria Hall is a better fit for the Fly. It is large (300ish capacity), it has most if not all of the wiring, lighting, and BOH facilities, it has air conditioning and it has large blackout curtains to improve acoustics. It’s also much prettier. Not only this, it has an established bar facility that could be operated daily when events aren’t on, to generate income to offset its leasing cost, this could be run internally or subleased to an operator. I’d actually be surprised if the daily activities of the bar didn’t offset the entire rental amount.
Victoria Hall also contains a decent stock of high quality office space. Roughly three times what the Fly has now, and needs. Other arts organisations could rent cheapish office space from the Fly, further offsetting rent and creating great opportunities for synergy.
There is also the opportunity for the Fly to actively engage in daytime rental to small arts organisations such as Harbour Theatre for rehearsal space, to run it’s own music and sound production classes, as well as providing affordable practice space for local bands, an activity that is in huge demand.
It’s time for the negative publicity campaign to end, and for the Fly to actively take stock and assess their options. A productive and positive approach to council will surely see a good outcome. Go back to the National Trust and ask (politely) for a rent holiday for the remainder of their lease term to allow them to take stock. See if there’s the possibility to sell unnecessary assets to Sunset for a reasonable price. The one thing that I would say about my time in politics and change, is that the recently seen negative, media driven “storm the ramparts” campaigns rarely work. They might get the public on side and rally around them, however the quality of the conversation with key stakeholders is deeply compromised and they tend to end up marginalising those who could otherwise add value to the conversation. Productive relationships with high levels of trust will always trump distance and fear.
Here’s hoping the Fly can make the best of the situation, and turn an underutilised public asset into the Astor Theatre of the south!