Big news for WA Academy of Performing Arts

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Artist's impression of the university positioned with the public square.
Artist's impression of the university positioned with the public square.

The Edith Cowan University, which encompasses the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, has announced it is to move into a new, state-of-the-art campus in the centre of Perth city.

Presently ECU is based at Mt Lawley, to the north of the city. WAAPA became part of the university in 1980. The new campus will be built on a site next to Yagan Square, adjoining Perth Railway Station, on the newly developed link between the CBD and the entertainment district of Northbridge.

Designs for the new campus are yet to be decided but, as WAAPA executive dean David Shirley says, “ultimately we have to deliver a building that serves the needs of the students to the highest possible standards – and dance is a very significant part of WAAPA – so we need to make sure we attract the best possible dancers, giving them the best possible facilities and the best possible opportunities as they move out into their professional lives.”

WAAPA became part of ECU in 1980 and now has about 1250 students. It is one of only four educational institutions in Australia which offer Bachelor and post graduate studies in dance performance. Its present facilities include five dedicated dance studios and three performance spaces. The new campus will be an opportunity to create bespoke, state-of-the-art spaces for each of WAAPA’s disciplines. While the footprint of the new site is smaller than that at present, the amount of floor space is expected to be similar, with a multi-storey “vertical campus”. The site is close to some of Perth’s main cultural organisations, such as Black Swan State Theatre and the WA Ballet, allowing for the creation of “extraordinary synergies and opportunities for our students and for the professions as well”, enthuses Shirley.

The student intake in the new campus is expected to be the same, though “it will enable a larger intake of international students”, Shirley says. “It’s not about increasing numbers, it’s about high quality training.”

The new city campus is part of a grander vision to help drive the recovery of the Western Australian economy following Covid-19. The project is expected to inject millions of dollars into the local economy and support jobs across a diverse range of sectors including education, construction, property, technology, arts, hospitality, retail and tourism. The construction alone has been projected to boost the local economy by $1.5 billion and more than $7.5 billion in the longer term.

With traditional city services on the decline due to population changes and online retail shopping, it is hoped the university will revitalise and energise the city centre by attracting thousands of students, staff and visitors. “It’s going to be interactive, it’s not going to be a campus that feels like an ivory tower, its going to be in, of and part of the city,” Shirley says.

ECU will contribute $300 million to the project, while the Federal Government will contribute $245 million as part of the Perth City Deal. The State Government is providing in-kind support through the provision of land.

Artist's impression of the proposed city campus on Yagan Square.
Artist's impression of the proposed city campus on Yagan Square.
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