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Byron Shire
March 8, 2021

Some like it HOTA: The Gold Coast gets innovative and edgy

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Criena Gehrke, CEO and director of HOTA: Home of the Arts. Photo supplied.

Things are changing on the Gold Coast; it’s no longer the cultural vacuum that many joked it was decades ago.

These days, thanks to the investment of The Gold Coast City Council, this coastal city is quickly making its name as an impressive arts hub. Just last weekend the council gifted the community a free Tim Minchin concert to celebrate the opening of the beautiful new 3,500-seater outdoor amphitheatre.

The Gold Coast Arts Centre has been renamed to signal a new direction and new commitment to the arts and the Gold Coast and hinterland community. HOTA: Home of the Arts.

Standing front and centre is Criena Gehrke, CEO and director of the precinct. Hailing from Melbourne, Gehrke relocated four years ago and was instrumental in developing the city’s cultural contract.

Gehrke’s background in theatre, and her passion for site-specific work and community engagement is evident in the upcoming programming planned for HOTA this year.

Art meets life

‘Part of what we are committed to here is creating a great place of community.Part of the change is that the Arts Centre has been a great and well-regarded arts centre and when you grow it into an arts precinct it has to be an experience. We have a lake, a parkland, and facilities – come and swim in the lake, get your feet sandy, come and see a show. This is a place where art meets life.’

Gehrke’s vision is a less passive way of viewing art. It’s about community getting engaged and involved in what is presented.

‘I would hate to see the demise of the proscenium arch play, but you have to encourage people to engage – that’s our ambition – to be a platform for great national and international artists and our home-grown artists.’

It seems too good to be true. A council that actually values arts and culture?

‘The mayor and the council have had a huge ambition for the city and have seen the benefit of arts and culture not just being an economic driver for the city but looking at delivering its own economy. The city starts to change and the expectations change too. Great cities have great arts and culture and they need to look different.’

Consequently the programming that you will see at HOTA is not plucked from the usual touring shows that you can see in virtually every arts centre in Australia. Gehrke is careful to craft a program that is innovative and edgy.

All programming is a risk,’ she says. ‘Laurie Anderson is at the Gold Coast later in the year and is doing some really interesting experimental work in virtual reality. We were interested in that really contemporary practice. If we are bringing in great artists then we are interested in how we link them in with masterclasses and collaborations that will benefit local artists.’

Laurie Anderson is innovation personified.

‘She asked – “Does the Gold Coast like dogs?”’

That’s like asking if hipsters like lattes.

And so Anderson will be presenting a Concert for Dogs. According to Gehrke, it will be an innovative way of purposing the outdoor space and engaging some of the life values of people who live on the Gold Coast.

Other community-based projects involve the work of a group called The Farm, who do site-specific work.

‘They are working on a pilot project with the working title of Solid Gold,’ says Gehrke. ‘I think our elders are smart and adventurous and they have a whole cultural language that we have a responsibility to program accordingly. There is an interesting conversation to be had with the arts sector and the community about the role of art and where it intersects with entertainment.’

Criena is passionate about the arts. In fact she says quite simply, ‘I believe that art can change the world. It is the place where you can have great conversations. Art has a specific role around humanity, and we shouldn’t shy away from that.’

The feel for HOTA – Home of the Arts – is around Home. It’s around reengaging the Gold Coast’s long history as generous hosts to holiday-makers to say this is our home, but also a home away from home.

This weekend sees the Concert for the Planet featuring the Gold Coast Philharmonic and the Gold Coast Orchestra along with local choirs. It will take place in the amphitheatre. It’s a free concert, fences are down, so all are welcome.

Go to HOTA for more information.


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