In a light-filled upper-floor bar in the multi-faceted arts venue Light, Adelaide’s cultural set has begun to gather in a new space where they can indulge in drinks, snacks, and new works from exhibiting artists.
There’s no cover charge, but everyone with a glass in their hand is doing their bit to put more money into artists’ pockets now and in the future.
Light launched in 2021 under founders Nick and Sophie Dunstone, with an arts and hospitality team consisting of Anne Wiberg, Jordan Jeavons, Brendan Wessels and David Biviano.
The Dunstone’s intent for the site was to create a new kind of not-for-profit arts venue that diverts the money it makes from its hospitality offerings into an artist fund from which the venue can commission works and performances to appear within its walls.
This plan was kicked off with an initial philanthropic investment from Nick and Sophie, which they expected would snowball through investments from other philanthropic individuals, as well as through the building’s hospitality revenue.
According to new CEO of Light ADL, Nic Mercer, who started in the role towards the end of last year, the business model has been working as intended – even before The Light Room was added. He says in 2022 Light played host to 286 artists across 130 or so shows.
“I’ve only ever worked for not-for-profits, because I like the idea that the harder you work, the more people benefit from it,” Nic says of his interest in taking the CEO role at Light. “So, the harder you work in this organisation, the more artists benefit.
“We’ve got hospitality offerings, we’ve got event offerings, and we’ve got immersive technology offerings, and the profit from those offerings goes back into supporting artists.”
The Light Room consists of three distinct areas – a bar, designed by Georgie Shepherd, who also designed Aurora; a gallery, which is deliberately sparse so as to be able adaptable to an exhibition’s needs; and the studio, which some Adelaide arts patrons might recognise as The Ellipse.
The Ellipse was an almost 360-degree interactive LED screen display, which in 2021 displayed a 25-minute film taking audiences through a 50-million-year history of water.
Under its new moniker, The Studio, the screens are about to be used in a new digital exhibition by Liam Somerville (aka CAPITAL WASTE) called Universal Killer. The exhibition is the first residency supported by Light’s artist fund and is described as a “visual extension of the music video ‘Killer’”, which Liam created for apocalyptic pop duo Plastiq.
The Studio’s screens have also been used to film television commercials and feature films, but it’s Nic’s intention to hand over its hi-tech reins to as many artists as possible to discover new ways of deploying the technology.
“We rarely say no to a lot of artists. It’s the whole point of who we are,” says Nic.
“The larger vision is that we become the home for immersive light and arts, and our venue gets treated as a precinct for all the different parts within that.
“So, whether you’re a dance performer or you’re a musician or you’re an immersive technologist, all of that happens in this one space.”
In order for Light’s artist fund to work as intended, the venue’s overarching entertainment ecosystem must attract a broad range of people.
Where Aurora brings in casual-fine-diners, and Beags and The Lab are intended to draw punters with a penchant for a more experimental, brash aesthetic, The Light Room is pitched to be broadly appealing while “a little bit more sophisticated in its offering”, Nic says.
“Because it’s going to be open to the public, it needs to have that level of service equality to it,” he says.
“We obviously have a great restaurant downstairs… and we’re fortunate that when we gave [The Light Room] to head chef Sam Cooper, he was really excited about creating something that is in keeping with the ethos of who we are and what we do, but also made it accessible.”
When asked about the metrics he’s using to measure Light’s success, Nic says the number of artists Light is able to support is an important figure, though he rebuffs our request to know his target for 2023. “I don’t want you to know if I fail or achieve at the end of the year,” he laughs.
He says Anne Wiberg, Light’s artistic director, will also be paying attention to “what genres, what genders, [and] what accessibility offerings that we’re offering as well”.
Some physical changes are still due for the gallery portion of The Light Room, to make it feel like less of a “pop-up”, but the launch of the venue signifies the end of new public-facing spaces for Light.
The building’s evolution won’t stop here, though.
There are two floors above The Light Room, in which Nic hopes to create a hub for South Australia’s arts industry.
“That is more around that conversation of being that home of immersive light and arts,” Nic says.
“So, we’ll have some conversations with peak bodies in South Australia about when to rent out some space and create that collective home.”
The organisations Nic plans to target are those that “align with who we are and what we’re trying to achieve,” he says. “What we don’t want is for a big corporate to take out the top floor. It just doesn’t work.”
As for Light’s current state, Nic hopes to spread the message that popping in for a cocktail at The Light Room, a beer at Beags or The Lab, or a meal at Aurora can be considered an incidentally charitable act.
“If you’re going to have a choice in where you go, why not come and support the arts?” he says.
“But we don’t want it to be just about that… We want it to stand on up on its own hospitality offerings.”
The Light Room opens Wednesday through Saturday from 4:30pm ‘til late. Connect with the business on Instagram.
For more information on Light’s other venues, visit the website.
Liam Somerville’s digital exhibition Universal Killer opens on Friday, 19 May. For more information, see the event page.
-Johnny von Einem, CityMag