In May of this year, Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) was one of 62 arts institutions to have its federal funding pulled.

CCP director Naomi Cass is surprisingly optimistic.

“CCP has always managed the ups and downs of funding,” she says. She describes the centre as “profoundly nimble and effective”, thanks to its tight-knit community of artists and supporters.

The Fitzroy gallery, which also hosts events and workshops, hits a 30-year milestone this week. To celebrate – and to ensure its ongoing service to the creative community – it’s hosting a massive fundraiser exhibition, showing donated works from more than 70 of its past alumni.

It’s not only a fascinating view of how photography has evolved over the past three decades, but a glimpse into where it’s going.

Broadsheet: Wow, 30 years of CCP. What was it like to be an emerging photographer in 1986? What's changed – or is the same – in 2016?
Naomi Cass: Using my imagination here – this is well before my time at CCP! In the ’80s there were very few opportunities to exhibit art photography and the field was segmented: commercial, scientific, wedding, fashion, photo journalism, you know. If people were making art photography, this was a more private practice, shared amongst friends, hence the group of photographers and writers who started the then Victorian Centre for Photography. There was of course Brummels Gallery of Photography, created in 1972 by photographer Rennie Ellis, which was located above Brummels restaurant on Toorak Road, South Yarra. But generally it was a commercially dominated sector and largely (but not entirely) a male domain.

The world has changed, therefore the need, the use and the circulation of photo-based images has changed. Digital and the accessibility of technology has made this art form truly democratic.

Photography is the central medium of the information age – reaching across all platforms – from Facebook to the nightly news, from fine art to the family snap, from advertising to the selfie, from NASA exploration to city surveillance. CCP is responsive to artists and the ever-changing nature and uses of this medium.

BS: Can you tell us about a couple of CCP’s alumni photographers donating their work to the fundraiser?
NC: Honestly, artists are amazing. Generous and engaged, artists are in fact the greatest subsidisers of the art sector, above both the public and private sector. Artists make a huge contribution to society.

While career categories are vague, to show the spread of fundraiser donors, we have early-career Australian artists, such as Lydia Wegner, Warwick Baker and Hanna Tai; mid career artists Siri Hayes, Chereine Fahd and Jesse Marlow. Established artists include Tracey Moffatt, Darren Sylvester and Polixeni Papapetrou. We have many New Zealand donors and stellar international supporters; Gregory Crewdson, Wendy Ewald and Laurence Aberhart.

We even have work by iconic 20th-century photographer Wolfgang Sievers (1939–2007) donated for the fundraiser.

BS: Can you talk about one or two works you're excited for people to see?
NC: Steven Rhall is an early-career artist who has exhibited with CCP. We first got to know Steven when he participated in a number of workshops for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Steven was mentored by CCP and in 2013 he presented a successful solo exhibition, Kulin Nation at CCP. As a result of this Steven was selected to exhibit in the landmark NGV exhibition, Melbourne Now in 2014. His work was collected by major public collections and in 2015 CCP commissioned Rhall as part of the Climarte Festival to photograph the Australian Grains Genebank as part of the exhibition In Debt: Saving Seeds.

One of three videos on offer, Kawita Vatanajyankur's gloriously coloured video is both beautiful and challenging. Vatanajyankur uses her own body in performances that turn the female form into the objects of women’s labour: a dustpan, a washing machine, clothes on the washing line. With grace and skill she “becomes” the instruments of labour, in psychedelic colour. Recipient of international awards and exhibitions, in 2013 she exhibited at CCP.

BS: Why is CCP – and art hubs like it – important?
NC: CCP is a relatively rare space in contemporary society: it isn’t a shopping mall, or a religious site, or a sports stadium: CCP is not trying to tell you what to think or how to behave. It is a public space dedicated to creating meaning and experiences for all members of the community. It is where we stand in a truly public space, amongst strangers, or friends, and are free to engage with the ideas, the challenges, beauty and the craft of still and moving images.

CCP’s 30th Anniversary Fundraiser runs at 404 George Street, Fitzroy from July 22 to 30. The opening night event is Thursday July 21, 6pm to 9pm.