MELBOURNE NEWS

Shaping our city

Creativity connects a community

29 June 2023

Meet your City of Melbourne councillors
Councillor Jamal Hakim

On a bright, cold day, Councillor Jamal Hakim’s gaze takes in sunlight gleaming on the water through the windows, and a toddler making his wobbly way across the floor of Library at the Dock. 

He smiles with affection for the life of his neighbourhood.

“I do love Docklands because it’s so close to the hustle and bustle of the city but it’s also quieter. It’s less roadways, more waterways. 

“You have activities like the football, concerts, the film studios. This area could still be more activated and that’s what we’re trying to do at council, partly through the neighbourhood portals. We’re asking how we can recognise the strengths of each of our neighbourhoods and ensure we’re delivering for those communities.” 

As a resident and councillor, Cr Hakim welcomes all that the library brings to Docklands community life. 

“Docklands, here at the library in this expansive space, with the beautiful view of boats, this is the water gateway to our city. It’s not perfect, it’s a new suburb but it’s coming together – in spaces like this library, the school, the community centre, the marina, the restaurants and cafes, they create community.” 

Over three levels at the library, locals – including the youngest of readers – can explore the children’s area, read and study upstairs, get creative in the makers’ space and enjoy art works in the gallery – such as the current ‘Songs Festival’ exhibition featuring photographs of musicians and their absorbing reflections on songwriting on until 9 July.

A person looking up to a wall of images in an art exhibition.
Cr Jamal Hakim at the Songs Festival exhibition at Library at The Dock

Cr Hakim’s passion for the arts flows into his council role as Creative Melbourne portfolio lead. He also chairs the Disability Advisory Committee. The thread running through his work is connecting the community, he said.

“I do think that the arts and creative industry has a really special place in framing that conversation about activating the city, and about creating safe spaces for everyone and encouraging innovation. Arts and culture are quintessentially Melbourne. It’s why businesses set up here, it’s why people come into the city.” 

City of Melbourne art grants and partnerships are critical, he said.

“We create the environment for arts practice from start to end. We support people growing as artists whether it’s at Artplay, Signal, Arts House; it’s the way we do things through the Meat Market and through our public arts framework. We commission new work and we support emerging artists. This energises our community. 

“It comes back in spades too. For every dollar we spend there is a big return on our investment. That’s the economic impact but there are other benefits we can’t quantify – that push someone to think of a new product, grow a business, think up new ideas.”

Melbourne’s libraries form part of council’s creative portfolio and Cr Hakim is looking forward to the opening of the new library and community hub on the Munro site near Queen Victoria Market. 

“This will span a traditional book reading environment to the really fantastic maker spaces to music studios. Also there is an ‘art from the start’ approach. The library has Maree Clarke involved which recognises First Nations people and acknowledges that their culture is manifestly artistic in its storytelling. We can really embrace that as a creative city,” he said.

Koorie artist Maree Clarke and curator Megan Evans have been commissioned to produce artworks for the library’s interior and roof terrace. 

A close engagement with the creative community is important to Cr Hakim and he supports and attends many of Melbourne’s arts events and festivals.

“I go to as many things as possible to connect with community. I try to be out at least five nights a week, which means I get to see anything from contemporary dance to shows at Arts House or Meat Market. Recently I saw the youth orchestra play with Uncle Kutcha Edwards. It was phenomenal to watch the connection between young musicians and Uncle Kutcha. He’s a remarkable musician and activist. 

“I’m really proud of what we’re doing with all the public arts projects and the creative spaces program is terrific in creating affordable spaces, including the new space on Collins Street.”

A person in a check jacket standing in front of a garden outside some office buildings.
Cr Jamal Hakim loves life in Docklands and encourages everyone to explore this waterfront neighbourhood.

 Cr Hakim’s pathway to Docklands was paved with many skills and experiences.

“I grew up in Canberra and left there because I didn’t want to be a politician! But the world comes around in a funny way and now I’m in local government. 

“My background is in finance and I have degrees in commerce, international business, Japanese and law. I’ve worked across industries such as superannuation, manufacturing and health and hospitality. The broad background has been very useful. For me it’s about delivering impact with people at the centre of what you do.” 

He said he stood for council election “because representation matters. So much was happening during the pandemic including the lockdowns on the North Melbourne and Flemington social housing, that was the catalyst for me”. 

He believed those communities could have been given a greater voice when decisions about them were made. 

“I feel that, in a post-pandemic environment, what we do now will change Melbourne. We can set Melbourne up to be a better city or we can just do the same things. That’s why I ran.” 

Cr Hakim said he has been “proud of small things and their impact as much as the big headlines. I encouraged council to consider voices that aren’t normally heard. We identified gaps and asked council officers to devise new ways of actively seeking feedback”.

Among the challenges facing council, he notes the impact the pandemic still has on our daytime economy.

“Artists and businesses are still facing challenges. Inflation and the cost of living are affecting everyone. Councils don’t have all the levers but we can create safe spaces for people to come together and to enjoy our city, whether it’s low cost or free. 

“There’s a lot to be done about homelessness too. We can advocate and we’re working towards zero homelessness with Make Room and with Homes Melbourne and our street team.  

“Safety is also an important aim – not just physically but also culturally, mentally, psychologically. That’s why we introduce programs like the free menstrual care product trial in our libraries and facilities, also the BINS4Blokes program so those experiencing incontinence have bins in the toilets. These are really important programs. 

“We’re also looking at how we can support different industries as people’s habits change. I do believe people will come back to the office in some form; but it won’t be the same as before. We have a role to play through activating the city and focusing on small businesses to ensure their success, as well as ensuring it’s a great place in which to live, work, study and visit.”  

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