Words by Ashleigh Wadman
Culture Scouts are avid fans of Artist-Run Initiatives! Also known as ARIs, these exhibition spaces are one of the art world’s best kept secrets.
But just what are ARIs (we hear you cry)? According to NAVA, an ARI is a space that ‘generates opportunities for artists and curators to experiment, through providing exhibition opportunities’ and benefitting local communities. Because they exist outside of art school, commercial galleries and cultural institutions, this means self-identified art outsiders can engage with experimental art practices.
Being based in Newtown, Culture Scouts are located close to a number of ARIs (loving life) meaning we are exposed to artists who are equipped to challenge our thinking in unexpected ways.
What do the best ARI’s have in common? A commitment to being a community venue and an active exchange between locals, artists and curators, as well as taking a different approach to what makes an art space.
Here are the five best Artist Run Space’s in Sydney (which everyone needs to visit).
13-17 Riley St, Woolloomooloo, Opening Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 12–6 PM
A visit to Firstdraft is an essential stop on the ARI itinerary. Initiated in 1986, Firstdraft is Sydney’s oldest ARI (and one of Australia’s longest-running) and is an institution in the Sydney arts community. Running an ARI is by no means an easy feat, and Firstdraft’s four decades of continuous production is testament to the contributions of countless passionate and dedicated supporters.
Firstdraft is committed to furthering critical ideas and practices in contemporary art through their exhibitions and writers, curators and public programs. To ensure new perspectives and fresh debate the organisation regularly renews its 8–person board of directors with a public call out. Each Director serves a 2-year term and brings with them a diverse range of skills and practices as artists, writers, curators and arts administrators.
36 Gosbell St, Paddington, Opening Hours: Thursday to Sunday 11AM–5PM
When I first heard the curious name of Sydney’s newest ARI, Cement Fondu, it conjured up an image of an extremely unpleasant dining experience. Luckily the only thing served here is a year-round program of visual arts exhibitions that feature performance, dance and music by Australian and international artists.
As well as operating a main gallery, Cement Fondu features a project space curated to complement the principal exhibitions and can be hired for 1-8 week projects. Held across these sites is a program of public events that enable alternative and engaging ways for people to encounter artists and their practices.
Another feature of this organisation is Cement Fondu’s on-site art store, which stocks playful and provocative items that support the themes, materials and artists in each exhibition.
6 Napier St, Paddington, Opening Hours: Wednesday to Friday 11AM–6PM; Saturday 11AM–4PM
Kudos Gallery is a professional off campus exhibition space run by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Art & Design students and funded by the student body, Arc. Since 1998, the Gallery has enabled visitors to experience cutting-edge art practices developed by students, alongside emerging artists from the Sydney art and design community.
It is an entirely student-run space, providing opportunities to experience all levels of the organisation, from exhibiting pieces of art and curating exhibitions to volunteering, interning and joining the committee.
In addition to staging around 30 exhibitions per year, Kudos Gallery hosts a range of public programs and supports emerging arts professionals through initiatives such as the Kudos Emerging Artist and Designer Awards, Early Career Curator Award and Emerging Critics Award.
107 Redfern Street, Redfern, Opening Hours: 11am – 5pm, Tuesday – Sunday. Open late for evening events.
3A Joynton Avenue, Zetland. Open for events only
Possibly the busiest (definitely most eclectic) ARI on this list is 107 Projects. 107 programs a schedule brimming with multi-disciplinary events for all ages and interests, and aims to create a welcoming and accessible environment focussed on advancing culture, creativity and community. Housed in a repurposed car garage - that is now a multipurpose creative hub - 107 Projects is organised with a social enterprise ethos: to transform how the arts, education and business engage across industries to create positive social change.
For example, last year saw 107 Projects present the inaugural FAMBO festival, a 1-day contemporary arts festival for LGBTQIA+ families with children aged 4-12. Participants enjoyed workshops, activities and performances created and led by LGBTQIA+ identifying artists that celebrated the queer experience through creative expression.
Such is the success of 107 Projects that they are expanding their footprint to an additional facility (great news for us urban explorers!) at the Joynton Avenue Creative Centre in Zetland.
228 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville, Opening Hours: Frontyard is open for events and by appointment, plus the last Sunday of each month 1–3PM for open house, or when listed by the librarians.
Frontyard was first described to me as ‘not Sydney’s coolest ARI’. But while this place is less art world excess and more akin to a radically-left student sharehouse, the activities here should not be dismissed.
But here the art may not be obvious. The ‘Not-Only-Artist Run Initiative’ in Marrickville features a multi-purpose creative space complete with residency rooms (available to artists and non-artists alike), a kitchen garden and a research library. The aim is to provide a multi-purpose venue for the local arts loving community to engage in practical skill sharing, critical research and cross-disciplinary collaboration.
Frontyard is perhaps the most unconventional ARI on this itinerary. It concerns itself less with the products of art than with the facilitation of art making and collective action. So if you’re less monkey see, more monkey do, we suggest you pop down for a visit.