Since it was built in 1860, the St Paul’s Church on Pulteney Street has seen plenty – including the notorious goings-on of the Heaven nightclub once contained in its heritage walls. Now it is being re-imagined as a meeting-point for SA’s arts industries.
A prayer for the arts
The mirrorballs from the now-defunct Nightclub still hang from the ceiling in St Paul’s on Pulteney Street, even though most of the floorspace has now been converted into an office.
There are other signs of the building’s notorious past that linger on – chief among them is the metallic paint still covering the upper level walls and the several bars scattered about between desks.
While vestiges of the mid-seventeenth century building’s more recent past remain in a superficial way, its deeper history has not been subsumed. Soaring leadlights throw coloured shadows over the floors as morning turns to afternoon and thick columns support arches that break the sight line to the very high ceilings. The solid and romantic construction of one of Adelaide’s most significant early churches can never be hidden no matter what occupies it.
St Paul’s newest tenants, though, aren’t interested in disguising the building’s past. The State Government has adopted the building and is slowly developing it into a “creative centre” that forms a significant part of the long-term strategy to support arts and music in SA.
“We want to foster a local music scene that is thriving and where young people can advance a career in the industry based from South Australia,” Premier Jay Weatherill tells CityMag.
While the building is going to be Government-run, the majority of the tenants won’t be Government-affiliated. Downstairs will house small organisations and businesses with an interest in the arts – outfits similar to current tenants Music SA and digital marketing company Made in Katana. Upstairs is home to the Government’s newly established Music Development Office as well as Musitec – a new body that aims to connect everyone from speaker manufacturers to songwriters, so they can collaborate.
A co-working space managed by Musitec also fills the upper level, and applicantions for desk space are being taken from across a broad range of artistic endeavours.
“The thing is getting a good mix of people in the building, it’s all about the right mix of people,” says Becc Bates, who works as part of the Music Development Office and has been instrumental in getting St Paul’s up and running.
“The vision is really that people turn it into what they need it to be. That would be the best thing,” she continues. “I’d like to see, from this next call out, some non-music people putting their hands up to work from here. The idea is for that cross pollination of ideas to occur.
“That’s what Musitec is about too – they’ve been engaged to be the sort of strategic relationship co-ordinators of the Centre, so they can ask people ‘what are you doing today?’ and then bring the right people together.”
The work done on the building to make it fit for purpose has been minimal – some walls have been painted, some office desks moved in and various pieces of furniture no longer wanted by Government departments adopted.
The heritage nature of the building hasn’t always been easy – Becc mentions a couple of chunks of plaster coming loose here and there – but for the most part she says it lends instant character to a space that is still starting up.
“Upstairs especially the heritage nature just creates an atmosphere,” says Becc. “A colleague and I refer to this place as our old girl. The charm of working in a place like this is just fantastic. And at night when the building is lit up it’s beautiful, it’s really lovely.”
We wander out into the courtyard, which is in need of some love, and Becc expresses hope that some new tenants will have more luck growing plants here than she has. It strikes us as a particularly non-Governmental approach – very different to the same old approach of perfecting something before unveiling it to the public.
There’s a desire for something to grow organically between the walls of St Paul’s and to CityMag that seems infinitely wiser than a prescriptive vision of exactly how the future should unfold.