Neo-soul singer Gloria Ragesh says she’s stoked to be one of the first to perform at Geelong’s new arts centre, the biggest in regional Australia following a $140 million redevelopment.

A Geelong local for the past decade, Ragesh performs as Wild Gloriosa and she’s also the frontwoman for the band JOTHI.

JOTHI will support Jessica Mauboy in the centre’s largest venue, The Play House, which seats 764 people.

The Little Malop St centre officially opens Saturday, with Ragesh predicting it will be a massive boost for the local arts scene.

“I think it definitely expands the ability for artists such as myself to have opportunities and to be taken a little bit more seriously,” she told AAP.

That may not take long – her gig supporting Mauboy sold out weeks ago.

The centre’s other large-scale venue has sold out too – The Story House is hosting a comedy triple-header featuring Dave Thornton, Dilruk Jayasinha and Lizzy Hoo.

It’s an auspicious beginning for the centre which, unlike many arts institutions, is designed to be a part of the public places surrounding it.

“It needs to be a place everyone feels is for them and they can choose their own adventure in the spaces – otherwise why would they come to the theatre?” said centre creative director Joel McGuinness.

McGuinness wants to sustain cultural institutions by transforming the relationship between art and audiences: one of the drawcards of the redesign is The Open House, which features a seven metre high door connecting the venue to the plaza outside so performances can open out onto food trucks and markets.

“We wanted to bring the fun back into live theatre because it can be a bit stuffy and we wanted to change that with some of our spaces,” he said.

The redevelopment was designed with ARM Architecture and the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, with traditional stories part of the design.

Wadawurrung artist Kait James and local first nations artists Tarryn Love, Gerard Black and Mick Ryan were also part of the project.

A previous redevelopment on Ryrie St opened in 2019 with four studios and a co-working space for artists: from Saturday, the works created in these spaces can find an audience, large or small, just a short distance away.

Says McGuiness: “We’re finally going to bring all the spaces together into one really cool campus of awesome stuff.”

Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries Steve Dimopoulos said the previous centre had helped kickstart the careers of Rachel Griffiths, Guy Pearce and Dave Thornton.

“Now this transformed facility will inspire a whole new generation,” he said.

Geelong’s Little Malop Street Grand Opening Festival runs from August 19 to September 23.

Source: AAP