By Angie Hilton
There’s something a little mysterious and magnetic about the river end of Pakington Street don’t you think?
Creativity seems to ooze from the walls of the historic woolen mills, where inside you’ll find a whole tribe of right-brain-heavy geniuses.
From acting studios, yoga centres, and meditation groups, to dance troops, photographers and artists. This is one seriously creative hub!
So let’s zoom in on Boom Gallery at 11 Rutland Street.
Whenever I step into Boom, I feel a subliminal sense of cool wash over me. Maybe because it feels very ‘city’.
There are certainly not too many places around G-town where you can go for a great coffee and then amble through the space, admiring walls and walls of contemporary art. Now I’m far from an art connoisseur, and I definitely don’t know how to describe pieces, but let’s just say – there’s a whole lot of beautiful/fascinating/unusual pieces that just need to be seen to be appreciated. And, it’s so exciting to know that many pieces are from local artists.
On a recent Boom pop-in, I got chatting to owners Kate Jacobi and Ren Inei. The thing I love about Geelong is that there’s every chance that you’re going to be connected to someone you’ve just met through someone or something.
Within 10 minutes, we worked out that Kate and I went to school together and Ren and I had known each other 20 years ago through an ex. Love Geelong!
Many presume Ren and Kate are husband and wife to which they always have a bit of a giggle. Ren is married to Corrie and has four children and Kate is married to Matt and has three children. The two families are extremely tight.
I was curious to know, what their secret was to running such a happening space and balancing that with a busy yet thriving family life?
How long have you guys been buddies?
Kate: We have been friends since our early twenties. Ren’s wife Corrie and I are also very close. We’ve gone through so much together. All the ups and downs of life.
Ren: Aside from being friends already, we also became colleagues when we started working together as art teachers at Belmont High.
What was the process of bringing Boom to life?
Kate: Ren was inspired to set up a creative space/gallery after a visit to an un-developed “Valley Woolen Mills” (now Little Creatures). He was enthralled by the character of the old factory buildings and imagined setting up a contemporary art gallery in something similar.
Ren: It always starts with an idea, but often these don’t get past the dreaming stage. It became concrete when I flagged the idea with my wife. I can remember saying to her, “I know just the perfect person to ask to go in it with me, Kate”.
I think Kate thought I was joking at first, but from this point onwards we just started the journey.
Where did the name “Boom” come from?
Kate: Well there’s no deep and meaningful message unfortunately. We wanted something playful and not too serious. We are aesthetic people, so we wanted the word to not only sound good but also look good. My son Jeremiah suggested Zoom. We loved the sound of it but thought it might sound like a photography business so we changed it to Boom. It’s as simple as that!
Has art always been in your blood? And are you still creative?
Ren: As a child I was always drawing and making things. I suppose my adult love of art is an extension of this foundation. Throughout high school, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I also love looking and discussing art, visiting galleries, exhibitions, etc. I still love to paint when I have time.
Kate: I have always loved art, from studying it at school and university, to now helping inspire and introduce others to art, either through Boom or taking our family to galleries.
I majored in print making and continued to create for a few years, but life got busy, and it’s been put on the back burner. Ren, on the other hand, is a great practising artist. He creates beautiful abstracted atmospheric landscapes. He makes me laugh as he always leaves his painting until the very last minute when he’s booked in for an exhibition here. He’s a crammer!
Can you tell me more about how Boom works in terms of exhibitions etc?
Kate: We have monthly rotations of exhibitions, with work from local, interstate and artists from overseas. We started off with mainly local pieces, but it’s really grown into a national display. It’s hard to believe it’s our sixth birthday today.
Ren: We are really excited about our calendar for next year. There are some amazing pieces coming our way, which if you can’t get in, you can check out on our website or instagram page.
A lot of people suggest that business partnerships rarely work, but you guys seem to have the balance just right. Do you have any suggestions for people going in to business together on how to make it work as a partnership?
Kate: For us, the most important thing has been that the details and challenges of our work lives do not have any impact on the relationships of our families. With this end in mind, we have ensured to always do our best to treat each other with respect and resolve any differences quickly and well.
Ren: Another important factor for us has been to keep all aspects of the business equal, from the amount of time worked to monies paid out and in.
I love that you’ve been able to achieve all this and also maintain great out of hours relationships between your two families.
Let’s hear about the gang behind the scenes.
Can you give us three words to describe each of your children?
Sophia is 13 years old – creative, passionate, caring.
Jeremiah is 12 years old – confident, sporty, clever.
Ivy is nine years old – funny, spirited, thoughtful.
Joel is 18 years old- caring, thinker, empathetic.
Zoe is 16 years old – fun, social, entertainer.
Phoebe is 14 years old – creative, loyal, loving.
Toby is 12 years old – gentle, artistic, easy-going.
You obviously both have supportive partners. Tell us a bit about them.
Matthew is a lecturer at Melbourne Theological College, teaching pastors at Barrabool Hills Church, an author and a musician.
He has been such an amazing support for me both emotionally and practically with Boom. I’m so lucky he’s been able to be flexible to allow me to work, at times long / irregular hours. He’s always been a great sounding board and confidence builder, which has really helped me navigate the emotional ups and downs of building a business.
Corrie is a trained counsellor, co-ordinates a community mentoring program and helps look after OneCare, a not-for-profit organisation in Geelong West providing meals to the homeless and other services. Needless to say, she’s a big hearted, caring and grounded woman.
Without Corrie’s support, I would never have opened the gallery. She has been patient and understanding allowing me to be bold and adventurous with Boom.
How do you balance work and parenting?
Ren: We have always been very mindful of getting the work and family balance right. Actually, if I didn’t believe a balance was possible, then I would not have started the business.
We only open the gallery four days a week when we started, allowing us plenty of time to spend with our families.
We are now open six days a week, but are in a position to employ others to help carry the load. I think a realistic strategy for getting this balance right is critical for any business.
Kate: Our opening hours are pretty good to fit in with the daily routines of the kids. We have been intentional in the way we have set things up to provide flexibility, so we can take holidays and have most weekends free with the kids. It is certainly much easier to achieve this once the children are school age.
Can you think of any great parenting moments? Any memories that you will cherish?
Ren: Like any parent, I think more formal things like a child’s first day at kinder or school, etc, but really other things really spring to mind. Dancing around like a lunatic with the kids, setting up parties with the music banging, driving along the beach on Fraser Island, playing games, getting hugs, laughing together, holding hands to cross the road … too many memories to cherish!
Kate: Aside from the obvious of welcoming each new baby into the family some of our best memories are from spending time together on holidays, often with extended family. Also moments of parental pride as the kids have achieved success in different things, whether it be a sporting final or mastering a new skill like riding their bikes.
What have you found to be the most challenging thing about parenting?
Ren: I have found that you cannot raise children without a high level of personal sacrifice. In the early years this might be sleep or your partner’s attention. In an ongoing way, parenting is a huge time and financial commitment, but obviously the rewards are priceless.
Kate: One of the challenges is to be consistently engaged and responsive in all the moments of a busy household. Our desire is to help shape the kids to own their mistakes and take responsibility for doing things differently. Sometimes this takes a lot of time and intentionality, with three very different kids who sometimes have quite dynamic relationships with each other it requires a degree of flexibility, creativity and patience to help direct them towards these goals.
Do you have any parenting strategies that work for you that you can share with other parents?
Kate: I think one of the big challenges to many parents today is around ‘screen time’ we have tried a variety of strategies to manage this, with varying levels of success. I think it is important that parents think this one through even when their kids are little, having guidelines in place as early as possible helps minimises it becoming a point of conflict.
Ren: I guess I don’t have any strategies as such but I do think it’s important to celebrate the idea of family. The idea that we can have a great time together no matter what we’re doing. I think we’ve fostered the kids to really enjoy each other’s company. Little getaways always help that where it’s just us, away from distractions.
Kate: I love how Ren’s children all choose to hang out with their parents over anything else. They have an amazing bond.
Quick questions …
Ren: Fred Williams (currently in the Geelong Gallery).
Kate: Ai Wei Wei – Chinese contemporary dissident artist and politically activist. He’s so brave and works with such conviction. He’s even been imprisoned because of his controversial pieces.
Ren: To get my little pistachio green fiat on the road.
Kate: To go to Iceland to see the northern lights
What would you do with one day off to yourself?
Ren: I would drive through Central Victoria. Places like Daylesford, Thentham, Kyneton and Clunes. I just love the romantic, feel slightly European feel. Mum is Dutch and Dad’s Italian, which is why I’m drawn to it. I love all the little pop up businesses.
Kate: I’d love to simply take the dog down the coast and walk in the sunshine. Grab some yummy food at Swell cafe. I’d go for coffee but my favourite coffee just happens to be at Boom (I can say that as we don’t actually own the cafe side) but that might defeat the purpose of having a day out of work.
Ren: I’m a sweet tooth. I love chocolate-coated marzipan, lindt chocolate and good licorice. Oh, and red wine is a big one.
Kate: Wine – any and all types!
If you could be famous for something what would it be?
Ren: Something significant in Geelong maybe a contemporary regional gallery.
Kate: Well, I really don’t want to be famous, but I would like to be remembered for being generous, giving more time to people and my kids, for being compassionate. These are all things I want/need to work on.
What three people would you like to have for dinner, living or passed?
1. Joost Bakker – An eco-trailblazer. He has set up a lot of pop up cafes where he has zero waste.
2. Rohan Anderson – inspirational guy who went through mid life crisis and did the tree change to become a hunter and gatherer.
3. Costa Georgiadis – from Gardening Australia – passionate about sustainability. All round amazing human.
1. Catherine the Great – longest serving Monarch. A woman of power, lover of education, art and culture.
2. Australian author Richard Flanagan. I’ve loved and been moved by all his books.
3. Radio presenter Richard Fidler. His conversations and stories keep me regular company.