Background and development of the Centro Cultura Lautem

The market place was built during Portuguese times as a community resource close to the centre of town. By 1973 it was in disrepair.  During Indonesian times, another building was constructed on the site, a set of small rooms that were used variously as store-rooms and shops. An uma lulik (traditional sacred house) was constructed on the site in the 1990’s by Indonesian colonists, to recognize Timorese traditional culture. This was complemented by a formal garden with a water feature. However, after a new market place was established on the outskirts of Lospalos, the building lay abandoned and very significant deterioration occurred.

In 2009, when Many Hands Directors Holly Schauble and Kim Dunphy were visiting Lospalos to find a location to establish a Cultural Centre, they recognized this site’s potential for community cultural facilities. They recognized a site of interesting cultural value, with architecture that corresponded with Timor’s history, incorporating traditional Timorese, Portuguese and Indonesian styles. The two began the process of getting governments on board, finding resources and developing plans. They undertook consultations with community leaders, representatives from local, district and national levels of government, and after several years of discussion, had stimulated a consensus that this was a good idea for the community.

Many Hands Directors then recruited a team of volunteers from Australia with building and engineering expertise to develop plans. Led by Australian architect Richard Blight, the team, comprising architect Josh Ho (University of Melbourne), engineer Paul Callum (Bligh Tanner Consulting Engineers) and builder Andrew Lucas travelled to Lospalos in February 2012 with the support of the UNESCO Observatory of Multi-Disciplinary Research in the Arts and a Staff Engagement Grant from the University of Melbourne. The team completed project site surveys, carried out consultations and refined the architectural plans.  The group’s visit was timed to co-ordinate with Many Hands’ second arts project on the site, a community theatre performance, so that the planners could see the site in action and make best decisions for a facility that would offer most benefit to the local community. On their final day, the design team made a presentation at the Prime Minister’s Office.

On the strength of this presentation, the Government of Timor-Leste agreed to provide a grant for the building works, which commenced in late 2012.  The construction work was led by the Timor office of Australian non-profit Community Housing Limited, with local tradespeople undertaking all of the labour. By April 2014, the Merkadu Antigu had been renovated into a beautiful open air performing arts space, including new public toilet facilities built as community assets and workshop, office and studio spaces.

The Centre was inaugurated on Thursday May 1 2014. Read about the inauguration on our News page and the Timor-Leste government's website,  and the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development website. Photos of the event can be seen on the Facebook page of MHI's partner organisation Austraining International. A report was published about the project in the e-bulletin of the Cultural Development Network, Victoria, Australia where MHI Director Kim Dunphy works as Research Program Manager.

Throughout this period, Many Hands Directors continued to drive the development of the centre, from seeking good quality workmanship in the building process to advocating for allocation of government funds for staff and programs. Between 2011 and 2015, they were supported by a series of dedicated Australian volunteers who came on placement, supported in turn by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand through agencies Scope Global, Red Cross, Australian Business Volunteers and VSA (New Zealand). MHI thanks all of these volunteers who contributed significantly: Sarah Daley, Holly Schauble, Samantha Cooper, Lucia Pichler, Amy Stevenson, James Nash and Tim Ballagh. 

Local staff were employed for the first time in 2012, when MHI was successful in obtaining a grant from the US Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation to research the endangered cultural heritage of the Fataluku people. Further employment for local staff was provided in 2013 by an Australian government grant for the Lautem Cultural Festival. Current activities are mostly supported by Directors and their friends and families; Deakin University and University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia; and the many visiting artists who fund their own residencies through grants or fundraising.

 Read more about current and past activities in the Centre.

The Project Patron of the Centre is His Excellency Dr José Ramos-Horta, the former President of Timor-Leste.  The project is also supported by Senor Virgilio Simith, former State Secretary of Culture and Sr. Miguel Marques Gonsalves Manetelu, former State Secretary for Youth and Sport, Government of Timor-Leste (letters of support).

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