In 1994 the Flinders Street underpass was so neglected that pedestrians preferred to huddle up the narrow stairs onto Flinders Street rather than brave whatever lurked beneath. Almost 20 years later the subway holds a solid reign as one of Melbourne’s subterranean beauties. This is thanks to Platform Contemporary Art Spaces who are celebrating 20 years of transforming Melbourne’s dilapidated inner-city areas into living galleries.

Platform held its first exhibition with no real sense of direction and no concrete survival strategy, but, like a lot of artist run initiatives, there was no exit strategy either. They got to where they are now through what founder Richard Holt calls a combination of ‘naivety and dumb luck.’ Something went right because Platform has played a major role in the makeover of Melbourne from dull colonial outpost to the thriving artistic space that we see today.

1990 onward was a heady time for contemporary art in Melbourne and Platform was well poised to take an important role in assisting with the emergence of a crop of artists who were outside of the traditional public perception of what ‘art’ was and where it should exist. It was about ideas, art, utilising public space and it was vital and interesting. When founders Andrew Seward and Richard Holt handed over Platform to Luke Sinclair and Simone Ewenson they were passing the baton on a complex network of relationships with funding bodies like the City of Melbourne, the Australia Council for the Arts and other stakeholders such as V-Line and Connex, the public, artists, writers and curators.

Platform will commemorate its 20th year anniversary by launching a 120 page publication documenting the exhibitions, events and sites occupied by them over the last two decades entitled What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 1990-2010. The book will coincide with a special Anniversary Exhibition that will occupy Degraves Street Subway.

So next time you’re on your morning commute, or taking shelter from the rain, get your spatial awareness in check and soak in your surrounds, there’s a good chance they’re better because of Platform.

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What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 1990-2010 will be launched tomorrow night with contributing artists showing in the Degraves Street Subway underpass, near COT.