Meet Debbie Mackinnon, one of the first to benefit from the corporate-creative partnership that is the TWT Creative Precinct in St Leonards. Debbie is the founder of me Artspace, housed in a disused florist on Atchison Street and now a flourishing artistic community with four artists-in-residence, plus a teaching and exhibition space.
I really wanted to be an artist when I grew up – there was always a pencil in my hand, drawing was a passion, and it still is. Drawing is the foundation of everything I do. I carry my sketchbook with me wherever I travel.
Besides art, I had an interest in all things medical, but I knew I wouldn’t get the grades to become a doctor. So I combined my two loves and trained as a medical and scientific illustrator. That lead to a job in publishing, working on a list of highly illustrated books, in Covent Garden, London. Drawing always featured in my life and I used my drawing skills to work out layouts and new book concepts. Once I had my own children, they inspired new creative ideas, so I wrote and designed many award winning books for the preschool market. Moving to Australia with my family 25 years ago I was entranced with the light and colours of Australia. So I began painting again.
I met Stephen Fitzpatrick, who was managing property acquisitions for TWT Property Group. Our building at 25 Atchison St was previously a commercial florist and TWT were offering furniture and materials that were left behind, to the local art community. I could see great potential there for an art space so we had a chat… which led to me getting the lease for the building. TWT always made it clear that they were supporters of artists and the art world.
It’s a marvellous opportunity for artists to get studio, teaching and exhibition spaces at an affordable rent. TWT have supported us right from the beginning. I’ve been here for five years now, ME Artspace was the first to officially open and to launch the start of the Creative Precinct. ME is all about becoming WE – so there are now permanent art studios for four professional artists; a thriving art group, Paint with ME that meets here every Thursday morning; a low cost gallery-for-hire to artists for exhibitions and StartArt, a children’s art school upstairs on the mezzanine level.
It’s all about connecting with our community and other like minded people. We share ideas, we try and support each other, turning up to each others exhibition openings and coordinating events to be on the same day to maximise our audience.
We have been flat out during March with Art Month Sydney, a city wide art festival. ME Artspace has been hosting Wish You Were Here – The Secret Postcard Show. Over 120 artists have donated original postcard sized artworks which we are selling with all profits to the Fred Hollows Foundation to support their work in restoring sight. I was staggered that I was sent over 500 postcards and so far we have raised a phenomenal $14,000 towards restoring sight – for over 550 people suffering avoidable blindness. We are also celebrating Sketchbooks in our front gallery in The Art of Travel, a glimpse into the travel journals of artists. A small artist run gallery like ME can put on this kind of ‘non commercial’ show, and our visitors love the chance to have a look in our sketchbooks. The ME Artspace studio artists are all landscape painters, yet we all connect with the landscape in our own way, some more abstracted than others. I love nothing more than the opportunity to push around great slabs of buttery oil paint in my coastal artworks. Having this great studio space to work in and my own gallery to show my work is a fabulous thing… Our next big event is The TWT Creative Precinct annual Block Party, when all the creative spaces in and around Atchison St and Atchison Lane will be open to the public. Its all happening on 12 April- 5.30 – 9.30 pm.