Cultural city

By Adrian Doyle

In the 1990s Melbourne was a very different city.

Most people used the city only for work. On the weekends and evenings, the city was empty. Melbourne was still for filling the prophecy of Collins St, 5pm by John Brack. 

This left plentiful large, cheap and awesome spaces for studios, galleries and weird shops available throughout the CBD.

This created a centralised art community, focused on the city. This centralised art community and this period in Melbourne during the ‘80s and ‘90s is what shot Melbourne to cultural fame in the 2000s. It was the street art movement that cemented Melbourne’s cultural credibility.

In the late ‘90s this changed as population grew and the way we used the CBD changed forever. One of the key turning points was the demolishing of the perfectly working and relatively new Gas and Fuel Towers in the late ‘90s, for aesthetic reasons.

This was the beginning of serious gentrification in Melbourne which developed and took over quickly. 

By 2002 many artist-run galleries and studios began to shut their doors and by 2010 Blender Studios was one of the last studios left in the city.

This created a diaspora of the Melbourne art world with artists forced out into the inner city and the suburbs. This has changed the Melbourne art world and made it less integrated and cohesive with some art cliques barely moving out of their areas. 

COVID-19 has devastated Melbourne. It has ripped the heart and soul out of the tourism, arts and food. Galleries, studios, restaurants have regularly announced their permanent closures. Tours have shut and tourism has stopped, it will take years to recover. With an international student exodus leaving the city all but empty and all of our major events and festivals cancelled, what will this mean for Melbourne?

As businesses close and people work from home, the city will be different. More space will become available as businesses cut costs or shut. This is not great news for investors or landlords or for the Melbourne economy. However, there may be benefits long term for the creative sector. 

As the prices come down and more space becomes affordable the creative sector may once again have a shot of moving back into the city. This will take planning, compassion and support. The arts sector has transformed the city into a cultural wonderland. As we come out of COVID we need to ask ourselves what we want the city to look like in 20 years. It will take years to recover from this economic hit. As governments invest and the fall out of COVID becomes apparent, the best thing we can do is embrace the arts, let the paint drip down the walls and let artists have spaces that aren’t profitable or are just sitting there •

Melbourne has built its success off the backbone of the arts. It has been easy for people to exploit, like putting a hotel in the centre of Hosier Lane, but it is important to embrace the arts as we come out of COVID as it will be the thing that helps the city grow, prosper and be awesome.   

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